As with Strong Arm Steady’s last album, production is the main draw on Arms & Hammers. The group is always mentioned in the same breath as a monster producer. They had Pete Rock’s beat for “The Joy” before Kanye and DJ Khalil’s beat for “Talkin’ 2 Myself” before Eminem. But instead of the blessing of straight Madlib beats they got on In Search of Stoney Jackson, SAS got a varied but impressive range of heavyweight West Coast producers. Underground/indie/blog favorites like DJ Khalil, Jelly Roll, and Terrace Martin handle the bulk of production, but none of them reproduce the gritty underground magic of SAS’s work with Madlib. Gangbanging and calibrated DJ Khalil beats don’t suit Mitchy Slick, Krondon, and Phil The Agony as well as blistering, oddball battle raps and dusty, warped soul. Obviously, Madlib’s “Chiba Chiba Pt.2″ is a highlight as would have been Jelly Roll’s “Hand Guns” had it not been cut. Game makes a memorable appearance on “Trunk Music” as if to show the guys how to successfully parrot West Coast cultural markers. Moral of the story? Madlib is a tough act to follow.
Arms & Hammers comes out February 22.