"Juice" opens coolly enough with the rippling keyboards of Naughty by Nature's "Uptown Anthem," but then the group's rap kicks into the first of this soundtrack album's jarring bulletins from the front: harsh expositions of urban reality hitched to starkly inventive backing collages. With the exception of two comparatively lackluster new jack swing ballads by Teddy Riley and Rahiem, "Juice" beams a powerful message from 1992's hip-hop nation.
Eric B. & Rakim's cannily off-kilter rap schemes twist and curl through the title track's smoky horn lines. The ingenuous sentiments of M.C. Pooh shrink, though, next to "Nuff Respect," veteran street prof Big Daddy Kane's dazzling, triple-time machismo. Too Short abandons his signature dirt rap for a cynical warning in "So You Want to be a Gangster," while Salt-N-Pepa's nasty "He's Gamin' on Ya" admirably deflates male huff and puffery. Sheer relentlessness wins points for Juvenile Committee's "Flip Side," and Son of Bazerk's "What Could be Better Bitch" switches dexterously between Jamaican and Stateside mike misogyny. But the top-ranking knockout of this disc is Cypress Hill Crew's exotic and humorous "Shoot 'em Up." The L.A.-based group dares to slow down the pace, the better to savor the mock-gangster rap's intricate polyrhythms, counterpointed by the incessant mosquito whine of a Middle Eastern flute.