You’ve got to have some huge balls to cover a Big Pun classic. “Twinz (Deep Cover)” was effectively Big Punisher and Fat Joe going in over a dope Dr. Dre beat, but thanks to breathless use of the phrases “dead in the middle of Little Italy” and “middlemen who didn’t do diddly”, it quickly became a spit-shiny gem in the gargantuan emcee’s back catalogue. Epidemic’s Hex-One has stepped up to the plate to simultaneously pay homage to the classic, and put his own spin on it. Unfortunately “Deep Cover ’14” saps everything great from the original, particularly the intense rabidness of Pun’s delivery. Despite this misstep, Hex-One’s “Hologramz” is a nice little project utilising 5th Element’s minimal, East Coast style of Hip-Hop that was first heard (by many) on Epidemic’s “Illin’ Spree” back in 2010.
The fact that Hex-One is joined by his Epidemic partner in rhyme (Tek-Nition) for half of the album reminds the listener that Hex is still uncomfortable striking out on his own, with collaborations on 8 of the 11 tracks. And yet, despite the obvious flaws, there’s enough dope beats and tongue-twisting lyricism to forgive many of these shortcomings. Ruste Juxx is as enjoyably over the top as ever on “Dinner Time” while the under-utilised Blacastan assists Hex on “Shine” with an energetic display. Perhaps the best guest verse is Reef the Lost Cauze’s one on “The Sequel”, which sounds more like the Reef from ten years ago rather than the jaded, horror-core one from the Army of the Pharoahs. I love hearing Reef over this type of production as it brings his incredible charisma to the forefront. The highlight of the album is the final five minutes: a savage 5th Element production that sees Reks, MindsOne, Ty-One and Epidemic sharing the microphone on “Rare Form”. This is where Epidemic are most effective – trading bars over haunting backdrops.
Some of the 5th Element instrumentals aren’t his best and this keeps the record from being an improvement over any of Epidemic’s previous work, which is a shame as there remains an unfulfilled potential in this collective of artists. Nevertheless, if you’re after a decent slice of underground Hip-Hop with more than a hefty nod to the sounds of yesteryear, there’s enough here to merit the price of admission.