Tricky’s gift is that he cares about hip hop enough to trash it. Like Johnny Rotten’s version of "Johnny B. Goode," Tricky’s version of Public Enemy’s "Black Steel" on his debut, Maxinquaye, favored destroying the song in order to preserve its essential power and terror. With his vocalist cohort on "Black Steel," Martina – Lauryn Hill meets Lydia Lunch – Tricky created a place where the old school wasn’t safe and retro but disturbing and confrontational, reactionary and shallow, lyrically drugged and spiritually splintered. Tricky and the smoky world he created – filled with failed neo-new jacks, stalled turntables and malfunctioning samplers – breathes new life into hip hop and shows his audience what he hears at the music’s roots: both a glimpse of heaven and the manifold terror of the modern world.

This context and his creative track record makes Tricky’s new album, Juxtapose, that much more disappointing. The album features Cypress Hill’s DJ Muggs, DMX producer Grease, Martina’s replacement Kioka and underground Brit Mad Dog – all of whom provide Tricky the opportunity to mix things up and show the world something different. But instead of being different, Juxtapose is just plain boring. The album’s new characters become gimmicks after only a few listens. (It’s only 35 minutes long, with a fuckin’ remix, no less!) Rapper Mad Dog’s 120 bpm delivery sounds more like a drop of lyrical wanking than a tasteful bit of fusion. Similarly, the production on "Hot Like a Sauna" – which takes Master P. straight on by biting the No Limit kingpin – sounds about as convincing as Master P. (which I hope wasn’t the point).

Tricky has already crafted a diverse terrain of breakbeat decay and lyrical dysfunction, raising the schizophrenisonic bar of excellence on each successive record. This makes hanging out with a DMX producer come off like attempting to jump back into the closet after coming out at Thanksgiving dinner! (And when the hell did DMX ever cross-dress?!)

So when Tricky intones on "For Real" that his craft is "not real/it’s just passing time/all I do is rhyme," one begins to wonder if he’s ever listened to his own records. He has never "just rhymed," but instead has musically questioned rhyming itself. That’s what has made Tricky’s triumphs so triumphant and his failures, like Juxtapose, that much more disappointing.

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