Pete Rock's followup to his 1998 solo debut is a decidedly uneven affair. Like its somewhat overpraised predecessor, Soul Survivor II's fifteen songs are driven by the Chocolate Boy Wonder's legendary production skills, yielding tracks peppered with samples from the Natural Four ("It's A Love Thing"), among other excellent choices. But few of his beats are complemented by equally great rap performances. "Warzone" is an exception, with dead prez drawing an image of the prototypical club as laboratory for government-sanctioned violence and anarchy. The much-trumpeted reunion with C.L. Smooth, borne out on three numbers, lives up to but doesn't exceed expectations, sounding more like The Main Ingredient than Mecca and the Soul Brother. Most of the rappers just phone it in, though -- one newcomer, Postaboy, is pathetically bad, and his weak "woop-woop" on "It's The Postaboy" grates on the ears.
Perhaps stung by frequent criticism of his rhyming abilities, Pete Rock keeps his appearances on the album to a few ad-libs. Ironically his bumbling verses, much like Kanye West's, have always given his music a personal imprimatur, and his vocal absence makes this little more than a hit-or-miss compilation. Thankfully there's his collaboration with Leela James, "No Tears." "Hold your head high," she exhorts over a classic British soul track; with a few verses, she provides the heart so much of Soul Survivor II sorely lacks.