If you buy into their fictional history, Puppetmastaz is comprised of five puppets (Snuggles the Bunny, Ryno, Wizard the Lizard, Panic the Pig, lead by de facto statesman Mr. Maloke) who met in Berlin and formed their sound by cruising the street swearing profusely until they found a rhythm. Then they were silent, began to hear rain pattering on the rooftops, and realized they had created hip-hop. It’s difficult to find an accurate account of the emcees and producers behind these bizarre creatures, but that only amplifies the allure of this rap/funk/electronica outfit. Still, the plucky troupe have failed to sustain momentum of late: After packing their first two releases, Creature Funk and Creature Shock Radio, with booming beats and brutally energetic deliveries, the group seemed drained on last year’s The Takeover, taking the tempo down a notch and going through the motions with a comparably lifeless set of tracks.
Their latest release, The Break Up, recounts the group’s illusory separation, with each of the puppets announcing they’re all going solo in the skit “Puppet Breakup.” The only group track on the entire record is opening ditty “Keyhole,” a dark and dense funk number with Mr. Maloke, Snuggles, Wizard, and an as-yet-unnamed British emcee assuming vocal duties. Snuggles provides the song’s most engaging verse, reaching a crescendo with the outrageous “Shut your cake-hole while I’m peeping through the see-hole/A princess, what’s under her dress?/A pee-hole.” Between the deep synth hook and the eerie samples, it’s a fitting prelude to the album, just because it sounds like a Puppetmastaz song. This trend is unfortunately bucked very early on, and as Break Up descends into meager foray into dancehall (“Put a Bug Pon You” and “J.A.Y.B”) and garage (“Tamiflu”), one gets the impression that the group may have misplaced their je ne sais quoi.
There are exceptions, if only a few, which indicate that there are still some signs of life in these eccentric puppets. Wizard the Lizard stretches his solo chops with “Masquerade,” infusing tremolo strings with a funky bassline and more of those deep synths. His multifarious lyrics suggest he may be the Puppetmastaz’s most dexterous wordsmith, smoothly crooning “I’m the wizard, icy lizard/That’s ‘cause I cover ground like a blizzard/Snow cone lovin’, so cold blooded/Flush your toilet and my whole home’s flooded” amid a barrage of equally arresting rhymes. Later, “Poetry in Motion” highlights the strength of the group’s beatmakers, boasting a daring fusion of heavy drum n’ bass with bubbly synths that could easily slot into a Super Nintendo game.
Break Up, though, marks another step away from the riotous flavor that made Creature Funk and especially Creature Shock Radio such exciting records. There’s more variety to their sound, more strings to their bow, but the Puppetmastaz has sacrificed the tried and tested hip-hop formula and, as such, lost their bite.