Hip-Hop’s Good, Great and Not Great

Man, I’m so far behind on spreading the word on my Metromix reviews that I wondered at one point if I should give up letting Morphizm readers know about them. But that wouldn’t be fair to some of the artists, who really deserve the recognition. Of course, it’s unfair that one of these three artists gets any recognition at all, given his anachronistic subject matter. But you be the judge.

Mos Def, The Ecstatic

The buzz: The mighty Mos Def exploded straight outta Brooklyn in the ’90s, starring in the conscientious hip-hop duo Black Star with Talib Kweli. He then turned out a series of astounding solo efforts such as his 1999 debut, “Black on Both Sides,” and its rocking 2004 follow-up, “The New Danger.” Along the way, he’s mesmerized in Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled” and Michel Gondry’s “Be Kind Rewind,” hosted Russell Simmons’ “Def Poetry” showcase, appeared on Broadway in plays like the Tony-nominated and Pulitzer-winning “Topdog/Underdog” and generally kept hip-hop honest in a post-9/11 age of crappy bling-rap.

The verdict: After his 2006 effort “True Magic” featured production from underwhelming helmers like the Neptunes and Rich Harrison, Mos Def signed Los Angeles’ genius Madlib and his brother Oh No for production duties. Indeed, Madlib’s laid-back jazz provides “The Ecstatic” with its best moments, from the rolling thump of “Revelations” and “Pretty Dancer” to the politically savvy “Auditorium,” which features old-school champ Slick Rick. Oh No gives Madlib good chase on the psych-rock haze of “Supermagic,” which is the best track on the release. But other tunes, especially the soulful team-up with Talib Kweli on “History” (produced by the late J Dilla), body-rock your brains just as well. Mos Def’s hyper-aware culture raps keep it smart the whole way.

Did you know? Mos Def started out as an actor, starring in the TV movie “God Bless the Child” at the age of 14, and studied experimental theater at New York University.

This review appeared at Tribune/Metromix

Chali 2na, Fish Outta Water

The buzz: Los Angeles wordsmith Chali 2na has a sonic resume worth memorizing. In the early ”90s, he starred at the legendary Good Life Cafe with what would become the purist hip-hop outfit Jurassic 5. He also lent his distinctive baritone and gift for tongue-twisting, conscientious rhyme to bands like Ozomatli, which also featured his friend and Jurassic 5 DJ Cut Chemist. But 2na was a stellar free agent as well, teaming up with UK rapper Roots Manuva, American rap-bangers Linkin Park, NOLA funketeers Galactic and more. All of that heavy rhyming set the stage for this highly anticipated solo debut, which more than meets the hype halfway.

The verdict: Jurassic 5 and Ozo fans will feel right at home with “Fish Outta Water,” which hopscotches from old-school hop to reggae and even R&B without missing a beat. “International” finds 2na mashing blazing raps with Beanie Man, and the dub-hop majesty of “Guns Up,” featuring Damian and Stephen Marley, is probably the solo effort’s standout track. The graffiti anthem “Graff Time” and the Numark bouncer” Comin’ Thru” feel like leftovers from hip-hop’s Golden Age, while 2na’s more soulful, sensitive side unfurls on “4 Be Be,” “Love’s Gonna Getcha” and “Righteous Way.” It’s an impressive, but expected, debut from one of the finest, smartest rappers in the biz.

Did you know? “Fish Outta Water” track “Don’t Stop,” featuring Anthony Hamilton, appeared on EA Sports’ “NBA Live 06.”

This review appeared in Tribune/Metromix

Blaq Poet, Tha Blaqprint

The buzz: After participating in the beef between Marley Marl’s Juice Crew and KRS-One’s Boogie Down Productions in the ’80s, Blaq Poet watched hip-hop’s evolution to lifestyle phenomenon pass his gangsta rap by. In ’90s, he formed the duo PHD with DJ Hot Day and helped found the hip-hop quintet Screwball, which attracted attention from lifers like DJ Premier. But it wasn’t until 2006 that his debut solo effort “Rewind: Deja Screw” landed, paving the way for this brutal throwback.

The verdict: Premier’s hard-hitting production carries Blaq Poet’s game forward without fail on “Tha Blaqprint.” From sampling N.W.A. on “Stretch Marks and Cigarette Burns” and Eric B. & Rakim on “Rap Addiction” to blessedly avoiding Auto-Tune like the plaque that it is, Preemo makes it clear that old-school beatcraft is still relevant. For the most part, Poet repays the favor with ferocity, pouring out 40 oz. rhymes all over gangsta graveyard of the rough diamonds like “I-Gitiitin,” “Don’t Give a Fucc,” and “Ain’t Nuthin’ Changed.” But the problem for Blaq Poet is that things have changed, a ton, and his murderous game rings hollow in the age of Kanye West, 50 Cent and other hip-hop celebs. Poet’s visceral bit for street cred makes for refreshing soundtracking, but there’s more to good music than nostalgia.

Did you know? Screwball’s controversial 1999 single “Who Shot Rudy?” fantasized about assassinating New York mayor Rudy Guliani.

This review appeared in Tribune/Metromix

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