The re-release of Azeem’s 2001 album Craft Classic churns a sorely familiar inquiry: how could an emcee this conscious—both lyrically and subjectively—remain so malnourished in hip-hop ranks? The only solution remains in label promotion, which this go-around attempts to remedy with its release on a different label. Though the tracks are five years old, they stand predominately timeless, crafted on the basis of Californian sociology and ultimately extended beyond their Oakland parameters to wallow in universality. Azeem may not deliver with the same animation as pseudo-underground contemporaries like, say, a Talib Kweli, but he manages to remain on par by similarly climping the spheres of lyricism and substance together with ease. Craft Classic comes alive on every track, whether Azeem is battling with questionably hallucinated demons on the dreamscaped “Northern Lights” or cluster-fucking words via the art of alliteration on “Duragz”. Azeem unfortunately suffers on the production tip, with tracks like the flatfooted “Simple Ting” and the brusque “Organic Food” sagging the album’s arch. Craft Classic may be repetitive in that regard, but it does possess few noteworthy productions, like the spidery “Local Registration Paper”, featuring a resplendent sample of Nikka Costa’s “Like a Feather”, and the aforementioned “Northern Lights”. Regardless of production, though, Azeem has proved himself too lyrically blessed to further remain in obscurity, and if Craft Classic maintains the test of time, Azeem will surely get what he deserves.
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