When the debut album Slow Your Roll appeared in 2004, it saw emcees Jet Set Jay (Jaysonic), Biscuit (then Comel), and the consistent beatsmith Mekalek join the ranks of People Under the Stairs and Blackalicious as prime examples of artistically viable West Coast indie hip-hop. While their sophomore album witnesses a shift for Mekalek from old school lounge to more party centered beats, the group’s status as essential conscious L.A. rappers is cemented. Mekalek’s production sounds like a series of instant singles and the rhymes, which take the album title to heart, strike a perfect balance between social responsibility, druggy spirituality, and the emotional baggage of modern life. The closing “Survival Kit” sums up the concept nicely with lines about finding your own way over light acoustic guitar and floating pads that wisp away till the last minute, when a vicious drum beat kicks in. Life Is Expensive is progressive hip-hop at its finest.