Unagi, the beatmaker from California’s Bay Area, hit the right notes with his previous instrumental albums, Unagi (2003), and Keepin’ It Eel (2005). Listening to Unagi reminds me of California’s sonic diversity, which often gets lost in the shine created by the likes of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Too Short, and E-40. Unagi’s latest release, It Came From Beneath the SFC, continues to celebrate his uniqueness. His sound is deceptively intricate, building grooves out of loops from the ‘70s and ‘80s, and adding jazzy horns and pianos or up-to-date drums and percussion. Not surprisingly, the tracks that put Unagi’s production technique in the forefront are the standouts: the intro “Shock & Awe”, “Split Decision”, “Shoulda Known Better”, “EKGz”, “If You Wanna”, “Rolling Ronnie”, and the Barry White-flavored “Give It to Me”. Unagi’s approach is like listening to Paul Hardcastle at a jam session with Herbie Hancock, with Marly Marl showing up to provide samples and scratches. Unfortunately, the guest emcees don’t always rise to the challenge. Sometimes Unagi’s beats come to the rescue, sometimes not. The biggest “not” unfortunately occurs when Unagi acts as his own guest, taking the mic on “Lost & Found” with lackluster results. However, a few of the other guests hold their own, with the highlights being: “Stay Focused”, where Linkletterz reminds us of “Rapper’s Delight”; Motion Man’s flow on the Pete Rock-resembling background of “Who Spilt the Beer”; and “Wrap You Up”, featuring Melina Jones’ conversational rhymes that recall Ladybug Mecca from Digable Planets. All in all, Unagi’s latest throws a delightful curveball from the norm.
// Notes from the Road
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