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Various Artists

Listen Picks: Hip-Hop

(Noiseland Industries)

Man, does this disc cover a lot of ground… Not real surprising, I guess, considering it’s a comp of artists from the Listen.com music site, where pretty much anybody can put their own tracks online. I knew that beforehand, so I’ll admit I was kind of skeptical about the CD—I’ve downloaded enough crappy MP3s to know that I don’t need to hear every little bit of music some would-be b-boy hero’s thrown up on a Website. That said, this caught me off-guard, mostly because of the variety the Listen.com folks’ve picked out, here; there’s everything from DJ workouts to battle rhymes to soulful three-part harmonies, from studio-produced stuff to lo-fi bedroom recordings. And hell, the artists themselves are a varied bunch, representing everywhere from Dallas and the Bronx to the Virgin Islands and Malaysia (no, really).


Of course, with that much variety, it ain’t all gonna be pretty. I definitely could’ve done without EnterpriZe’s R&B-flavored “What About Love?” (don’t you hear enough R. Kelly on the damn radio?), and I caught myself looking at the time somewhere around minute four of Rhetorik’s “Desperation” (nice instrumental track…too bad he had to throw lyrics on top of it). “It’s Goin’ Down Tonite”, by Shabazz3, also gets a pass next time around—not bad, necessarily, but I heard it all on “Yo! MTV Raps” about 10 years ago. And finally, I don’t care if Future Shock are a “San Diego area superposse”; their lyrics suck.


Now, on to the good stuff: Prince Paul & Dan “The Automator” Nakamura, aka Handsome Boy Modeling School, kick things off right on “Rock ‘N’ Roll (Could Never Hip Hop Like This),” throwing down an organic, almost Beta Band-esque composition, a pretty formidable intro to the CD as a whole. Meta 4 speeds things up with some fast, precise, Wu-Tang-style battle rhymes on “Numb Niggaz”, and then Del The (when’d he change it from “Tha”?) Funky Homosapien stages his comeback on “Phoney Phranchise (Domino Remix)”—he’s matured a little since his glory days, but that’s a good thing, believe me. X-ecutioner turntablist Rob Swift changes direction with “What Would You Do”, a beautifully-crafted sampling exercise incorporating gangsta rhymes, jazzy licks, manipulated kung-fu movie sounds, and what sounds like a self-help tape, and Dash’s “Infinite Rhymes” continues in that “jazzy” vein, crazy lyrics backed by a smooth bassline.


Kinship’s down-south groove on “I Feel It” keeps it going with a Blackalicious/Roots positive vibe, and then Non Phixion’s “Black Helicopters” switches tracks for some dark, futuristic, conspiracy theory shit, built on a freakishly twisted sample the RZA himself would be proud to claim. Malaysian rappers Teh Tarik Crew perform on “Group Therapy”, which isn’t bad, considering I can’t understand half of what the hell they’re saying; the simple instrumental backups they use actual work better than some of the busier tracks on here. Tricky’s would-be-kid brother Troy Scalpels makes an appearance with “When I’m Peepin’”, a spooky, almost Massive Attack-like track with cool strings and “bleep” noises. Second to last, Creeper’s “Sub Pop Bionic” makes me want to break out my old George Clinton albums (“Atomic Dog”, anybody?). Ah, well—at least he takes it and makes it his own, laying a foundation of crunching synth-bass beneath a mutated breaker version of the “Six Million Dollar Man” story, relayed through a vocoder.


Finally, the album closes with The Coup, with “Me and Jesus the Pimp in a ‘79 Granada Last Night”, which has gotta be one of the finest pieces of ghetto storytelling I’ve heard in a long time. No gangsta exploits, mind you, but the story of a son breaking the chain of abuse that killed his mother, and one so real you can almost feel the car rolling down the highway.

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