Various Artists: Om Hip Hop, Volume 1

[27 February 2007]

By Dave Hoffman

Om Records has been releasing a variety of hip-hop from trend-setting acts like the Roots, DJ Shadow, Blackalicious, and A Tribe Called Quest for more than ten years.  Over that time, they also introduced artists like Cut Chemist, Peanut Butter Wolf, Latryx (Lyrics Born and Lateef the Truth Speaker), and People Under the Stairs, to name just a few.  With this release, Om launches Om:Hip-Hop, a dedicated label in the Om Records family committed “to discovering and releasing the dopest forward thinking hip-hop around.”

Om Hip Hop, Volume 1, the first installment of a new compilation series, features eight exclusive tracks from a diverse group of artists, including Ladybug Mecca (formerly of Digable Planets) remixed by Kenny Dope (of Masters at Work fame), Colossus, J Boogie’s Dubtronic Science, Zeph and Azeem, E Da Boss (featuring Gift of Gab and Lateef the Truth Speaker) and the newly-signed the One, hailing from Charlotte, North Carolina.  The disc also includes tracks from Bay Area favorites Zion I & the Grouch, Raashan Ahmad of Crown City Rockers and the Texas-based Strange Fruit Project.

Kicking off with the menacing electro-minimalism of “Hit ‘Em” by Zion I & the Grouch, featuring a catchy call-and-response chorus, the disc slides right into the entirely-too-short Kenny Dope Voc-Up Remix of “Dogg Starr” by Ladybug Mecca, featuring Raheem DeVaughn.  Part of the chorus from this groovy remix gets my vote for the unofficial theme of this compilation (“Turn it up loud / Unconventional music in your stereo”).  Next up is “Get Live” from the Strange Fruit Project.  Named after the old Billie Holiday chestnut, the group consists of cousins Symbolyc One and Myth, together with the like-minded Myone. Taken from their debut disc The Healing, “Get Live” features guest vocals by Erykah Badu over a nice laidback groove. “Go Left” by DJ and producer E Da Boss features the intricate flow of Blackalicious’ Gift of Gab and Lateef the Truth Speaker over a percussion heavy rhythm track.

The disc reflects the collaborative nature of much Bay Area hip-hop, with many of the acts contributing their own tracks and guesting on others.  Consider Azeem, who spent a couple of years touring with Bay Area hip-hop icon Michael Franti as part of Spearhead.  He left the group to concentrate on his own work with partner Zeph. They contribute “Play the Drum”, which inexplicably starts off with what sounds like an accordion sample.  The track quickly morphs into a funky mid-tempo beat, complete with an odd vocal sample hook (“I want to play the drums / In such a crazy way / And everyone around will say you ought to hear him play”) and some creepy lyrics (“My pen’s alive and my rhymes are live creatures / If speakers had teeth they’d rip you to pieces”).  Zeph and Azeem contribute a second track called “Rise Up”.  Azeem also helps out on a nicely chilled out track from Colossus called “From the Lab (Colossus’s All Night Dub Mix)”.  Finally, the disc winds up on a mellow note, with a couple relaxed, jazz-inflected tracks.  The first, “Happy”, by Ahmad, works a nice groove based around some killer electric piano improvisation.  The second, “Contemplating”, by Colossus (featuring Flash) is built around a slow percussion shuffle, and showcases some beautiful vocals, presumably by Flash.  It’s a perfect way to wind up an excellent, eclectic survey of independent hip-hop.

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