In between solo and collaborative projects, Canada's greatest gift to hip-hop returns with a collection of b-sides, remixes and never before heard tracks from the Toronto and east coast undergrounds.
Being a Marco Polo listener has been a satisfying journey this past decade. One of his first high profile placements came on Masta Ace's classic A Long Hot Summer, and a few years later, he caught the entire underground's attention with Port Authority. While the producer album has grown to feel typical and cautious in the three years since it's release, at the time, Port Authority signaled a revival of the ethics that drove beatsmiths such as DJ Premier and Easy Mo Bee. Tight drums without extreme echo treatment, bouncy funk-based hip-hop and an emphasis on sampled/scratched hooks. Just a year later, and Polo's taken the Premier comparisons further, teaming with underground archetype Torae on last year's excellent Double Barrel and this year's surprise hardcore release of the year, Ruste Juxx's the eXXecution.
The Stupendous Adventures of Marco Polo is not a sequel to Port Authority, but rather a holdover of b-sides, freelance work and remixes that haven't made it to most Polo fans' ears yet. But while it eventually suffers from some of the same things Port Authority did -- mainly, too many voices and a lack of a clear direction for the project -- this album is actually more consistent than that album was despite its throwaway status. The album begins with a fairly unassuming opener before giving us a remix of "The Radar" with Large Professor (originally on Port Authority) that improves on the original. The following tracks feature a variety of MCs from Torae and Juxx to unknowns like Shylow and Promise, all of whom are either made better by Polo's constructions, or at least sound appropriate and comfortable. Promise's track, "The Bridge", is a particular highlight with its earnest delivery and jazzy feel.
There are definitely some moments on the disc that drag, though, which is pretty typical of producer albums. The portions may vary for each person, but "Whylin' Out" feels fairly useless (though it will have plenty of fans for Shylow's vicious Cutco delivery), and any combination of the last four or five tracks can feel dull depending on one's state of mind. "The Veteran", featuring longtime Long Island MC Grand Daddy I.U., contains a real dope sample of the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" (how this sample got cleared is anyone's guess) and is the disc's lone big artistic statement. The remix of a Royce da 5'9", Elzhi and Supastition tracko n DJ K.O.'s 2008 release Picture This... and Skyzoo's "Blockshit" in particular feel like cuts that may as well have made an album. Arcee is provided with a really hot sample I struggled for days to put a name on before giving up, and eventhough enough can be said about his lyrical prowess, he sounds good.
Ultimately, there are very few duds here. Any fans of Marco Polo's brand of revival hip-hop ought to give this a few spins. Otherwise, be sure to check the highlights on You Tube and grab a copy of either Ruste Juxx or Torae's solo collabs with Polo: both are can't miss releases of the past 12 months. The Stupendous Adventures of Marco Polo isn't going to boost Polo's momentum any further, but it's much doper than a collection of also-rans has any right to be released and confidently continues Polo's hot streak.