Various Artists: Definitive Jux Presents III

Stefan Braidwood

Various Artists

Definitive Jux Presents III

Label: Definitive Jux
US Release Date: 2004-03-09
UK Release Date: 2004-03-29

I can still remember picking up the second compilation in this series in a Parisian Virgin Megastore. Aesop Rock's popularity was just peaking, Ja Rule was all over the charts, and cats in the know were making noise about this newly signed producer chap on the strength of an under-the-radar mixtape. A few years on and RJ's has died down from thermonuclear to bubbling as we eagerly await his sophomore "rock" album, Ja Rule has been consigned to whatever purgatory awaits squinting dwarves, Aesop's producing for someone else, and Kanye West is "the first backpacker with a Benz" and singles at No.1 in the pop charts. Whither Def Jux in 2004?

Well, not the top of the Billboard, but no big changes there. In fact, despite what graf artist Phase 2's little intro has to say about the label being a (promotional) agent of change in a pool of hip-pop that badly requires one, its output seems to have changed very little: the attitude is anti-bling and pretty grim, the mic a device on which spleen is to be vented as skillfully (read: complexly) as possible, the lyrics frequently abstract and the beats variations on the theme of El-P's -- menacingly funky sewer sci-fi. Def Jux is still punk by another name, and thank god for that.

El-P himself is in fine fettle here, terrorizing the VMAs with Camu Tao before blowing up the building on WMR ("WeatherMen Radio"). Moby gets caught lap-dancing for P.Diddy, shrooms get popped and Giuliani gets shot. Now that's entertainment. Sadly, that's also the closest to new Weathermen material we get on this record, so Copywrite isn't around to savage anyone, but El-P also turns in a great bit of T.D.J.-style storytelling on "Oxycontin Part 2" (assisted by freshly-signed Cage) and remixes one of two tracks by newcomers Hangar 18. Atoms Family members Windnbreeze and Alaska, for it is they, excel at high-velocity multi-syllabics and actually provide some hooks, too, but their presence here along with fellow ex-Atoms DJ paWL and Despot prompts me to enquire: has their old crew collapsed? There's no sign of Cryptic One behind the boards or on the mic. Say it ain't so!

In their place, we have 4th Pyramid, whose "Aquatic" is a sonic ode to the delights of bong smoking but is unlistenable to anyone not stoned past the gills; Carnage, who fails to live up to his blink-and-you'll-be-eviscerated cameos on the recent Eyedea & Abilties album; and producer Arcsin, whom I'd never previously heard of. Pity, as he laces C-Rayz Walz with a serenely chilling backdrop to flow over on "Jello", a finely crafted cautionary tale against the misogyny so prevalent in hip-hop ("She played the role / But her supporting cast / Was every man that lied to her / Just to get in that ass"). Arcsin also provides claustrophobic violence for Despot, who unleashes horribly acute, poetic, and graphic misery on "Homesickness". Forget emo rap, this is music to bash your brains out to.

Aesop Rock prefers to externalize his hurt in the form of more viciously satirical cluster bombs on "All in All"; all very Bazooka Tooth-stylee, so whether veteran Ace Rizzle fans like myself love it or hate it, he's not going back. The loping basslines and deep soundscapes he produces here are dope if unspectacular, Murs riding them well and dropping a fiercely amusing tirade against "actor" MCs threatening gangsta violence on "You're Dead to Me". Elsewhere, fellow straight-talker Mr. Lif double-teams with Akrobatik all over a loose and funky Fakts One beat; the trio now calling themselves the Perceptionists have got enough bounce and battle skills for days. Here's to a Boston-repping LP, guys.

After exhorting MCs to "count these bars" on the last Def Jux compilation, Rob Sonic rides another monster of a metallic bassline arrogantly on "Dylsexia", my favourite beat of the CD. Wish he'd put out more stuff. And of course, there's "Clean Living" to wind things up, biding us over 'til RJ's Since We Last Spoke is released. Handclaps, a light-as-breath soul sample and some gentle guitar licks glide together into a lovely melancholy bath for the ears. And Def Jux? Still pumping out quality defiance for the bored. Amen to that.





The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.