Record Reviews 

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Back 2 Da Basics

Yo Gotti

(TVT)

Yo Gotti uses ace producers and first-rate guests to become a hip-hop contender.

As arguably now the second biggest rap act in Memphis, Yo Gotti is something like Bill Dundee to Three 6 Mafia's Jerry Lawler (during one of their feuding periods): He's a worthy competitor locally, but he doesn't translate outside the market.

The single "Gangsta Party" is a highlight of Gotti's second album for national hip-hop-heavyweight indie TVT (home of Lil' Jon and the Ying-Yang Twins), but it's also unintentionally revealing. Though the presence of old(er)-school stars Bun B and 8 Ball provokes Gotti to step up his game -- it's his most dexterous vocal performance on the album -- the strain of the effort shows. In their utter ease, the guest stars rap rings around the headliner.

But another revelation from the song is Carlos Broady's track, which slices up a Marvin Gaye sample with aplomb. Unlike Three 6, Gotti's more of a one-trick-pony; he doesn't have a sound to call his own. But the primary reason Back 2 Da Basics sounds so much more confident, more assured than 2003's Life, is the presence of so much high-level production. The Memphis-bred, nationally known Broady is all over the record, providing standouts like the slow-swagger, deep-soul groove of "25 To Life" and the dawn-of-gangsta-referencing "Spend It Cuz U Got It." Name producer Scott Storch also makes an appearance ("That's What They Made It Foe"). And, in this context, local producer Slisce Tee rises to the occasion, especially with the New Orleans undercurrent he laces into "Where I'm At."

Lyrically and vocally, Back 2 Da Basics is less compelling. Gotti's marble-mouthed drawl isn't nimble or articulate enough for my tastes. (I don't think he'd fair well on one of those Kool Moe Dee MC scoresheets.) And that doesn't help enliven the content. The tough-guy routine here (sample title: "I'm a Thug," which is funny when Trick Daddy says it) minus gripping detail, interesting language, or sharp flow is just boring, regardless of how real the image is. -- Chris Herrington

Grade: B

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A Generation of Pleasure Seekers

Chess Club

(Young Avenue Records)

This local four-piece rock band with guests (Free Sol, Susan Marshall, Planet Swan) has a sound that's hard to pin down. Sometimes they sound like radio rock from an earlier era; sometimes like an indie buzz-band from another city; sometimes like an art band from another country. Clearer and cleaner than the Memphis indie-rock norm, they always sound like themselves and never lose an inherent hookiness. A find. ("Apes," "Hey," "Your Best Work") -- CH

Grade: B+

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The Faithless

Nights Like These

(Victory)

Like many of the albums on Victory Records, The Faithless confidently asserts itself as another addition to the new breed of metal that has been spawned by the hardcore punk scene. The Faithless has moments of thick, epic heaviness that bring to mind Atlanta's Mastodon but also retains a punk aesthetic that leans in the direction of Boston's Converge. Vocally, lead singer Billy Bottom emotes a deep growl throughout the album (excluding the black metal-esque opening to "Scavenger's Daughter"), which, along with the occasional double-bass-pedal breakdown, secures a menacing, dark mood for the majority of the record. The highlight of The Faithless is the technical metal guitar of Darren Saucer and Matt Qualls. ("Storming Valhalla," "Scavenger's Daughter") -- Matthew Cole

Grade: A-

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