Short Cuts :: RECORD REVIEWS 

Hip-hop listening log: Cultural exiles bumrush main street.

1988 - Blueprint (Rhymesayers): Ohio-based indie lifer multithreats like Kanye West, with a surer flow if fewer ideas. The over-arching one here is a tribute to hip-hop's late '80s pinnacle, which means Public Enemy samples, human beat-boxing, and a song inspired by Do the Right Thing's Radio Raheem. Hoping for the cultural impact of any of that is a pipe dream, though. And Blueprint understands the reality all too well: Here's "another good album with bad distribution." ("1988," "Trouble on My Mind," "Inner City Native Son")

Grade: A-

This Right Here Is Buck 65 - Buck 65 (V2): A white guy from rural Canada with a gruff voice and literary sensibility, Buck 65 is hip-hop's Leonard Cohen and only slightly more funky than that sounds. But if the beats on this U.S. major-label debut aren't exactly club-worthy, the songcraft keeps you coming back, a dynamic the artist explains with the moral of his densely detailed, first-person shoeshiner's tale "Craftsmanship": "Craftsmanship is a quality that some lack/You have to give people a reason to come back." A more substantial marriage of hip-hop and folk rock than the records that made Beck famous. ("Wicked n Weird," "Cries a Girl," "Craftsmanship")

Grade: A-

Be - Common (Geffen): Mainstream hip-hop's ultimate boho wet dream delivers his most cohesive album ever thanks to producer Kanye West and a lean 11-track, 42-minute length. Even better than West's soul-based grooves: an almost heroic interest in other people's lives. ("Be," "The Corner," "Chi-City")

Grade: A-

Black Dialogue - The Perceptionists (Definitive Jux): The presence of golden-age icons Guru (Gang Starr) and Humpty Hump (Digital Underground) on this indie-rap near-classic isn't an act of nostalgia. It's the embrace of a culture in exile. Fifteen years ago, Black Dialogue would have stood beside Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions in the hip-hop mainstream. And if this Boston trio's beats aren't quite a match for BDP, much less Public Enemy's Bomb Squad, the Perceptionists present a vision of hip-hop humanity that shames those cultural forebears as much as it does any present-day gangstas. KRS-ONE and Chuck D. could never have penned a love song as real as "Love Letters" or an ode to the workweek as knowing as "5 O'Clock." Song of the Year candidate: "Career Finders," job counseling for gangsta rappers. (Fave moment: "State your name. Mighty Dolla. [pause] HAHAHA.") Album-opening line unlikely to be forgotten: "Hard tracks remind me of blacks with scarred backs/These are facts." ("Let's Move," "Black Dialogue," "Career Finders," "People 4 Prez")

Grade: A

Felt 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet - Slug & Murs (Rhymesayers): A summit meeting of sorts between two indie heavyweights, SoCal alt-rap Everyman Murs and Slug, the Midwest's bard of complicated sex and regional color. Not really about the most transgressive Cosby kid, just as their first pairing didn't have much to do with ostensible honoree Christina Ricci. Just a reflection of the loose spirit and simultaneously brainy and horn-dog attitude of the project: Not only are their lust objects left-of-center, their sex songs are as much about giving as receiving. ("Early Mornin' Tony," "Breaker Down Like a Shotgun," "Woman Tonight," "Gangster Ass Anthony")

Grade: B+

Run the Road - Various Artists (Vice/679): This collection of British grime (essentially a hip-hop variant with echoes of techno and dancehall reggae) isn't quite at the level of The Harder They Come or The Indestructible Beat of Soweto. But then again, grime isn't quite golden-age reggae or South African mbaqanga either. Breakout scene stars Dizzee Rascal and the Streets are here, but it's the names you've never heard of that stand out: rugged voices spitting hardscrabble tales over cheap, gritty beats. It doesn't have the ease or command of the first wave of American gangsta rap. But it might have more energy and spirit. ("Let It Out" - Roll Deep; "P's and Q's" - Kano; "Cha Ching" - Lady Sovereign) n

Grade: A-

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