Album: Underground Railroad
Label: Ground Control Records
a question of brains and beauty when you get down to it. Even a question
of fun. When it comes to hip-hop, it seems like you just can't be all
things to all people. If you're a "conscious" emcee, then the
club-goers are quick to shoot you down as ruining their good time with
your constant harping. If you're "flashy", then you're accused
of not having a real thought going on in your pretty little head, and
the underground contingent just aren't with you. The battle lines are
pretty clearly drawn, and to be an independent emcee is one immediate
strike against you in the battle to get people's heads nodding.
Enter Masterminds. The three New York emcees (Oracle, Kimani, and Epod)
that make up this collective are in total lyrical control. Their lines
are well-delivered and clever, and they show loads of technique without
resorting to silly boasts. Moreover, the general theme of the album isn't
overly morose, which is a problem that some hip-hop artists have when
they try to venture into conscious territory. The "Masterminds"
are mostly concerned with getting on the mic with their rhyme delivery,
and if you happen to learn something
just as well. The guest lyricists
don't make themselves a nuisance either, which is absolute gold for someone
who listens to hip-hop with any frequency. They're there to add a little
something, not to grandstand
Except for the track "Seven"
which features, of course, seven rhymers. Everyone's there to grandstand
and it's great (El-P's appearance will make Company Flow fans weepy about
their recent break up).
The beats on this album are truly something special. Listening to "The
Underground Railroad" is listening to some true DJ cutting and scratching,
and it works well with the lines being laid down. There are tracks that'll
get your ass out of your seat, and tracks that'll just have you calming
down and appreciating the music. Quite a huge deal for such a low-key
release, but it never comes off as some under-budget underground effort.
"The Underground Railroad" succeeds as an album that is thoughtful
and exciting at the same time. As a whole, it seems to gain confidence
as the tracks get more and more powerful towards the end. The real chances
are taken with songs like "2025" and the ultra-serious "Day
One", a warning about the dangers of lingering racism.
A solid hip-hop release for all the right reasons, you could do a lot
worse than to take a chance on "Masterminds" and "The Underground
Railroad". Further proof that hip-hop intelligence can be fun.
Free Williamsburg© | 93 Berry
Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211
| July 2001 | Issue 16
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