The DJ/Producer album has become a farce in the world of hip-hop as of late, which is sad; seeing another pillar of the form get weakened. Recent releases from some of the more popular, like Clue and Violator are little more than glorified "current hits" collections offering no real hint as to a distinct style. Seeing how quickly many tracks off these albums are rushed to TRL-ready videos, it's easy to see that it was the intention all along.

So… indie hip-hop to the rescue? Not to repeat a tired cliché, but sure, the true torchbearers of the hip-hop staple known as the DJ album is the underground. It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise; DJ/Producer collaborations are the inevitable progression of the street-corner mix tape, and indie hip-hop's main concern is with preserving the real elements of the art form. Right now, popular hip-hop is too flashy and too concerned with its flash to bring about this progression. Indie hip-hop to the rescue.

Mr. Len, an alumni of Company Flow, has made his latest contribution to the DJ/Producer fold and first solo project with (get ready for this) ''Pity The Fool: Experiments in Therapy Behind The Mask Of Music While Handing Out Dummy Smacks." His act has been honed by touring with Company Flow for years on end, so any underground hip-hop head will feel in safe hands. He enters the scene with a collection of more than able emcees, the most impressive of which is given the honor of being mentioned several times on the album: Jean Grae. This was my first run-in with her, but it was enough to keep me on the lookout for more. As it is, most of the performers on this release feel so relaxed with Mr. Len behind the scenes that they willingly unleash verse upon verse of heavy lyrical flow, culminating in the far-ahead-of-its-time "Taco Day" track.

This may have been the main problem with the album, though. The emceeing happened to excel the DJ work on many occasions. And those one or two times that it wasn't up to snuff, the song would end up as slight and forgettable. There's no doubt to the fact that Mr. Len has talent or that he works well with others ("others" being anybody besides Big Juss and El-P, of course), but I don't feel like I've heard his best on this one. It's good, but even at the album's best it doesn't scratch the surface of what the DJ can do as an artist. That being the case, as a whole "Pity The Fool…" doesn't demand your immediate attention unless you're a huge follower of the man's work. It fails to make any lasting statement.

Techno Animal's "Brotherhood of the Bomb" most certainly does make a statement. This dark, brooding collection of beats from the duo of Kevin Martin and Justin Broadrick is described best as an assault. Their style of production is very heavy and passionate, expressing a level of individualism sorely missing in hip-hop today.
What were problems on Mr. Len's "Pity The Fool…", the general good-yet-passable flavor of the album, the overshadowing by talented rhymers, and a lack of cohesion among the songs to create a whole album, become non-issues on Techno Animal's first Matador release. It's very experimental territory for hip-hop on "Brotherhood of the Bomb," and their technical wizardry is evident throughout. Again, the standard issue hip-hop visionaries come through: Anti-Pop Consortium, Cannibal Ox, and El-P. Further testament to underground's ability to come together.
A small knock against this album might be a mild lack of focus every now and then on some songs, but there's just no way around it: this has to be some of the most groundbreaking music to come out in years, hip-hop or otherwise. "Brotherhood of the Bomb" effectively makes a name for itself among DJ/Producer collaborations, and shows where the music can go.

-- Maurice Downes

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