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Prefuse 73It probably goes without saying, but the state of hip-hop music these days is embarrassingly bad. From Jay-Z to P. Diddy, the landscape is bleak. Even the most recent Wu Tang record was a dud. The last hip-hop record to really blow me away was Kool Keith's Dr. Dooom and that was three years ago. But everyone knows that hip-hop sucks these days, so I won't waste any more time expanding upon the obvious.

Given the state of things, I'm amazed to see white boy Scott Herren mixing shit up on his wonderful new release Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives. Prefuse 73 (Herron's most recent incarnation) comes out of Atlanta where hip-hop is still creative (think Goodie Mob and Outkast) and he has previously recorded to much critical praise under the names of Delarosa and Asora and Savath + Savalas. If you like the homogenized thug rap shit that is out there today, you'll hate this record. But if you long for music that is as creative and original as it is melodic, then you will be pleased with Prefuse 73.

To set the record straight, Prefuse 73 is more genre-defying than any artist in recent memory and could just as easily be filed under "electronic" next to artists such as Matmos. I keep seeing him reviewed as a hip-hop artist and this seems to tell only half the story. There are plenty of guest rhymers (Mikah 9, Rec Center) to be found on this CD, but the vocals are often cut and sliced to such an enormous extent that the listener is left unable to discern the contents of the lyrics. Many tracks contain no vocals at all. And the beats and samples are way too unusual to be considered traditional hip-hop. The second song "Nuno" for instance creates some of the funkiest moments to be found on the record by incorporating the sounds of a record skipping and jumping like a needle on a terribly damaged record. The finished product is somehow enormously funky.

On the other hand, jazzy samples reminiscent of Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul are scattered throughout and will remind most of the golden age of what used to be called "New School" hip-hop. I don't know what "school" this record belongs to because it is just too unique for comparison.

Perfect for a late summer afternoon, Vocal Studies is an impressive record that will surely be on a lot of top ten lists at the end of this year, including my own. And yes, that familiar voice on "Last Light" is guest vocalist Sam Prekop.

-- Robert Lanham


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