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Ring of the Fellowship 

Wednesday, Feb 6 2002
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FREESTYLE FELLOWSHIP
Temptations (Project Blowed)

FREESTYLE FELLOWSHIP
Version 2.0 (Beats and Rhymes)

MIKAH 9
Timetable (Kaihou)

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Ever since releasing their germinal To Whom It May Concern just over 10 years ago, the Freestyle Fellowship have anchored California’s flourishing hip-hop underground. Aceyalone, Mikah 9, P.E.A.C.E. and Self Jupiter didn’t just inspire an entire generation of artists, they’ve stayed on the scene as innovators. As a group, though, they’ve been noticeably absent — their last album together was 1993’s Inner City Griots. Despite numerous solo projects, the only place to find the Fellowship gathered has been on random singles and compilations. That’s all changed with three new Fellowship-related albums, beginning with the long-awaited reunion, Temptations.

The Fellowship show that age hasn’t slowed them down on the best songs, like “Ghetto Youth” — a stunner built on sinister rhythms and punishing rhymes — or the marathon lyrical exercise “No Hooks, No Chorus.” But Temptations lacks consistency. Much of the production slumps into a midtempo droop that’s more lazy than languid. Worse, the group’s chemistry goes AWOL too often; though each member hits his stride, there’s not enough interaction to create synergistic magic. Newer listeners might wonder what the fuss is about.

Temptations is a good idea awkwardly executed; the Fellowship’s Version 2.0 is simply a bad idea. J. Sumbi’s remix of the entire To Whom It May Concern album is like revamping De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising or Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) — why mess with perfection? The beats were far ahead of their time in 1991, and while Sumbi deploys a fuller, cleaner, keyboard-based sound, his one-note approach wears quickly.

Onward to Mikah 9’s solo Timetable. While Aceyalone has been the Fellowship’s most visible member, Mikah is no less gifted. If Acey’s verbal experiments and unpredictable flow make him hip-hop’s Monk, Mikah is Bird, unleashing straight virtuosity on the mic. “Life and Death” hits like a roundhouse as he fashions himself into a verbal keyboard, staying in perfect rhythmic and melodic sync with Daddy Kev’s pulsating beat and bass lines; on “Free Energy,” his mouth is a hooting, hollering, moaning scat instrument. Comprising more than 20 freestyles, alternative edits and original songs, Timetable is messy to dig through, especially considering many of the freestyles’ muddled sounds. But with his creative spirit and sheer overload of talent, Mikah taps into the best traditions of what the Fellowship have offered for the last 10 years.

MASTER P
Gameface (No Limit/Universal)

You know it’s all gone to hell when even thugs are glued to CNN, but No Limit Records founder-figurehead Master P isn’t feeling this armchair-punditocracy crap; he’s too wrapped up in his own back yard: “Brothers trippin’ on bin Laden, what about the hood?” he yells at one point.

Superficially at least, Gameface is the standard baller’s manifesto, a judicious blend of bling-bling and caveats to haters. But at its gooey center, P bares his pussy-whipped soul with “A Woman,” a straight-up valentine to domestic bliss. Elsewhere, silky keyboards, relentless kick drum, filtered funk guitars and P’s lazy shout-flow amp up minimalist Southern bounce with hardcore swagger. Simply put: The disc is stacked with beats that make you grab your nuts. We’ll probably never get another “(Make ’Em Say) Unnh” — the moronically irresistible ’97 hit that put No Limit on the map — but “Take It Outside,” “I Don’t,” “Rock It” and “Back on Top” ripple with a pump-your-fist urgency that proves livin’ large hasn’t made these soldiers flabby.

There’s some gap-toothed crackerjack shit like “Ooohhhwee,” but the corn is countered with the woozy lope of “The Block,” a hard-times retrospective bursting with colorful metaphors: “We the tapwater-on-cornflakes kinda niggas.” A Southern gentleman to the bone, P lends his misogyny the ring of (gulp) Old World charm. “To y’all bitches trying to get in a 430, a Lexus, a Bentley or a Ferrari — I ain’t mad at ya,” P declaims in “We Want Dough,” where a robo-hoochie gurgles, “Buy me clothes/shopping sprees/pass those keys.” In true thug fashion, P actually welcomes gold diggers — relationships are less complicated that way. (Andrew Lentz)

DIMITRI FROM PARIS
After the Playboy Mansion (Astralwerks)

Groove is in the goddamn heart. When adrenaline and chemicals can do no more, it’s groove that keeps you going at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning, which is arguably the best time to be dancing at a club, since the BPM-devouring weekend warriors have put their clumsy stupor to bed and the DJ has started playing “sleaze” music, as some used to call it — basically, records that get your groove on.

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