Temptations (Project Blowed)
Version 2.0 (Beats and Rhymes)
Ever since releasing their germinal To Whom It May Concern just over 10 years ago, the Freestyle Fellowship have anchored Californias flourishing hip-hop underground. Aceyalone, Mikah 9, P.E.A.C.E. and Self Jupiter didnt just inspire an entire generation of artists, theyve stayed on the scene as innovators. As a group, though, theyve been noticeably absent their last album together was 1993s Inner City Griots. Despite numerous solo projects, the only place to find the Fellowship gathered has been on random singles and compilations. Thats all changed with three new Fellowship-related albums, beginning with the long-awaited reunion, Temptations.
The Fellowship show that age hasnt 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 thats more lazy than languid. Worse, the groups chemistry goes AWOL too often; though each member hits his stride, theres not enough interaction to create synergistic magic. Newer listeners might wonder what the fuss is about.
Temptations is a good idea awkwardly executed; the Fellowships Version 2.0 is simply a bad idea. J. Sumbis remix of the entire To Whom It May Concern album is like revamping De La Souls 3 Feet High and Rising or Wu-Tang Clans 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 9s solo Timetable. While Aceyalone has been the Fellowships most visible member, Mikah is no less gifted. If Aceys verbal experiments and unpredictable flow make him hip-hops 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 Kevs 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.
Gameface (No Limit/Universal)
You know its all gone to hell when even thugs are glued to CNN, but No Limit Records founder-figurehead Master P isnt feeling this armchair-punditocracy crap; hes 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 ballers 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 Ps 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. Well 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 Dont, Rock It and Back on Top ripple with a pump-your-fist urgency that proves livin large hasnt made these soldiers flabby.
Theres 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 yall bitches trying to get in a 430, a Lexus, a Bentley or a Ferrari I aint 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, its 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.