Hip-hop is a big country and AWOL ONE operates in an area many miles away from the materialistic fantasies and thug braggadocio that still define much of mainstream and crossover rap. His latest, The Landmark, another collaboration with Canadian laid-back-beats maestro Factor, cultivates a patch closer to the stony underground vibes of the Stones Throw crew, though less spacey (the closest analogue would be the early work of U.K. rapper The Streets). It's a concept album of sorts, a unified snapshot of AWOL ONE's head. “The whole process was about three months,” he says. “We recorded the first song in Japan and then just kept bangin' em out. I wanted this project to have a very consistent vibe. I wanted it to flow well together. It's self-reflection and I wanted it to represent me with no filter. My influences are things around me, and that's L.A. The lifestyle we live is Southern Cali to the fullest.” The standout track is “The Wasp,” featuring Moka Only, a low-key, confessional joint embedded by Factor in a minimal, Pete Rock–like production, but the entire album should be experienced as a whole L.A. story. There's something early- to mid-'90s about it, as if Dr. Dre and Beck had collaborated on the soundtrack for Robert Altman's Short Cuts. It takes chutzpah to name an album The Landmark, but AWOL ONE might just have pulled it off.

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