CD Reviews

VARIOUS ARTISTS, Lyricist Lounge Vol. 2 (Rawkus) Far removed from its New York roots as an underground showcase for emerging MCs in the '90s, the words "Lyricist Lounge" are now most readily associated with MTV's mediocre sketch comedy show. The label Rawkus was saddled with the task of restoring street credibility to the corporate-tainted name. Resisting the urge to overload Lyricist Lounge 2 with headliners, the bill boasts as many subterranean staples-turned-showstoppers as it does impressive up-and-comers. We all know that Pharoahe Monch, Redman, and Mos Def (who appears three times!) can hold it down, but the spirit of the Lyricist Lounge is to expose the next great talents, as it once did with Eminem and Foxy Brown. Vegetarian politicos Dead Prez offer their thought-provoking, gun-toting (yet gangsta-less) mission statement, footnoting John Wilkes Booth and Sirhan Sirhan on the DJ Hi Tek produced "Sharp Shooters," while lyrical king the Last Emperor claims lineage to Norseman Erik the Red and Muslim Mansa Musa enough to "pull a con job, like Ghengis" on "He Lives." Accompanied by Erick Sermon and a mouth-watering old school beat, Sy Scott spits the album's phattest verse on "Battle," where he out-references the RZA—giving shout-outs to Duke Nukem, Pikachu, and R2D2—and then threatens, "I'll brainstorm, 'til the whole rap game gets rained out." The Southern-fried jeep thumper "Watcha"—featuring Florida's J.T. Money and Georgia's Pastor Troy—shows that hip-hop continues to bump outside the 212. A promising notion since NYC is also home to MTV.—Jeff Malamy

CAJMERE, Techno-Funk (303/MDI) It's common in dance culture for producers to express contrasting sides of their music by changing their names for different projects. Yet it's tempting to use the term "schizophrenic" when discussing the output of Chicago house maestro Curtis A. Jones, simply because his personae differ so radically from one another—and each one is pretty strange on its own terms. As Cajmere, Jones makes freaky, minimal house, as well as some straighter stuff, like 1995's Dajae-sung classic "Brighter Days." His Green Velvet moniker finds him delving into twisted comedy, a la the riotous "Answering Machine," whose litany of bad-luck phone calls is followed by the blunt chorus, "I! Don't! Need! This! Shit!" Green Velvet got his own self-titled collection earlier this year; now Jones' other pseudonym gets equal time with this new DJ-mix—well, not exactly equal: "Answering Machine," which appears smack in the middle of Techno-Funk, is the only Jones-produced track of the 17. Nevertheless, the head-rush momentum of Jones' best work is all over the mix. Emphasizing texture over text, most of these cuts are bare-bones instrumentals, but they work up a fierce pace. Playing this disc is like plugging straight into a warehouse party going at full throttle and spending a quality hour there. It's not going to convert anybody who isn't already somewhat convinced of this stuff's fun value. But for dancers, fun it is. —Michaelangelo Matos

AIX EM KLEMM, Aix Em Klemm (Kranky) A gorgeous collaboration between Adam Wiltzie of atmospheric guitar duo Stars of the Lid and bassist Bobby Donne from Labradford, Aix Em Klemm began as a correspondence through the mail. It resulted in two studio sessions, which in turn produced these six slowly unfolding epics. With fewer dramatic flourishes than like-minded bands Godspeed You Black Emperor or Mogwai, it threatens to become dull, but the purity and beauty of the carefully crafted songs knock life into them. Instead of adding on to create hooks, the duo find them hidden in subtle, secret places: The introduction of obscured vocals or even the sound of a staticky needle on vinyl create powerful releases of the ever-building tension. This is the sort of album that makes you wish you had a quadraphonic listening room, where you could sit in the center and gradually turn to Jello. In a pinch, a decent car stereo will do, though I must warn you I missed several turns while entranced in these minimalist waves of sound. —Will Comerford

VARIOUS ARTISTS, Take a Bite Outta Rhyme: A Rock Tribute to Rap (Republic/Universal) A stroll through the crossroads of rock and rap used to make about as much sense as loitering at the intersection of Florence and Normandy during the LA riots. Merging two such disparate genres seemed an impossible ambition because of not only racial schisms but also the striking differences in their musical foundations. As Public Enemy frontman Chuck D writes in the liner notes to this compilation, "Early rappers kept away from guitars like Superman would from Kryptonite." D himself had a significant hand in bridging the rock/rap gap in 1987 when he teamed up with thrash metal muppets Anthrax to record a new version of Public Enemy's "Bring the Noise." While that collaboration was novel at the time, the current acceptance of this cross-pollination is richly evidenced in this 13-track collection, and some of it works quite well: the goofy exuberance of the Bloodhound Gang's rendering of Run DMC's "It's Tricky"; the lo-fi, subversively laid-back take on N.W.A.'s "Boyz-N-the Hood" by Dynamite Hack; and the Fun Lovin' Criminals' smoky, sultry send-up of Eric B. and Rakim's "Microphone Fiend," fleshed out with a lush horn section. Other offerings are just plain bad: Frat boy Fred Durst fails miserably at mimicking Chuck D's buttery bass vocals on yet another reworking of "Bring the Noise"; Sevendust mutilate L.L. Cool J's "Going Back to Cali," turning it into a mushy wash of sloppy bar chords; and Factory 81's talent-show take on Cypress Hill's "Insane in the Brain" is pointless. Nevertheless, Take a Bite Outta Rhyme is worth chewing on, if only to reflect on how such an unlikely hybrid came to be.—Hannah Levin

 
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