Archived August 10, 2000-like a pack of tokens/I know I got you open

5 Deez: Dope/B.E.A.T. (Landspeed)

Lyrics on "Dope" are spit hotly, but the track left me cold. Too frenetic and lacked a rhythmic groove that was needed to keep the song from spinning out of control. "B.E.A.T." starts off mad slow and then slips into some classic jazz combo flavor with acoustic bassline, ride cymbal and fluid keys. The song construction is unconventional - the intro is long, the chorus gets ethereal and the last section songs like some acoustic African drumming's taking place. Interesting work that's not pretentious. Overall, I can't say I'm floored by the group, but I'm not hating either.

7L and Esoteric: Speaking Real Words/Bound to Slay (Direct)

This latest 12" from Boston's 7L and Esoteric boasts a cameo by Inspectah Deck but despite the Rebel's interjections, I wasn't really dazzled by either side. Esoteric is distinctive, but his punchy, forceful flow tends to sound a little rote after a while - almost all his songs sound the same to a certain degree because of it (see Mr. Eon for another example). "Speaking Real Words" (the track with Deck) is the better of the two, but neither one really sparks it off.

Afu Ra: D8D Soundcheck/Mic Stance (D&D)

After the lackluster "Defeat", Afu Ra comes back twice as hard with a strong A/B-side combo. "D&D Soundcheck" brings the reggae flavor (courtsey Da Beatminerz) on the mid-tempo A-side but Primo simply blows the doors off with "Mic Stance", one of his more aggro tracks of late. Full of squeaking stabs and a grimy bsasline, "Mic Stance" is that bang-your-head hot sh*t that makes nuns want to lick a shot.

Agallah: Crookie Monster/I Know Ya'll/5 Star Miles (Game)

Agallah may never be remembered for anything else, but his twisted take on one of the Sesame St.'s most beloved (an incoherent) characters is sure to be a short-lived classic. Gruffing up his voice to match that of our blue haired monster, Agallah goes from scarfing cookies to gaffling unsuspecting suckas, all over the Sesame St. piano theme. Brilliant. The rest of the 12" is ok, typical Game (which basically means MOR NY underground aesthetics. No matter, "Crookie Monster" is worth the price of admission.

Animal Pharm: You Will Lose/Out of Bounds (GoodVibe)

Damn - Aceyalone strikes again. For the past year, I have yet to hear anything the man's touched that I have not enjoyed and I haven't always been a huge fan. But this latest cameo on Animal Pharm's new 12" just reinforces the fact that few on this coast (or the other ones) spit as much slick ego trippin' sh*t as Ab. The remix is the bump on this 12" - the electro blips and bassline growl synch nicely and Acey kicks it off with: "I'll fight you fair/I'll fight you anywhere/might you care to battle/when you don't know my plateau/all I got to say is that you don't rap dope/so here's a rope/do yourself a favor/hang in there/ you will lose." 'Nuff said. I also enjoyed "Out of Bounds" which sounded like an Irv Gotti beat but with slicker lyricists flippin' over it.

Anom: Without a Shadow of a Doubt/Open Season
Oktober: It Was War/Infinite Echoes (Sondoo)

Mostly known as the home of Yah Supreme, BK's Sondoo rolls with the new with Oktober and Nom and their respective pairs of new songs. B/t the two, I thought Oktober had the better lyric/musical combo. Anom's tracks were decent, but his lyrics are some generic braggadocio and his rhyme scheme is close to Canada's Frakenstein which means it's both derivitive and a tad boring. Oktober's not about to melt the mic or anything himself, but his songs have a nice, meditative quality to them that I enjoyed more...more of a thinking man's hip-hop vibe.

Antipop Consortium (Lift/Heatrays/F*ck Rap(75Ark) think the similarity in name is purely coincidental? Despite the geographic (not to mention racial) differences b/t the two, they seem to be brothers of the same mind, unblind, writers treatin' 'em like Coltrane, insane. Frankly, I know guys who love Antipop but apart from their awkwardly complex rhyme schemes which are largely hit or miss, I find their production style to be inaccessible at best. Sure, not everyone's gotta make head-nod sh*t but at times, you sort of feel like the Consortium pushes towards ambitious spoken word over an incidental score.

Ben Buford and Truly OdD: Hitman 4 Hire/X-cercise 1-2 (Heavyweights)

I wouldn't exactly call LA's current underground scene a renaissance, but there's no shortage of solid singles coming out. Representing the Heavyweights, Ben Buford and Truly OdD overcome an awkward hook to make a fairly dope cut out of "Hitman 4 Hire" (helped immensely by J-Rocc's funky, quirky track). Buford's verbal steez is capable, but observation made easier by listening to the minimalist "X-Cercise 1-2".

Big Scoob: Can Du (White)
Craig Mack: Wooden Horse/Please Listen to My Demo (White)

Both of this songs are simplistic in construction, but all the more fun to listen to because of it. Big Scoob's "Can Du", like most of the 12"s he's put out, isn't deep at all lyrically, but it's on some ol' mixshow/club sh*t with its infectious and basic bounce. Perfect for events where people are trying to avoid anything too intellectual.

Same goes for Craig Mack's "The Wooden Horse", easily his best 12" in years where Craig Mack intones,m "I came to rock/I came to move the crowd/I came to sing it outloud" (please don't). It's no "Flava In Ya Ear", but it's definitely hot enough to get some good mix play and DJs will have tons of fun cutting it up and mixing it - trust me. "Please Listen to My Demo" isn't a verbatim remake but it's uptempo track trots along nicely.

Black Pack: Used to be My Lover b/w Masta Ace: Observations (Delicious Vinyl)

Holy f*ckin' christ - Masta Ace (and apparently, Delicious Vinyl) are back. Forget the wack A-side (some ol' bullsh*t sexist crap that I dumped by the first verse). Ace - who was fast on his way to becoming the next Big Daddy Kane post-Juice-Crew-fall-off redeems himself partly with a fantastic song on "Observations". Flowing over a simple, jazzy loop from the Crusaders, the Ase One sounds GOOD and isn't chatting up some "Sittin' On Chrome" nonsense anymore. Peep: "look at them follow/these drug scholars trying to holler/Cartier watches for 40 dollars/I'm a swift mover/I manuever these evil streets like Krueger." Ok - it ain't mind-blowing, but frankly, I'm feelin' it.

Blackalicious: Deception (Quannum)

A triumph of concept and style, Blackalicious' "Deception" remixes is actually a trptych narrative of the rise, fall and return of a wayward rapper. Fans of the "A2G" EP already heard part one - "Don't Let Money Change Ya" but the 12" takes the story onwards. Part 2, "Turmoil" is produced by El P, working his signature aggro, electro style, this time concocting a lumbering, awkwardly paced beat that moves with the agility of Frakenstein. Gab doesn't rhyme so much as sneak himself into the bars, fuzz-voxed to the max. Part 3,"Redemption" brings it back and makes it more conventional thanks to Kutmasta Kurt's mellow, meditative track which brings the story to a reflective end.

Brassmunk: One2/Stop, Look, Listen (Brass Munk)

This is a hot 12", one of the best surprises I've heard in a while (I say surprise only b/c I had never heard anything from them before). Great sampling on both sides, especially the horn blares and high stepping bassline/drum track for "One, 2". It's all about the braggadocio for the Munks, peep: "no diggy, my crew fat like Ms. Piggy." *laugh* Conceptually, the flipside, "Stop, Look and Listen" is similar, but it's reggae/soul track is some sh*t I just don't hear from other producers and it works perfectly especially with the crunchy snares. Don't sleep...this is some underground bomb sh*t.

Bumpy Knuckles: Bumpy Knuckles Baby/Stock In Da Game (Kjac)

Pete Rock's production on "Bumpy Knuckles Baby" is decent, though he and SDM (see below) may have to beef over who has rights to the piano sample that both trackmasters borrow from. The A-side song is typical Bumpy Knuckles flavor - hard-hitting lyrics and verbal pugalism that you either really like or don't (I'm personally in the former camp). A lot of people seem to like the flipside better, featuring Alchemist's track of organ whines and stuttering keys.

Cage: Mersh/4 Letter Word (Fondle Em)

After being handily upstaged by Eminem's rocket-like success, Cage has to slink back to the underground but don't count him out. "Mersh" is instantly forgettable, but "4 Letter Word" bashes you down with a venomous set of verses brought on by another white MC who just "don't give a f*ck". Cage reps that his name is "a 4 letter word" and he's got the vulgarity to prove it. Hot track too, fiery piano chords raining down like brimstone. Worth checking for any Cage fans - he's down but certainly not out.

Choclair: Rubbin/Young Gunz (Priority)

Choclair might be one-dimensional - all about sex, sex and a lil' mo' sex - but he's good at what he does. I typically skip by songs like "Rubbin'" with a quickness, but his pairing with Saukrates sounded good even if it's the same ol' game he's spittin.' His pairing with Memphis Bleek on "Young Gunz" is a lot duller by comparison, mostly b/c the beat is a yawner, but neither MC really blows the spot either.

Cocoa Brovaz: Super Brooklyn (Duck Down)

Ok - this video game thing is REAL close to being played out, but credit the Cocoa Bs with a fun little ditty inspired by Super Mario Bros. I can't front - I'm feeling the song even if it is gimmick-driven (gimmicks are good moderation).

Common: The 6th Sense (MCA)
Funky For You (MCA)

People seem pretty divided on whether or not the R&B chorus on this song either makes it or breaks it. Frankly, I thought it sounded like sh*t, totally diverting attention away from Primo's standard scratch-snippet hooks. Other than that, it's the song's only weakness. Having heard the album, I can tell you that this is probably one of the strongest off the LP - lyrics are fantastic and Primo's jazzy track is a little bit generic, but holds its own ("Mic Stance" is his best work out right now).

As for "Funky For You"...weird choice for a single in my opinion. Of course, maybe I'm biased b/c this was one of my least favorite songs from the album, but it's not a great club track or mixtape fodder. I take that back - I can see people shakin' their groove thang to the beat, but I dunno - there's scads better sh*t to rock with off the LP. How about "Hot"? Or "The Light"?

Count Bass D: On the Reels/Piece of the Pie/Violatin' (Spongebath)

Follow-up to his sleeper hit, "Violatin'", the Count returns with a 3-track 12". "On the Reels" comes dramatic and aggro, sweeping in with strings and some low, dark piano chords that has Count spitting venom at fools: "I'm not mystical but I still might confuse a few." You tell 'em! "Piece of the Pie" is lively, working off a playful and prominent piano loop. The only flat note is Count's beyond-awkward lead-off rhyme..."I'm as rare as the "Life's a Bitch" promo/and I'm worth about a $150 too." It's a line only a psycho record collector could appreciate (and I am one but still thought it was kind of corny). The remix for "Violatin" is s'okay, but doesn't realy improve on the original.

Defari: Blast b/w Jigmastas: Let Me Hear It (Tommy Boy)

The second 12" Tommy Boy has put out with that West Coast/East Coast flav, this one seems to follow the pattern of the first - namely, the Cali agent puts a hit out on its NY counterpart. I mean - I like the Jigmastas, but seriously, b/t *Wide Angles* and the recent *Beyond Real Compilation* plus every other remix out there, I'm pretty much full on Spinna's beats right now and "Let Me Hear It" doesn't do much to change my mind. Defari's "Blast" isn't outstanding, but overall, it's an improvement on the Billy the Kid single. It also features SK from the Barber Shop.

Delireeus: Right Where?/Total Extermination (Thereweeez)

Some Dutch hip-hop for dat azz (they rhyme in English though so no sub-titles needed). "Right Here?" is kind of flavor thanks to the string sample that's on some classical sh*t. The rhymes are ok, relatively standard but they show good flow control. Maybe that's why "Total Extermination" came as a surprise since they sound wholly awkward with their rhyme scheme, and if English isn't their first language, it becomes readily apparent on this track. Plus, the lyrics are generic to the point of banality. Luckily, the hot, Rza-influenced soultronic remix of "Right Here?" livens the 12" back up. Worth checking out.

Dilated Peoples: Basics b/w Barber Shop Emcee's: Music, Money and Women (Rah Rah)

You'd think Dilated with Defari on the A-side would be unbeatable, but it's probably the least interesting Dilated song I've heard in a while. Maybe it was just the lackluster production, but I lost interest within the first 16 bars. Not so for the Barber Shop's B-side. I never felt that debut 12" of theirs but the flute melody and bassline rhythm on "Music, Money and Women" had me open. The lyrics are so-so...I still haven't found the Barber Shop to be that compelling but the song still sounded great. Haven't seen this one around much besides at Fat Beats in LA. What's the deally?

Dilated Peoples: Platform/Annihilation/Platform remix (ABB)

Most likely to be the last in a line of fine singles from DP before the album drops in May. "Platform" is the title track and another solid performance by both Evidence and Iriscience plus credit goes to Joey Chavez for the rich, stirring track. DP are nothing if not consistent and while neither "Platform" nor the remix are about to displace "Work the Angles" as the best DP effort to date, both stand out as superior songs for their production and quick-witted lyricism. "Annhiliation" left me non-plussed though, which points out the other side of DP - when they're great, they're great, but when they're not, it's easy to understand why some consider them over-hyped.

DJ Paul Nice: Definition of Nice/Re-Definition (Blade Runner/Bomb)

Is it me or is AG *everywhere* nowadays? Not that I'm hating on Andre - I'm feeling him - but he's like the cameo king of 1999, the underground version of Ja Rule or Memphis Bleek. In any case, Paul Nice (who did several of Rasco's songs from the last LP) turns out this strong 12", a surefire indie hit that features AG, Babu and Gennessee. Don't let the ghetto ass picture on the cover fool you (what's up with the white guy with Hawaiian shorts and French sweater around his neck? Fashion no no's in any and every culture), Nice comes...well...nice with the simple track that its stabs and guitar lick. AG has the lyrical edge over Gennesse on the track by the way but both Mcs sound tight over the remix "Re-Definition of Nice" which flexes the "South Bronx" piano chord melody. Familiar? Yes. Dope? Yes.

Encore: Sporadic/Waterworld (75Ark)

Encore's "Dirty" and "Filthy" were dope songs, but "Sporadic" (off the new LP, "Self-Preservation") was MOR. Production is sparse and Encore seems to work better in synch with a beat that accentuates his prominent flow. That's why "Waterworld" is so dope - Automator's water drop rhythms create a fluid motion that contrasts against the hard grain of Encore's voice and rhyme scheme. Not a bad single, but could've been better.

Fat Lip: What's Up Fat Lip?/Goldmine (Delicious Vinyl)

Can you say bitter? This is one weird single with Fat Lip mouthing off about life after Pharcyde. It's almost comical except there's something about Fat Lip's slow, drooping flow that's rather depressing. Then you try to figure out the crazy, raucous B-side "Goldmine" and nothing really makes too much sense. Not that the Pharcyde have made much noise (talk about your sophomore slump) but Fat Lip's rhyming like a sheep without the shepherd.

Five Deez: Blue Light Special/Wow/The Rock Rule (Buka)

This review is late in coming (well, hell, the whole column is late in coming) but I wanted to make sure this one got some attention, albeit after the fact. Down with Lone Catalysts, Five Deez have a nice dark horse track with "Blue Light". The uptempo song kicks off with some old school live drum machine pounds but then switches into a slicker groove. Surprisingly, "Wow" produced by J-Rawls, failed to inspire its namesake from me and "The Rock Rule" was similarly underwhelming. Stick with the "Blue Light Special."

Ghostface Killah: One/Saturday Nite (Epic)
CherChez LaGhost/We Made It (Epic)

"One" was a smart selection - vintage Wu-Tang sh*t and it sounds damn good but "Saturday Nite"...which is barely over a minute, seems like a weird selection, especially given how much good stuff was available on the LP. The smooth, bouncy "CherChez LaGhost" was an obvious choice for club-dom. But "We Made It" is flat in comparison to bangers like "Buck 50". In any case, it's all rather moot since all of this is available on an album that ya'll need to be rockin' anyway.

Hip Hop For Respect: One Four Love (Rawkus)
Dead Prez: African/The Pistol (Loud)
Ill Bill: Gangsta Rap/How to Kill a Cop (Landspeed)

Is it blasphemy for me to say I'm not really feeling this? Like conscious posse cuts of old, the rotation of MCs overwhelms the song's thrust - it's hard to drive a point home when you have 12 different MCs trying to sell it to you. That plus the Organized Noise beat didn't work - a better example of conscious rap meeting club-friendly beats would be "African" by Dead Prez. You'll have to forgive the lame chorus ("I'm an African/and I know what's happenin') but the Mannie Fresh-influenced beats are kind of hot, especially considering the knowledge that Dead Prez are trying to serve you. Who would have thought, the black fist wrapped in a doo-rag. "The Pistol" is s'okay - there was better stuff to pick from the album and if you really want to get into some self-defense sh*t - no one out currently can take the stage from Non-Phixion's Ill Bill whose "How To Kill a Cop" is sure to land him on the wanted list of every precinct in New York. Jacking Redman's "How to Roll a Blunt" beat, Ill Bill goes on a no-holds barred lyrical buckdown of NY's finest. Sh*t is funny yet a lil' bit scary - probably the way Ill Bill likes it. "Gangsta Rap" is s'okay, but the B-side is really where it's at.

Jay Z: Anything b/w Big Pimpin' (Roc-A-Fella)
Do It Again (Put Ya Hands Up)/So Ghetto

What the f*ck? "Hard Knock Life - The Sequel"? Is Jay Z going to rhyme over "Memories" from Cats next? Or maybe "Music of the Night" from Phantom of the Opera. In any case, the single's catchy in that Jigga kind of way. J-Hova scores again despite our best attempts to say, "but wait...this is just like the last song." Big pimpin' indeed.

As for the other 12"... this might have to be like "Simon Says" and be a song that grows on me. Jay Z is usually so good as club joints but this one feels way too slow to be a real thumper and the simplistic, redundant beat goes nowhere fast for me. I'm guessing Irv Gotti didn't touch this one. And it doesn't help to have Beanie Siegel and Amil clogging the mic either. But "So Ghetto" proof that Jay Z, for all his flossin' and iced-down player status, still can still kick rhymes that make you stop and go, "Damn." I mean, peep: "we tote guns to the Grammies/pop bottles on the White House lawn/guess I'm just the same ol' Shawn" and "magazines say I'm shallow/guess I never learned to swim/still they put me on their covers/'cause I earn for them." And let's not even talk abou the Primo beat here. Forget it, I give up, Jay Z wins again

Jeru the Damaja: 99%/Verbal Battle (Knowsavage)

Ok - so without Primo, he can still sell it...sort of. Jeru's lyrics show that they still have buoyancy despite being left high and dry by the Gangstarr Foundation's departure. "99%" isn't one of Jeru's fiercest cuts, but it doesn't embarrass him either. The problem is that now that Jeru's doing his own beats, he can't quite nail down the knack of fat drum loops and other sonic fare It's not wack but it ain't butter neither. The song is worth a listen (though Miz Marvel isn't much of one) but it certainly ranks on the lower end of Jeru's long catalog.

Jigmastas: Lyrical Fluctuation (Landspeed/Beyond real)

This was on the Beyond Real compilation but the remix brings on board what seems like half of Rawkus' stable, including Mos Def on the hook, plus Pharaoh Monche, Talib Kweli, Mr. Complex and Shabaam Sahdeeq. Spinna's original mix was pretty much par for the course (which Spinna excels in achieving) but the remix had me going more. More heated and energetic, but I'm disappointed that Mos Def only does the hooks, not verses per se.

Kardinal Offishal: Mic T.H.U.G.S./U R Ghetto When/Husslin' (Figure IV)

There's three tracks to chose from, but only one caught my attention, "U.R. Ghetto When." Partly it was the song's humor - all about life on the other side of jigginess and the many stereotypes it engenders. Ex: "you know you're ghetto when the money that you got/is a whole bunch of ones rolled up to make a knot." Partly it was the track itself, a mellow, mellow piano loop that takes forever to bring the drums in but it was more listenable to me than the rest of the 12".

Lone Catalysts: Due Process/Let It Soak (B.U.K.A.)

After waiting god knows how long to get this, I don't mind the delay. J-Rawls' jazz-inflections on his production hits all the right buttons for me, proving that you don't need to snap necks just to compose a tight hip-hop beat. This time around, "Due Process" brings in a tinkling piano loop that tip toes around the murky bass notes. Talib Kweli backs up the Lone Catalysts as an added bonus, making this cut all that more outstanding. "Let It Soak" comes denser, a rich guitar line coasting through the song and more cerebrally soothing lyrics by the Catalysts' crew. Need some mental music? Get with this.

Lost Boyz: To Be Real 2000 b/w Royal Flush: Muthaf*cka (Down Low)

For the most part, this one gets a "whatever" but Royal Flush pulls a decent jackin' for beats move on "Muthaf*cka", rhyming over tracks from Nice N' Smooth, EPMD and others...Flush's got a cool ass rhyme scheme, though he seems to waste a lot of it on bullsh*t rhymes. This one's on the better side of it all - straight braggadocio and butter beats. Nothing too original but it'll get you through 3.5 minutes of time happily.

Louis Logic: General Principle/Factorum/Punchline remix (Superegular)

I wasn't really feeling his last 12" (and he was kind of enough to blast me for my indifference) but this new one caught my ear. "General Principle" was generic, but "Factorum" boasts this gorgeous jazz melody, as does the remix for "Punchline" and both seem to create a nice synergy with Logic's vocals. Nice sophomore effort.

Lox: Ryde or Die B*tch/We are the Streets (Interscope)

Didn't Apache already cover this with "Gangsta B*tch"? Nonetheless, at least the production is a tad tastier than the standard Swizz Beatz fare.

LP: The Truth (Keep It Raw)

Giving 50 Cent a run for his money on pissing off more MCs, LP spares no feelings in his criticism of the rap world. Naming more names than a phone book, LP has something salty to say about almost everyone, picking no coastal favorites by dissing everyone from Coolio to Noreaga to [insert your favorite mainstream rapper here] The difference b/t this and 50 Cent's "How to Rob" is that LP isn't joking - he's straight up calling fools out. Too bad anemic production on both mixes holds the song back.

Macy Gray: I Try remxies (Giant Step)

I dig the song though the original mix is still the best, in my opinion. Jay Dee's remix is too sparse, plus sounds like that pimp song on Common's album. The Grand Style mix is livelier but is kind of a bread-and-butter hip-hop take on the soul song that doesn't really go anywhere special.

Mass Hysteria: Exclusive/There Was a Time/I Get a Rush (Wild Onion)

These kids out of Chicago bring one of the nicest group braggin' cuts I've heard in a long time with "Exclusive." Dropping line after line of rhymes over Hispanic's superior track (a variation of a sample already used off the Soundbombing comp last year), Mass Hysteria come hot and heavy. The rest of the disk is undistinguished - fairly MOR underground fare.

Medina Green: I See b/w Self Scientific: Best Part (Tommy Boy)

The first of Tommy Boy's new Black Label 12"s that go bicoastal. Representing the jungles of the east is Medina Green, the group featuring Mos Def's brother DCQ. I had high hopes since Medina Green's last 12" on Rawkus was all that and a bag of vinegar n' salt chips, but I couldn't see "I See"...the piano track was nice enough but then it flips into some Jay Z pop soundin' sh*t and the lyrics didn't really reach me either. Much better is the West Coast representative, Self Scientific who comes illy ill on "Best Part" with a bizaare, Latin-tinged track of synth keys and background horn flares. Self Scientific is fast proving to be one of Cali's most promising Mcs and "Best Part" doesn't offer any contrary evidence. Can you imagine him and Planet Asia doing a track together? Sickness!

Mr. Lif: Farmhand/Settle the Score (Grand Royal)

Grand Royal taps Boston's Mr. Lif for a pair of very tight songs. "Farmhand" rocks some jangling hillbilly guitar to full effect - proof positive that you can make a beat out of anything and it helps that the hook - "watch out! You dealing with the rude bwoy" rocks as well. Lif comes pretty wicked, verbally smacking the sh*t out of an imaginary hecklin' MC. On the flip side, the rough rock guitar loop smacks you from the get and Mr. Lif just goes off over it: "you remember omega/but I'm the alpha sheen/senator like Palpatine/count your green/to you that's what life means." Don't sleep on this 12".

Mr. Voodoo: Cryhme Life/Lyrical Tactics 2 (Stimulated)

Ok - how long has it been since we've seen a Mr. Voodoo solo 12"? Pretty damn long in my recollection. This doesn't quite bring him back to his throne of supremacy, but it's no embarassment either. "Crhyme Life" is ok - nothing to write home about in my opinion either musically or lyrically. "Lyrical Tactics 2" is something else though. Alchemist comes with some spooky, midnight piano loop complete with echoing scratches that flit in and out. Voodoo's verses: I bring the rapture/famine, disease, disaster/many came before/but none could master/I'm still the rapper with more flows to flip/more hoes to hit/more mics to rip/plus a gun on my hip." Nothing to really write home about as you can see but worth a quick spin in the mix.

Mykill Miers: Wanna Be an MC?/Rock the Mic (Ill Boogie)

Another solid mixshow track, "Wanne Be an MC?" features the cameo help of Freddie Foxxx over a jangling piano melody. I'm still trying to get into Miers flow (let alone insipid name) but he holds it down decently. I wasn't as dazzled by "Rock the Mic" which seemed par for the course.

Nextmen: Break the Mould/Clarity/Mental Alchemy (Scenario)

Great production on this's a lot like Scenario's last 12", the Unsung Heroes featuring Siah and Yeshua. This time around, it's Grap Luva on "Break the Mould" which flexes this gorgeous guitar-sampled track and great lyrics by the up-and-coming Grap Luva. Frankly, I spent a good month on this track alone before I ever flipped to the B but I wasn't disappointed. "Clarity" featuring Soulson surfs Ahmad Jamal's "Wave" and while the hook is a little corny, Soulson's verses carry well over the track, showing good flow control and lyrical creativity. Last but not least, Red Cloude finishes up with the hard snapping "Mental Alchemy", dropping a rhyme scheme that recalls Treach's fierce flow. An outstanding 12", one of the best I've heard all year.

Nightmares on Wax: Keep On/Finer/Morse/What I'm Feelin'/Dreddoverboard (Matador)

De La joins these big beat revisionists on "Keep On" though surprisingly, it's not my personal favorite on this EP. De La represent nicely, but neither mix really got me going (but if I had to choose, I'd go with the 86' Init Mix). I actually liked the instrumental fare on this a lot, in particular, the slinky, jazzy "Morse" which has an easy, Sunday afternoon feel to it. "What I'm Feelin" (done by Rae and Christian) also bounced with some kick to it and the Alex Gopher mix of "Finer" has a nice, open sound to it as it glides on a post-Brand New Heavies vibe.

Notorious B.I.G.: Biggie/Would You Die For Me (Bad Boy)

Hmm...anyone agree that "Would You Die For Me" is a different take of "One More Chance"? Even so, I gotta admit - the Prince loop is kind of hot. Too bad "Biggie" is some sappy sh*t that makes you wonder if it's not so bad that Big is dead so he doesn't have to hear how they're killing his legacy.

People Under the Stairs: Youth Explosion/Big Daddy Brown/Code Check (Om)

Another one of the more outstanding 12"s I've heard with PUTS putting together a nice blend of styles. "Youth Explosion" smacks you from the get, its sharp crackin' snares smarting in your ears. "Code Check's" is the soothing salve though, its fluid guitar melody easing things down. And "Big Daddy Brown" is some straight rhymes-for-the-hell-of-it track over a basic bassline loop. Butter, butter, butter.

Quannum: I Changed My Mind (Quannum)

This really should have Lyrics Born credited under artist name since it's his brain child, albeit with the help of the Poets of Rhythm plus all the remix staff he enlists. This 12" has come in several permutations, including a Mo Wax import and another Mo Wax double-7" for the truly serious collector (which features a remix not available on this 12"). Of the mixes, done by Poets of Rhythm, the Stereo MCs and DJ Spinna, I personally am partial to the latter...mostly b/c it's the best damn work I've heard from Spinna in a while. Very upbeat, jazzy with that Kool and the Gang funk blasts to it. Hot to def. But the real gem is "Always Fine Tuning", the non-LP B-side which Dan the Automator produces. Over a simple bassline and drum crack track, Lyrics just straight rips it, eschewing his more esoteric side and just getting into some stooopid verbalistics. Hold ya head!

Quasimoto: Come On Feet/Boom Music/MHB's (Stonesthrow)

A strange song from a strange album, but well worth experiencing on your own. It's unconventional hip-hop yet incredibly familiar in the same moment. Quasi's stuff - not just on this 12" but his whole LP - sounds like lost demo tapes from the new school era that have suddenly resurfaced. The songs though don't have any kind of 1,2 arrangement style - it's much more free-form. Lyrics come, they go, and you don't expect them to drop in when they do...same goes for the samples of Melvin Van Peebles screeching on "Come On Feet." "Boom Music" is slightly more conventional (which isn't saying much) but "MHB's" sort of slides any which way (think MF Doom). The journey this 12" takes you on might be loopy, but it's also damn enjoyable.

Rip Shop: Versus/Crabfakers/Transmitt (Rawkus)

Busy with Mos Def and Pharaohe Monch, Rawkus hasn't really debuted a new artist in a while. Rip Shop is their newest and they have some potential. I found "Versus" a little too aggro though - the kind of loud, thrashing beats that Shabaam Sahdeeq usually rocks over. Much better is "Crabfakers", one helluva braggadocio track that kicks forward with some space age FX and a downright vicious set of battle rhymes. High and Mighty fans might like "Transmitt" since it features Mr. Eon but I wasn't too excited. Worth picking up for "Crabfakers" alone though - banging sh*t.

Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek: The Express/Some Kind of Wonderful (Rawkus)

Call me blasphemous, but this 12" didn't leave me that jazzed. I liked Kweli's braggadocio on "Some Kind of Wonderful" but overall, I thought Hi-Tek's production was surprisingly flat. After hitting us with nice loops, melodies and rhythms, he gets straight sparse on both sides and neither struck a chord with me personally. Seriously - is this the best Reflection Eternal has to tease us with from the upcoming LP? The talent is there - no question - but the execution is questionable.

The Creators: Hard Margin/No Love (Bad Magic)

Damn - imagine me NOT liking a Black Star song, but "The Hard Margin" fell way short of expectation. Mostly, I thought the beat was bland, a good example of how minimalism sometimes really doesn't work and it didn't form a good foundation for Mos and Talib to rock over. Surprisingly, I really liked "No Love" despite being a little cool on FT in the past. The production was just so much more solid - a smooth horn track gets rolled through the digital chopper. And FT comes with some decent sh*t: "just come to the ghetto if you don't think it's that crazy black/ladies having crack babies/them b*tches act shady/little shorty just got sprayed/the glock gave 'em shock waves/now he's buried next to his pop's grave."

Zap Mama: Rafiki

Everyone's favorite African-influenced, all-female group of Belgium returns to pull a Badu and hook up with the Roots (sh*t, these illy Philly guys just wrecked shop Afro-beat style with Femi Kuti...what's next on the diasporic menu? A remix with Coco Lee?). Like most of Zap Mama's songs, harmony and melody are gorgeous, with a brief tease of Pygmy pipes thrown in throughout the song and rich vocals - albiet in French. The Roots inclusion is practically secondary, they don't add much to the song, especially on the generic "Hard Mix". Now you get Primo to remix one of these puppies with his signature kick-snare combo? Now we're talking...

5 Bros: Ugly Clothes EP (5 Bros)

Aboriginals: The Essence b/w Maniphest: Scratch Samba & Martin Brew: Sand Steppin (Fat City)

Billy the Kid: The Unforgettable/Aged Whisky, Aged Remy (ABB)

Blood of Abraham: 99 Cent Lighter/Velvet Glove Iron Fist (Atomic Pop)

Capital D: Que Sera Sera/U Ain't Ready (All Natural)

Cassidy: Out for Mine/Decisions (B-Side)

DJ Revolution feat. Rasheed & Kamachi: Forever (Blackberry)

Grand Agent: Mingling b/w Rap Niggaz (Czar Casket)

K-Otix: Mind Over Matter/Frequences (Buds/Bronx Science)

Krumb Snatcha: Killer In Me/Take the Pain Away/Thug In Your Life (MIA)

Prophetix: Da Unfold EP (Asylum)

Team Demolition: Teamwork/Uhip2It? (Depth Charge)

Notorious B.I.G.: Notorious B.I.G. (remix) (Bad Boy)

Tash: Nightlife/G's Iz G's (Loud)

The Murderers: Vita, Vita Vita/Sh*t Gets Ugly (Murder Inc.)

Writer's Block: Basically/So Far/Truth Serum (Up Above)

Dr. Riz: Live From Brooklyn Pts. 1 & 2 (Stimulated)

Mr Len. feat. Juggaknots: This Morning (Matador)

Scaramanga: Mind I.C. Mine/Suga '99/Group War 2000 (Magnum)

Non-Prophets: Drop Bass/Bounce/I Keep Calling (Emerge)

Smut Peddlers: First Name Smut/For the Record (Rawkus)

Tommy Tee: World Reknown/No Holds Barred (Guesswhyld)

Missin Linx: Family Ties/What It Is (Concentrated)

T-Cole: Street Corners/the Life (Hi Rise)

Mass Influence: Analyze (Fat Beats)

Cali Agents: Good Life (Nu-Gruv)

Insight: True to the Game/Hip Hop Top Gun/Universal (Brick)

Nobodies: It's Hip-Hop/What You Hear (Mendes)

Pacewon: Any Champion b/w Young Zee: Fuk Dat Sh*t (Readyrock)

Oldominion: Don't Kill Your Radio/Understand This (Oldominion)

Scritti Politti and Likwit Crew: Another Sound Mission (Virgin)

Konceptual Dominance: Self Titled/Savage Intelligence (DM 209)

Mad Skillz: Ghost Writer/One, Two/Together (Rawkus)