Short Cuts

The label deserves kudos for pulling together an eclectic group of acts; no two tracks here sound alike. The disc kicks off with "Touch the Stars" by Blackalicious, whose lead vocalist, Chief Xcel, has a terrifically rubbery rap style that bobs along with the midtempo beat. "Ducking Lessons," an attack on New York's Mayor Giuliani from Sha-Key & Priest, is less a hip-hop track than a piece of spoken-word poetry set to a beat. Spida and the Tarantula Crew offer "Don't Stop the Reggae Music," a slice of minimalist ragga with a funk bass line. AyCE International weighs in with a commercial dance track called "Wrok" (say it) that features some maniacal scratching and quirky samples in between the obligatory nightclub chants.

There are also some compelling forays into the ambient-dub-trance realm. Badawi manages to take an overused sound -- the ever-mystical pan pipe -- and breathe new life into it with echo-effects and a propulsive rhythm on "Zikr (Whirling Dub)." Dubmarine's contribution, "Gimme-A-Breaks," combines a steady reggae beat, new-wave guitar, and a chunky bass line, resulting in a very tasty groove. The last cut on the album is one of the best, a live number called "C.B. Stories" by the dub artist Ticklah. It's old-fashioned but expertly made, with a spare guitar line, a boinging drum, and a muffled bass line. What makes it interesting and somewhat eerie are the sound bites of fuzzy CB radio conversations: The track ends with someone claiming: "Yeah, he drowned, man, that nigger drowned -- went out fishing, and the nigger fell in, and he couldn't come out."

Some of the acts on Connected have already been signed to 3-2-1, though the label hasn't said which ones. Almost all of them sound worthy of a full-length album. If this disc is any indication, 3-2-1 is off to an impressive start.

-- Rafer Guzman

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