Lifesavas

Spirit in Stone (Quannum)

There is an austerity to the Lifesavas that some will find off-putting or atypical of underground hip-hop acts. One skit on their debut album, Spirit in Stone, "Thuggity Skit," clumsily parodies monosyllabic Southern rappers. On "Livin' Time/Life: Movement I/Livin' Lude," Vursatyl proclaims, "We pro-life and we're pro-longevity/Procreation/Produce/Provoca- tive/And pro-prosperity," while "State of the World/Apocalypse/War" and "Resist" are unabashedly righteous pro-activist anthems.

This Portland trio has little use for the capitalist-minded mentality of most radio-driven rap, instead choosing to model itself after conscious artists like the Roots, Mos Def, and their mentors, Blackalicious (whose Chief Xcel produced one of Spirit in Stone's better cuts, the scratch guitar romp "Soldierfied"). It may take a moment for potential fans whose appreciation of current hip-hop stops at 50 Cent and Jay-Z to adjust to the Lifesavas' aesthetic: bouncy, head-nod-inducing beats patched together from samples of '60s and '70s soul records; rapid-fire lyrics filled with baroque metaphors like "Snakes slip and slither through the eye of the dice/So is the game the gamble, or is the gamble your life?"; and wordy choruses that merely serve as a bridge between verses instead of stand-alone hooks.

Thankfully, there's much to dig into here, from the bracing rhythm that drives "Me" to the burbling bass bursting underneath "What If It's True?" Even Vursatyl and Jumbo the Garbageman's relentlessly intellectual rhymes have their charms, if only to spark ideas about social health and politics instead of sex and sport. Spirit in Stone isn't immediately accessible, but it's full of bright spots.

 
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