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Charizma and Peanut Butter Wolf

The fact that Big Shots could hold its own against the majority of recent hip-hop albums might be a bad omen. A cynic could argue that, evidently, hip-hop hasn't evolved a hell of a lot since 1993, the year this duo stopped recording. But Big Shots would have been a classic -- ranking up there with Souls of Mischief's '93 'Til Infinity -- had Disney's Hollywood Basic ever released it. In fact, had Charizma not been shot and killed in '93, he might've turned into another Pharoahe Monch or J-Live.

Look: These tracks were recorded between 1991 and 1993, when too-tight pants, PM Dawn, and the Jheri Curl were just beginning to be uncool. Big Shots has an early-'90s feel -- meaning it's as smooth-jazzy as it is Chubb Rocky -- and that sound either appeals to you or doesn't. You have to accept that these aren't gonna be the swanky, flowery beats that characterize Wolf's My Vinyl Weighs a Ton or Quasimoto's The Unseen. You have to also understand that ice-cream trucks, apple-juice breaks, and remembering to wear your jimmy hat were all viable themes for an 18-year-old bobbysoxer like Charizma.

More than that, the MC's untimely death is part of the romance of Big Shots: There's a grim dustiness pervading the album, so that listening to it on headphones is a bit like sifting through someone else's old photographs. The next-to-last track, "Soon to Be Large," is the most cryptic, ending with an interview clip in which Charizma announces, "I was born in San Jose in 1973. I'm 18 years old. I'm into rap music. And I just love it."

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