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Abstract Rude, Prevail + Moka Only Are...

Not only is Abstract Rude one of the West Coast's biggest and busiest underground heavyweight MCs; he's also willing to take extremely wide risks in a field known for its conservative approach. He may not always succeed, but his work with his own group, Abstract Tribe Unique, and with many other artists has consistently attempted to create new styles, with an emphasis on sharp lyrical skills and metaphorical wordplay. And it doesn't hurt that he's blessed with one of the best voices in hip-hop. Ab Rude understands the inherent musical power of simple contrasts; the force of his low-bass drawl is most effective when teamed with scrappy tenors. Joining last year with legendary Freestyle Fellowship member Aceyalone under the A-Team moniker sealed the magic formula. Now he's taking it to a triad, back in super-group form with Codename: Scorpion, a project also including Prevail from the group Swollen Members and Moka Only (whose solo LP Lime Green is one of this year's better releases). When the three simultaneously wail, nothing can touch "em.

Battle Axe producer Rob the Viking handles nine of the thirteen tracks, keeping the majority of the set crisp and uncluttered. When dealing with verbalists who operate at this level, there's no need for bombast or sampled hooks -- the words are the draw:

Ab Rude:It's deep/Estuary/I'm the devil's adversary/Comma

Prevail:Drama/The three of us are pyramids/Period

Moka Only:Hearing it will bring you to the point of exclamation

[in unison]:And that you can quote

Collective efforts like the previous, from "And That You Can Quote," are structured with the group returning to a unified chorus before each takes individual turns to spin off into a solo verse. There's also incredibly clever layering going on -- rhythmically, structurally, and metaphorically. Sometimes a moment of clarity comes from the particular phrasing of a word or the triple meaning behind one line or simply just how cool certain words sound coming out all together. Simply put, Codename: Scorpion's essence of lyricism transfers the philosophical torch from jazz to hip-hop, creating new paths and connections.

Lest I paint too clinical a picture, let it also be said that this record is stanked-up funky at times. Moka Only's track "Pillow Fulla Scrilla" is sure to get even the whitest geriatric lockin' and poppin', with bizarre party lyrics that twist and dart around an incredible beat that uses a wood block's crack in place of a snare drum, accented by a monotone, trance-inducing piano hit. This shit rocks.

Unfortunately, most of the individual solo tracks that dominate Codename: Scorpion aren't nearly as clever. Since the few group efforts here are so truly Herculean, everything else on the album is rendered fairly underwhelming. Moka and Ab like to sing a lot, and while their voices aren't bad, their songs kind of are. Much like the overused hip-hop metaphor of Voltron, these parts are far stronger when interlinked, for it's in the interplay among all three where the good stuff happens.

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Kevin Crouse

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