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Hip-hop albums are an often-precarious exercise. Most are disappointing. The best-case scenario is a couple of hot tracks pumped onto a disc with 15 other songs and a few skits, intros, outros, and promos; those are the cuts that seem to get the most play. Los Angeles wordsmith Aceyalone, prominent architect of credible West Coast sounds for the past decade, both alone and as part of Freestyle Fellowship, bucks that trend, though, with Love & Hate, his solid and memorable fourth solo album.

Love & Hate features stellar guest talent, including Bay Area chanteuse Goapele, Def Jux's RJD2 and El-P, Freestyle cohort Self Jupiter, and Project BLOWED artist Ridd-lore. Unlike a lot of other guest-star-plastered affairs, though, the album would still be strong if Aceyalone's voice were the only one on it. Whether he's spitting straight California slang (as on the crack-a-lackin' single "Let Me Hear Sumn") or slipping the briefest touch of Jamaican patois into the mix ("Find Out"), words are the ultimate piece of molding clay in Aceyalone's precision sculpting. "You see, I move with the God-type energy/It's so big, one of me make ten of me," he says with believable ferocity on "Junkman." The whole album suitably feels like Aceyalone is pumped to his most glorious level. "Main objective, remain effective," he states on "In Stereo" as minor keys, squelchy bass, and echoing effects swirl around him in an outer-space odyssey. And he's kept to his goals: Aceyalone is still way up there in the atmosphere. Few MCs can touch him.

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Tamara Palmer

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