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Freestyle Fellowship

Recorded in 1998 and marking the legendary group's first time together after a four-year hiatus, Shockadoom stands as an amazing document of the sheer creative power that comes about when Freestyle Fellowship's four emcees are collected in the same room. But given their importance in hip-hop history and their ability to innovate, it's a shame they constantly seem unable to knock one out of the park.

Seemingly rushed and dull production is mostly to blame, with plodding and repetitive rhythms that never offer anything terribly compelling (the liner notes note that most of these tracks were created in single-day sessions). While the muddy sound mix charmingly adds to that lost archives/bootleg vibe, you can't help but feel that these guys would have been inspired to scale higher if the beats were bangin'. As such, we're left with a bunch of fairly typical brilliant solo verses without any real cohesive musical ideas or themes to tie them all together -- and that's a shame, because the Fellowship works best as an interplaying, interactive collective.

As with any FF gathering, there are incredible moments of clarity that break through the veil -- whether it be Aceyalone's ever-inventive phrasings, Mikah 9's sing-song delivery, Self Jupiter's assured swagger, or P.E.A.C.E.'s Southern-fried boomings. There's plenty here for rhyme junkies. Centering the album is the cocky thumper "Desperate," which brings out the best in each member but works primarily because Acey brings a great chorus: "Desperate times/measures/desperate rhymes/precious/treasures/fortunes/dynasties/high-risk management/dishonesties/monetary/culprit/contract/economies."

On "We Will Never," the four invoke their early '90s mantra of "We will never fall the fuck off, we promise," but it's almost lost in the roar. Shockadoom is a frustrating record: It's evident why these recordings weren't initially released, yet there are so many good ideas present that would have benefited from more time and effort. Instead, it feels like being handed a blueprint. Granted, the disc still blows away most of the hip-hop being released today, which says something given the age of these recordings, but ultimately, Shockadoom's potential outweighs its execution.

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Kevin Crouse

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