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Freestyle Fellowship

When Freestyle Fellowship dropped its second LP, Inner City Griots, in 1991, it not only changed the way many viewed hip-hop's inherent potential but it ran somewhat counter to the Dre/Cube/Snoop trinity that was drastically reshaping the face of the music. While the shit on Griots was as hard as any gangsta's, it was all over the map topically, musically, stylistically -- a showy display of a range and depth that had rarely been seen. Maybe it was the "alternative" rap label that was applied to them at the time, but the album didn't sell. Now, after a decade of being spoken of in revered tones, the original four members are back. Mikah-9, Aceyalone, Self Jupiter, and P.E.A.C.E. not only still have their chops but they still put most everyone else to shame.

From the start, it's easy to see that this ain't your pappy's Freestyle Fellowship. The 15 rugged tracks cover a range of styles, from thug thump to electro dance. Time has tempered all four MCs with fierceness and clarity, and while all of their legendary rhythmic and metaphorical gymnastics are still intact, a new level of concise verbal efficiency is at work. Our reintroduction starts with a hard one-two punch, immediately throwing down the gauntlet with the off-the-cuff verbal display of "Intro" and seguing into the driving "Ghetto Youth," a promise and a prophecy: "All ghetto youth hold tight/ Your time will come." "No Hooks No Chorus" is just that -- a seamless stream of verse. By the time "Hillcrest" comes bumping along, it's clear these truly are the best lyricists currently working in the form.

Of course, not every dispatch is deep and wise. "Slappy the Happy Killer Clown" reaches back for an early '90s gangsta vibe, sampling Ice Cube and setting up Aceyalone to deliver an unending sequence of "gonna getcha" scenarios. But it's the nasty fuck-rhymes of "Sex in the City" that elicits not only the dumbest, widest grins but the most ass-shaking as well.

At the core of this triumphant comeback is the title track. From Adam and Eve through to the flesh and weaponry inherent in the genre, how have these men grown and faced the issues of lust, desire, and greed these past ten years? Not so wisely at times. These aren't hip-hop superheroes; they're human. More so than any of the amazing lyrical skills they so effortlessly display, this ability to artfully address the deeper universal themes has always made Freestyle Fellowship transcend the pack.

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Kevin Crouse

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