Passion + good music = respect. It's a formula few rappers in today's hip-hop climate seem to understand, much less use. Pontiac, Michigan, emcee One.Be.Lo is quickly positioning himself as one of the country's more highly appreciated underground emcees, thanks in part to his ability to work said formula to a T. Fans had a feeling that Lo's first official album, S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M., was no fluke. The album combined crisp, sample-driven beats with intricate, conscious wordplay that was entertaining but not preachy. Thankfully, he sticks with the formula on R.E.B.I.R.T.H. (Real Emcees Bring Intelligent Rhymes to Hip-hop).
Known for his concern for social issues, Lo gets more personal on this album. "Born & Raised" celebrates his native working class town of Pontiac, while "Hip Hop Heaven," though it's about a dream, turns a typical morning in the life of a household into a string of hot verses. Lo uses movie clips to illustrate many of his sociopolitical beliefs, a practice he employed on S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M. The brilliance of this strategy is that it allows him the room to be an emcee without branding himself. When Clubber Lang shouts, "You call yourself a fighter!? Prove it now! Gimme a chance!" in Rocky III, Lo bats cleanup, declaring himself "a starving artist recitin' for the hunger inside him." An initial listen to the new album made me think it's as good as the first. A second take got me thinking it's better. R.E.B.I.R.T.H. sticks, song for song, with the theme inherent in its title. Beats by cohorts the LabTechs are gritty, intense complements to Lo's skills. In other words, the formula is still working. Check "Gray," "War," and "Don't Sleep" for highlights. There are no lows.