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Various artists

Every independent music scene needs a selfless character to help shine the light on other artists — even when it detracts from his own spotlight. As far as Palm Beach hip-hop goes, that catalyst is a producer/MC by the name of E.F.O.N., who's been putting out a series of mixtapes showcasing independent talent for quite awhile. He's back with another installment, and this time The "Almost" Free Album Vol. 4 moves beyond the basement state and gathers underground singles from around the country. It's not that he's given up on local talent — nothing could be further from the truth — but the underground knows no borders. This project proves it. There are some solid local jams here, the best of which are Shay J's "That's My Car" and the tune "I Want It All" by Miami's solo artist Rashad. Aside from these standouts, E.F.O.N. himself contributes some heady rhymes on "How to Rap," and Renda Writer even lends a spoken-word piece to keep things interesting. There is a noted lack of estrogen on this album, however, as all 16 tracks are by male artists. Still, what's most impressive, aside from the material, is that E.F.O.N. takes the time to spell out everyone's e-mail and MySpace address in between songs — not just of the artists but of the producers as well. That takes a lot of love and work, but that's the whole point. He's got all three counties well-represented as far as indie talent goes, making it easy not only for listeners to enjoy their music but for promoters to give these guys some work.

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Jonathan Cunningham

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