By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Let's set the record straight: Despite rumblings from the underground, this disc is not a worthless, sellout piece of shit, nor does it spell the artistic death of New York hip-hop indie powerhouse Rawkus. Die-hard heads may be disappointed over the change in direction from Vol. 1, which almost exclusively showcased amazing, unsigned talent discovered at New York's legendary Lyricist Lounge open-mic night. This go-around, you get a few underground up-and-comers sprinkled into a lineup of established names. You get Redman and Saukrates kicking lyrical ass on the Erick Sermon-produced "WKYA"; Dilated dropping their unlikely metaphors on a lovely, scratched-up mix of twinkling keys and headnodic beats by the Alchemist; Macy Gray turning in an interesting revamp of her own anti-fairy tale, "I've Committed Murder," with help from Mos Def and Guru. You also get a taste of the sharp street poetry of the late Big L, and an inspiring live freestyle from the late Notorious B.I.G.
There's plenty of boasting about super-MC status, but unlike many "progressive" compilations, not all of the songs here are about hip-hop, or about how studio gangstas and Cristal-swilling cash flashers are dragging down the art form. Nor are they all conscious raps. Beanie Sigel's "Get That Dough" and Eminem protégé Royce Da 5'9's "Let's Grow" prove that thuggishness, cleverness, and lyrical dexterity can coexist.
This is hip-hop in all its flavors, with one common denominator: These songs are about the lyrics, rather than some sampled, radio-ready chorus. "Oh No," the catchy first single featuring Mos Def, Pharoahe Monch, and G-Funk crooner Nate Dogg, is certainly airwaves-friendly, but it also features two of the most creative MCs to recently bubble up from the underground. Even the disc's less successful cuts--Q-Tip's grating collab with Wordsmith, "Makin' It Blend," Mos' teaming with Ghostface Killah for a discordant, recycled "Ms. Fat Booty 2," the revolutionary but misguided fire of Talib Kweli and Dead Prez on "Sharp Shooters"--reinforce what the Lounge, and hip-hop, are all about: rhymes, served up with flair and style.
Is Vol. 2 the visionary treasure trove of unknown verbsmiths that Vol. 1 was? No. But that's no reason to trash it completely. This disc has plenty of gems among a variety of sonic settings; it highlights some of the best lyricists in the game; and, despite some commercial concessions, it's still light years ahead of the recent deluge of rap releases.