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Down By Sound: KNON Hip-Hop Compilation
Various Artists

A few years ago, Mad Flava had a deal with Priority Records, but record contracts are only good as long as the band is, and honestly, Mad Flava was never that great. So here they are, no longer a Priority, already a has-been on an album full of should-bes (Shabazz 3, Mental Chaos, Legendary Fritz) and maybe-somedays (Native Poet, Phat Head Squad, Funktactics). Yet the band's contribution, the piano-loop-fueled "Fatherless," is a vast improvement over 1994's From Tha Ground Unda: The beats have more strings attached than a one-night stand with Glenn Close, and the lyrics are sharper ("I try to understand and forgive and forget / How you're dipped in all the child support payments that you skipped"). That it's still the weakest cut on Down By Sound has less to do with the band's lack of talent and more to do with the Dallas hip-hop community's wealth of it.

Compiled by EZ Eddie D, host of KNON's "Knowledge Dropped, Lessons Taught," Down By Sound shines the spotlight on a group of musicians and bands that are ignored more often than the seat-belt law or the Dallas Burn. The album features a grab-bag of styles--from jazzy, East Coast sounds (Poppi Lo's "First Down," Soule's "Maintain," Native Poet's "Going For Broke") to spare funk (Ghetto Fame-Us' "Bring It Live," Kinfolk's "All MC's," Mouth of Madness' "Make It Hot") to spooky hip-hoperas (Judas Cradle's "Lust, Love and Lechery," Gigsaw's "Linguistic Class #2"). One of the best cuts on the album, Shabazz 3's "Latitude/Longitude" is an East-meets-West hybrid, combining Dr. Dre's woozy G-funk with Gangstarr's 'round-midnight jazz. It's sounds just like a hip-hop record out of Dallas should sound, splitting the difference between both coasts.

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More than anything, Down By Sound is proof that an active hip-hop scene can exist without the support of clubs or radio airplay. In fact, EZ Eddie D's Saturday-night show is practically the only outlet any of these bands have. It's appalling that bands such as Kinfolk, Funktactics, and Soule are only stars in their own bedrooms, while Pimpadelic and Hellafied Funk Crew (easily two of the worst bands this area has ever produced) headline shows in Deep Ellum almost every week. Yet the lack of attention has made the bands on this comp even stronger; perhaps defiance makes for tremendous inspiration. Legendary Fritz's track, "No Sunshine," is fueled by his perceived--and not without reason--lack of respect; you can practically hear him glaring. Fritz's "boulder on his shoulder" makes "No Sunshine" the best song on an album filled with great ones, the song's lackadaisical groove contrasting sharply with his caustic, self-confident rhymes ("Will the real MC stand up? / Well, since I'm standing""). It's a great song, as good as anything on the radio. Maybe even good enough to get Legendary Fritz noticed in his own hometown.

--Zac Crain

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