Even in Darkness
Halloween of the year 2000 saw a true scare thrown into a complacent hip-hop industry when OutKast's supreme Stankonia burst out of the Deep South like a space-funk supernova. The Atlanta duo of Dre and Big Boi lapped the pop-charts pack with a deep, sample-free style, especially on the buoyant hit "Ms. Jackson," thus setting themselves apart even from their brethren in the Dirty South scene.
But never say they forgot their friends. OutKast began as a part of a wide-ranging congregation of artists who recorded in the Southwest Atlanta (a.k.a. SWATs) basement of producer Rico Wade. Dre and Big Boi return the favor, showing up on nine of the 14 tracks on this first album from the collective that spawned them.
In fact, a theme of Arthurian adventure dominates, from the laughable medieval costumes sported on the cover to "Excalibur," a track backed by a nine-piece ensemble, including an organist and four horn players. One suspects that some serious blunt-passing lay behind these moves. Hokey as they may be, however, they put across an intended theme of noble brotherhood and loyalty.
Besides the platinum-plated OutKast tandem, Wade, producer pals Ray Murray and Pat "Sleepy" Brown and Hotlantan soloists such as Cool Breeze, Backbone, Witchdoctor and others make plays on Even in Darkness. The troupe slows the traditional fast pace of Southern hip-hop to emphasize the MC, though they do not forsake rump-shaking excellence on the rhythmic side of the equation. Check "Crooked Booty," a slammin' pre-func crunk produced by ET3, OutKast's production company. "Rollin'," a simulated old-school slice complete with backing-vocal shoo-bop, sweeps down the Valley of Soul on the power of beautiful vocals by Sleepy Brown, Andre 3000, Cee-Lo and Big Rube. Freddie Calhoun stars in "Forever Pimpin'," but keeps family values on the tip, not forgetting to thank Mom on the liner notes' back page. All in all, that's the perfect note for this band of red-eyed--yet chivalrous--brothers to strike. Sherron Lumley
Lift to Experience
The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads
A vision of neo-Biblical apocalypse set in Texas. Naturally, it's kinda fun. Viciously switches gears from sparse, echoing six-string plinks and desert-night whispers to exploding crescendos ignited by guitars that curl and burn like napalm fires. Followers of Godspeed You Black Emperor!'s similarly epic, nigh-ritualistic brimstone oratories may see Lift to Experience as comrades. John Graham
A Sicilian I knew once said to me that he'd only told his wife he loved her twice in many years of marriage. "You tell someone you love them too much, they start to wonder why you have to keep telling them," he explained. "They start not to believe it." Likewise, how much credence does the goateed rap/rocker born "north of Detroit and way south of Heaven" expect for endless claims to being the toughest, the baddest, the hardest-rockin' and longest-partyin'? The Kid doth protest too much. Yes, he's cartoonish by design--but even Tom and Jerry came up with a new pratfall now and again. Despite Kid's attempts to branch into soul and country, the schizoid Cocky's only fresh gag comes on fake-twang lament "Drunk in the Morning." Kid cries, "I wanna make money/ To take away my problems/ But my problems get bigger/ With the more money I make." Mr. Rock, let me introduce you to another country tune: "Here's a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)."
King Louie One Man Band
Jesus Loves My One Man Band
In which King Louie's solo riot of Cajun rage and New Orleans charm is captured to full effect. Raw 'n' callused blues licks, seesawing harmonica leads, paint-can percussion, ultra-distorto vox and lyrics bred south of the Mason-Dixon line make this a neat half-hour encapsulation of the man. Or at least as much as one can healthily know about the mysterious Portland transplant with a taste for filthy rock, meaty chicks and cheap thrills. Pester KNRK to play sure hits such as "Nuclear Crucifixion," "I Ain't Afraid to Die" and "Don't Cook That Cabbage (It Makes the Whole House Stink!)." They'll love you for it. John Graham
The replicant teens at the all-ages, all-android punk club get the jitters to this collection of diamond-edged New Wave-meets-hardcore epics. Incandescent guitars glimmer in an emotional void defined by doomish drumbeats, processed voices and keyboards scurrying furtively around the edges like the last rats left after a carpet-bombing. The Blade Runners will get us all in the end. Svetka Svetlova