Underground Kingz

    {grate 4.5/5}There’s really no better time for Southern hip-hop than summer ­— nothing that can push through the slow heat like a thumping beat and some strung-out bars of drawled turf pomp.
    And the summer of 2007 could have heard no better hip-hop than the fat and juicy double disc from Texan vets Bun B and Pimp C (the latter fresh out the pen), setting a sweltering hypnosis over 29 tracks that lets standouts like opener “Swishas and Dosha” and first single “The Game Belongs to Me” steam all the hotter.
    Here are two time-tailored MCs at their absolute ripest: Bun B pours his heavy asphalt on the winding, grinding “Gravy” (“Still in the hood cause it needs me/ And the corner it feeds me/ So I eat all I want/ My reputation preceeds me”) only to be swept up by Pimp C’s metallic refrain, a shimmering hot-road mirage (“I’m stayin true/ I’m out here reppin’ my Mercedes/ Fuckin’ with the midnight ladies/ The game is cold but it’s gravy”).
    UGK have long laid low, quietly observing their region’s rise to the spotlight, slipping cameos and solos into the mix when it felt right. But with Underground Kingz, their ticking time bomb explodes into a sea of synth that redefines the treasured folk music of the South — which, as much as we West Coasters would like to fight it, holds a heaping portion of our nation’s heat.

    Dizzee Rascal
    Maths & English

    {grate 3/5}Before any fellow garage-rap exports had filled in the gray areas, Dizzee’s electrocuted zig-zag once embodied for us the East London locale. But as his fanbase continues to shift further stateside — while Kano’s introverted London Town rises and falls like the spattering of raindrops on musty London cobblestone — this young prodigy scrubs his grime and mutes his sharp rapid-fire, even recruiting UGK to speed up the assimilation process. Still, hold on tight.


    {grate 3/5}Sometimes it’s hard not to wonder — as Sri Lankan dance princess M.I.A. claws, squawks, bubbles and Bjorkian battle-cries her way through a jungle of Stomp-worthy campfire instruments, hybrid Rastafarian/British/Indian accent flying every which way — if perhaps she just likes to listen to herself make weird noises. Like any normal 5-year-old. With unpredictable, firecracker politics and quick assumptions that the world is pitted against her. Except Timbaland, of course.

    Talib Kweli
    Ear Drum

    {grate 3/5}Talib lingers at dangeous levels on the hype-meter: He’s long been dubbed the best rapper still in the minors. Worse, the backpacker himself seems to take it deeper to heart with every album; Ear Drum, despite squeezing contributions from every one of many fans in high places (Kanye, KRS-One, Pete Rock, Just Blaze, even Justin Timberlake), spends its entirety harking the heavens, never grounding to reveal the man we talk so much about but never quite get to know.

    Big Shug
    Street Champ

    {grate 4/5}Here’s Shug’s story: Mean ugly brute from the wrong side of Boston runs into jazzy youngster-around-town Guru, teaches him the art of rhyme, and the two form Gang Starr. But while Shug serves some time, Guru runs off to score fame with DJ Premier, his partner still buried in the underground. The bad boy gets revenge on sophomore fury Street Champ, knocking around Premo’s (and imitator Moss’) tap-tap orchestration like the rest of the collective could only dream of.

    Blu & Exile
    Below the Heavens

    {grate 3.5/5}Theirs is a subtle union: Exile’s production (usually aid to modern soulster Aloe Blacc, together as Emanon) is simple, almost forgettable, but in the best way possible — every sparse drumbeat and enlivening loop is instantly absorbed by the expertly timed journal-scribble of common-man Blu. “Tryin’ to hit reset, knee deep in debt/ Tryin’ to figure how to feed a mouth that ain’t got teeth yet,” he raps of baby-mama drama on track 10, hitting every earnest handclap.

    Killah Priest
    The Offering

    {grate 3.5/5}The most distinct of the Wu-Tang coattailers, Killah Priest stays stubbornly true to their collective mantra — spitting throaty sermons with afrocentric, 5-percent fervor — while still popping the ’90s-stuck Wu bubble and fighting his own lyrical battles. The junior Killah sails through lessons in astrology, geography and ghetto history to a tangled church commotion of chants and organs, plucking dead-serious spots from a godlike Nas and the hell-raising Immortal Technique.

    50 Cent

    {grate 2.5/5}Ladies, call him Curtis. After a speedbump of songs devoted to securing his status as NYC street-stalker extraordinaire, 50 turns his fourth studio album into one long, dirty pick-up line — and he ain’t bothering with no foreplay. “You ain’t gotta take your panties off, just pull ’em to the side,” he beckons on “Candy Shop”-sequel “Amusement Park,” for which I’m sure you can guess the sweeping metaphor. Hint: the lollipop/magic stick has turned rollercoaster/horsey on the carousel.

    Kanye West

    {grate 3.5/5}We are all slaves to Kanye’s samples. They’re expertly wedged, melodic and empowering, and they’ll play on endless head-loop until he throws some more our way. Thing is, Kanye’s also a slave to his samples. They’re the flashy clothes that wear him, trailed by childlike rhymes panting to catch up — charmingly innocent, each syllable stressed in cross-eyed concentration, always emulating a certain Jay character. “Big Brother” apparently brings out the best in his little sib, though, as the star of a shining tribute track.

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