EXPERIMENTAL HIPHOP never strikes a middle point; it either fails miserably or succeeds beyond expectations. This is why one bothers to buy and support it. It has room to make big and ugly mistakes, to change its mind suddenly and strike out in a new and brilliant direction, to be self-indulgent, silly, hopeless -- essentially to be anything it wants to be -- because it is not concerned with pleasing "the crowd," but instead pleases its own whims and obsessions.

Blackalicious, Latyrx, and DJ Shadow, who form the core of a tight crew under the name of Quanuum (which used to be called Solesides), are no exception to this rule. You never know what you are getting into when buying one of their CDs; you could either end up listening to it obsessively for days and years (as I did with Blackalicious' brilliant EP A2G and DJ Shadow's Endtroducing), or listening to it once and shelving it for good (as I did with Latyrx's The Album and DJ Shadow's Pre-emptive Strike). The pleasant consequence of this inconsistency, this obsessive tinkering and messing with rhyme meters and drum patterns, is that whatever the outcome of the CD, be it good or bad, it is always interesting. If Blackalicious or Latyrx fail, it is at least an interesting failure.

Blackalicious, however, have enjoyed more successes than failures. Their two EPs, Melodica and A2G, are generally impressive. Latyrx, on the other hand, have had more misses than hits. Lyrics Born and Lateef the Truth Speaker are unquestionably talented lyricists, but their beats are weak. In part, this can be blamed on the fact that a considerable portion of their first LP, The Album, was produced by DJ Shadow, who, though talented with instrumentals, is inept when working with vocals. (Just listen to what he did to the great Kool G Rap -- "You said I sucked; instead I succeeded!" -- on UNKLE's Psyence Fiction. It was beyond awful.) But when Latyrx get their beats in order, they become something more than wonderful. Their new collaboration with Ninja Tunes' Herbalizer, 8 Point Agenda, is certainly one of the best things to happen this year.

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