What do people want from an MC these days? Hyperbolic boasts about verbal skills? Extraordinary claims of sexual prowess? Laundry lists of glittering possessions? Hoary putdowns of wack MCs and skeezers? Annoyingly oversimplified political insights cribbed from left-leaning blogs? Endless sports-related metaphors? Crude, hoarsely barked commands directed toward strippers? Really? That's all you want? Then you are being amply served by the current crop of rappers clamoring for your ever-diminishing attention. Pour yourself a Hennessy and feel fulfilled.

Cryptic One (New Yorker Ian Goldberg, who's half African American, half Russian Jew), however, strives to give you something different, to delve deeper, to wax more self-conscious. A member of the Atoms Family clique, he's part of underground hiphop's elite metaphysical-metaphor force, a postmodern poet who could spit insightfully about his own saliva. His brilliant new album, The Anti–Mobius Strip Theory (Centrifugal Phorce), bridges the gap between the contemplative quirkiness of the anticon stable of iconoclasts and the omnivorous intelligence and rugged funkiness of Def Jux's roster. Admirers of hiphop producers who emulate David Axelrod's soul-stirring, cinematic grandeur and poignantly dramatic melodies will nod in approval to Cryptic One's varied instrumental palette. (Dude knows how to locate the sweetest flute, harp, synth, choir, and guitar samples.)

Describing the meaning of the album title to prhymemates.com, Cryptic One said, "Everything has more than one side to it, every situation, every problem, every solution. The title also plays on cycles, and how things loop on themselves, like a Möbius strip."

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For all of Anti–Mobius Strip Theory's lyrical and musical rewards, it's definitely not for everybody. But the album is enduring art, one of hiphop's finest existentialist efforts. And that may be why so much underground hiphop repels most people: It possesses the pedantic air of a university lecture more than it captures the charged elation of a political rally or the adrenalized, hormone-drenched raunchiness of much mainstream rap. But Cryptic One makes life's hard lessons go down easy.

segal@thestranger.com

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