September 27, 2001

Ed's Underground

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Quannum — the loose hip-hop collective including Blackalicious, DJ Shadow, the Poets of Rhythm, and Latyrx — may not get the mainstream acclaim of larger rap labels, but certainly not for lack of skill. On Spectrum, the young label’s mission statement, these diverse acts show off their many talents.

“Concentration,” a collaboration between the Quannum rappers and Jurassic 5, is a fun romp based around the nursery school rhyme. Latyrx, the duo of Lateef the Truth Speaker and Lyrics Born, contribute “Storm Warning.” Over DJ Shadow’s backing track — which consists of minimal beats and a rhythm formed by a phone ring — the pair form complex, interweaving vocal arrangements, sometimes rapping over one another, other times trading off words old-skool style, but always keeping things from getting boring.

Lyrics Born also showcases his laidback rapping style on the Poets of Rhythm’s funky “I Changed My Mind,” the best track here and one that had me salivating for the Poets’ full-length album.

Blackalicious (DJ Chief X-cel and MC The Gift of Gab) turn in “One of a Kind,” a fast-paced rap which shows off the Gift of Gab’s rapid-fire flow. Chief X-cel and Lateef also team up as Maroons for the track “Golden Rule,” which also features lovely female backing vocals by Erin Anova.

LA rapper Divine Styler guests on DJ Shadow’s drum-heavy “Divine Intervention.” Several other tracks feature all the Quannum crew; these are the most fun, with all the members trading quips and rhymes and obviously having a great time.

As a label sampler, Spectrum succeeds admirably, showcasing all these artists’ skills. Although not the best place to hear these unique artists (check out Latyrx’s self-titled album, DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing, Poets of Rhythm’s Discern/Define, and Blackalicious’ Nia), it is a good introduction for those unfamiliar with the label, and with underground hip-hop in general.

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