X.O. Experience (Columbia/Loud)

Tha Liks 

X.O. Experience (Columbia/Loud)

The hip-hop trio once known as Tha Alkoholiks is now called Tha Liks, but its first disc under the new name proves the change was made solely for brevity's sake. Whether requesting "Another Round" or co-opting Freak Nasty's "Da Dip" to craft an ode to taking sips, Tha Liks are still tipsy off the whiskey. The group even incorporates its drink of choice into its backdrops, blowing on bottle-tops pan-flute style (to the tune Art of Noise's "Moments of Love" and Eric B. & Rakim's "Eric B. for President") and lacing its tunes with bubbling noises and gurgles. As a result, the quality of the beats surpasses that of the lyrically gifted ensemble's rhymes for the first time in its four-album career.

Not that J-Ro and Tash have forgotten how to flow -- their smooth verses provide the perfect complements for producer E-Swift's bouncy bass lines and squiggly synths. In the past, J-Ro astounded heads with his clever "got more ... than" constructions (more hos than a canyon's got echoes and more gifted than Christmas morning); on X.O. Experience, however, he adopts a laid-back approach. Tash's signature style is gritty and gruff, with his biggest hits being disses (I'm hooked on gin and tonic like yo mama's hooked on phonics and your style is not butta/It's more like butta without the "a"), but he makes few waves on X.O., as his vocals get absorbed into E-Swift's liquefied soundscapes.

After appearing on the Warped Tour and being covered by Crazy Town, Tha One track sports some guitar riffs -- provided by Stan "The Guitar Man," the veteran strummer who jammed with N.W.A. -- and the result is robust funk like Sly and the Family Stone. E-Swift also recontextualizes keyboards and symphonic samples -- rather than using them as sparse accompaniment for booming bass thumps, Swift employs them to shake and stir new-wave-style dance beats ("My Dear" vaguely resembles Berlin's "The Metro") that create a party atmosphere. Tha Liks have never been shy about supplying the details of their alcohol-fueled late-night get-togethers, but now they've taken the next step, making an intoxicating album that serves as an ideal soundtrack for their fans' own rowdy outings.

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