By JASON HARPER
Lots of locals are crewing up nowadays on the underground hip-hop scene. On the one hand, it reflects a pattern that hip-hop has always relied on; try to find a rap album that features the talents of only one MC or DJ and you may be looking a while. On the other hand, it makes it hard for potential fans to tell artists apart. The first team release from Kansas City’s Innate Sounds, Alpha, represents the pooled resources of nine vocalists and six producers (with some overlap -- Miles Bonny, Reggie B and SG all work both boards and mics), and that’s not even everyone on the crew’s roster. If this were the only recent release from the IS camp, there might be cause for concern, as if our region’s scene were full of candidates for Co-Dependents Anonymous. But with a healthy stream of solo projects from its members -- including recent joints from CES Cru, Stik Figa and crew founder Miles Bonny – the whole of Innate Sounds seems in no danger of eclipsing the parts.
Nonetheless, Alpha, is surprisingly homogenous. Its relentless fluidity is likely due to the mixing and track-ordering work of executive producer Leonard Dstroy, whose tastes have been smoother and jazzier of late, leading him all the way to live improv sessions with jazz-jammers Organic Proof. Album crooners Reggie B, Smoov Confusion and Bonny also contribute to the record’s overall smoothness, dropping melodic hooks that range from catchy to hackneyed. On “Gone Away,” a draggy, four-minute lament for a lost love (“she couldn’t move past my reputation”), Reggie B’s cloying, repetitive chorus insures that she won’t come back. B’s in much better form on “Soon We Will Rise,” which finds the singer taking advantage of both his range and vocal effects – and not mistaking whiny for soulful. Rapper and singer Smoov Confusion, known for his work with the Soul Servers, is this group’s secret weapon. On the disappointingly brief “Recipe,” Smoov lays down a syncopated, streetwise verse then coos the question Where do we go from here? alongside a jazz flute sample. The answer to his question: past the two-minute mark!
The production work on Alpha, overall smooth and sparkly as glue-on glitter, reaches peaks with Beatbroker’s edgy, bouncing beat on “Numbers” and with “The Anthem,” the album’s mob track, which features orchestral samplework from Bonny and Lenny D’s funkiest use of turntables. Among the MCs, Stik Figa seems to be having the most fun. Though he should be charged a dollar for every time he hollers Stik Figa, mayn! , the rapper brings a relaxed, party-minded vibe that’s been lacking on the scene since the departure of Approach. On “Numbers” Stik is entrusted with the chorus, and he wisely takes the singalong route, rapping 1-2-3-4/Errrbody put them hands up for the show/Uno-dosay-tresay-quatro/Errrbody out there on the block get dope. Stik’s slow, deliberate flow – which lags deliciously behind the beat on “The Grind” – would sound even better if he’d quit relying on day-old slang.
If Stikfigamayn is Innate Sounds’ class clown, Ubiquitous is its poet laureate. This lightning-fast rhymer, best known as one-half of CES Cru, doesn’t drop a verse without packing it end to end with fresh, crackling wordplay. On “Police State” (which is crying out for a video featuring rappers dressed as cops) Ubi spits out a novel in the space of a minute, delivering a monologue from a policeman’s perspective that begins: Don’t ask me ‘cause all I see is trash in the streets/12 people getting’ jacked in a week/They all call me pig with a capital "P"/I just seen y’all over there laughin’ at me.
Speaking of the law, Innate Sounds’ members seem, for the most part, to follow it. These rappers aren’t interested in rap sheets. Relationships, daily life and the art of hip-hop make up most of Alpha’s lyrical content, handled with the earnestness that pervades underground rap. Though Innate has lyrical masters like Ubi and brash upstarts like Stik Figa, it’s the musical adventurousness of cats like Bonny and Beatbroker that makes this crew fresh and exciting – and accounts for its innate greatness.
MP3: "Police State"
MP3: "The Anthem"
Buy the album from the iTunes store.