Various Artists

The Funky Precedent Vol. 2 (Matador/No Mayo)

Like a lot of great compilation albums, the first volume of The Funky Precedent got to have it both ways -- celebrating the past while dropping hints about the future. To hear the assembled Angelenos of Vol. 1 tell it, the destiny of hip-hop was a fusion of old-school funk and Latin jazz with spaced-out turntable montages. The result -- from Dilated Peoples, Styles of Beyond, Ozomatli, and others -- was a chill-out record for the ages, an attempt at positioning the music as a smoky, jazzy hipster's game. Back in 1999, that sort of vision meant a lot to underground fans and rock critics who couldn't get behind DMX or Mystikal. Tough luck for them, though: On the charts, DMX and Mystikal still called the shots.

But things change fast in hip-hop. The Roots' wise, forward-thinking Things Fall Apart went platinum in 2000, in a way validating The Funky Precedent's slacker-cool ethos. While indie-rock label Matador is a latecomer to hip-hop, it does know slacker-cool -- releasing the second Funky Precedent album just makes sound business sense. (Having proceeds benefit three high school music programs is a nice touch, too.) Unfortunately, the second volume is a much messier proposition than the first. Whereas the L.A. acts seemed to share a vision about hip-hop's direction, Vol. 2's Bay Area artists don't agree on anything. The tracks vary from hard to soft, fast to slow, abstract to obvious, and old-fashioned to wildly futurist. Maybe the diversity's a sign of health, but it also results in clunkers like "Fan Club," a limp piece of frat-funk from Stymie & the Pimp Jones Love Orchestra.

Instead of focusing on turntablism, as so many local comps have, The Funky Precedent Vol. 2 concentrates on rappers: Rasco's hard-edged styling on "Uncut," the upbeat wit of Foreign Legion's "Bike Thief," Zion I's relaxed flow on "We Got It." Still, Live Human and DJ Vinroc spike the mix with a pair of turntable salvos, with the former's "Lagoona's Bliss (Elephant Mix)" as dizzying as anything the jazz-funk trio's done.

Azeem offers some "Contradictions" on The Funky Precedent, Vol. 2.
Azeem offers some "Contradictions" on The Funky Precedent, Vol. 2.

What's really missing here is the Angelenos' sense of political mission -- except for slam poet Azeem's brilliant "Contradictions," which is honest enough to present racism as more Byzantine and slippery than the charts tell it. "There's a whole lot of dope fiends who have nice jobs, black Saabs/And crack babies with blond-haired moms," Azeem raps, offering a focused picture in an otherwise blurry collection of snapshots.

 
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