Afu-Ra

Life Force Radio (Koch Records)

Afu-Ra sits somewhere in the center of a triangle. Its points are Gang Starr, whose beatsmith DJ Premier exec-produced both of Afu's albums; his onetime mentor Jeru the Damaja; and the Wu-Tang Clan. However, Afu-Ra brings a versatile, if a bit thin, voice and a good range of flows while putting an essentially positive spin on his Wu-like mixture of Eastern philosophy, Egyptian myth and classic MC storytelling.

Life Force Radio is Afu-Ra's second album — and following hot on the heels of 2000's Body of the Life Force, one might mistake Radio for a redux of its predecessor, given the two records' thematically linked art. Life Force Radio is instead an extension of the concepts from Ra's first disc, with a hint of being a concept album provided by the occasionally humorous radio station conceit ("All Afu-Ra, All the Time!"). It's under this umbrella that Ra manages to stuff the shadowy science of RZA (who blesses the mike as Bobby Digital), comeback kid Big Daddy Kane, the scorched-earth shouts of M.O.P., and Teena Marie, of all people, who sings the hook to the sexy "Open."

On his second album, Afu-Ra steps out of the shadow of his mentor Jehru the Damaja.
On his second album, Afu-Ra steps out of the shadow of his mentor Jehru the Damaja.

Life Force Radio, despite its pedigree, does take a few missteps. "Lyrical Monster" is a second-rate Premier track, with string swaths sharing space with a predictable beat. But the producer brings his A-game for the closer "Blvd.," which features his Gang Starr partner Guru sharing the mike with Ra. Over a top-drawer instrumental, Guru and Afu-Ra trade lines like fishermen, with Premier dropping oddly appropriate power drill sounds into the mix. Guru and RZA's guest shots on the final two tracks help liven up the last third of the disc, which does suffer a bit from monotony. Despite its somewhat bland conclusion, Life Force Radio is an impressive outing from an MC who proves that New York hip-hop is more than bling-bling on the one hand and backpacks on the other.

 
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