Various Artists

Constant Elevation (Astralwerks)

Hip-hop lovers have splintered off into so many different camps and communities, you have to wonder if many of them even love the same type of music anymore. Since we live in America, the props are invariably handed out to the rich and successful, and every now and again, someone throws a meat-covered bone to the derelicts who were said to have built the foundations upon which the metropolis now stands. But a long time ago, some people who didn't even feel comfortable in hip-hop split off and found another home in a place where people danced all night to music that had no lyrics.

Thus was the birth of trip-hop, and people like hip-hop writer Joseph "Jazzbo" Patel commemorated their work on early compilations like Deep Concentration. As time passed and people started selling more and more records, this community grew as former Hip-Hop Nation residents like OutKast and Kool Keith started to see people like the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur die and greedy no-talents get the glory. So nowadays, trip-hop is simply an outgrowth of the bizarre shantytown erected just outside of Hip-Hop's gated communities. But as the sound of Constant Elevation handily illustrates, it's still the place to party for those who truly know.

Usually, a collection featuring tracks from underground hip-hop producers features a lot of scratching and self-indulgent whining about keeping it real, but what makes this comp a keeper is the musical focus. Freed of any constraints an MC/rapper can place upon their music, the producers assembled here proceed in cross-cutting genres and samples and creating moods ranging from raucous (former Company Flow El-P's "Day After the Day") to groovy (This Kid Named Miles' "Amnesia") to inexplicably schizophrenic (Peanut Butter Wolf and Madlib's Hyde-and-Jekyll-paced collab "Rawcore"). Occasionally, an MC or two will accompany the flow, such as the Anti-Pop Consortium on "Crab Lice," but thankfully, this album does not shrink into an ego fest or a self-righteous diatribe against the fame and fortune these guys can't get their hands on. Rather, this is hip-hop as pure abstract expression without the quasi-academic expressionism.

For too long, hip-hop has suffered from its own strength. When you have all the money and everyone comes to you, you can forget that you need them as much as they need you. The producers of Constant Elevation recognize their links to other art forms outside of the cannibal dictates of the marketplace. You can be an old-schooler like Steinski or a Detroit techno prodigy like Recloose, but all that matters is that you touch people outside of your neighborhood. Sounds like Constant Elevation to me.

 
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