C-Rayz Walz

After two years of trailblazing work by incendiary artists like RJD2, Cannibal Ox, and label owner El-P, Definitive Jux has spent 2003 issuing work by the underground's underdogs, hardworking MCs who have never earned their just due. As a freestyle animal familiar to New York heads, C-Rayz Walz falls into the latter category: He's an artist who has issued numerous 12-inch singles over the past several years, none of which broke out of the college radio circuit. Fortuitously, his debut album, Ravipops, will surely earn some attention from mainstream music fans looking for the next Aesop Rock. The two share some similarities as artists who make hip-hop that sounds like the sum of beats and rhymes rather than a harmonious mixture of creativity, vision and other intangibles.

This doesn't mean that C-Rayz Walz's music (or Aesop Rock's, for that matter) is wack. But the production could be better. Save for a few standout tracks like Ste-lo's melancholy "We Live," most of the backing tracks fade too easily into the background. Then again, perhaps it's the sharpness of C-Rayz's voice. He has a grainy, jumpy cadence that is difficult to ignore.

This imbalance -- dope lyrics, so-so tracks -- gives Ravipops a studious quality that makes it difficult to digest. The only element that keeps you listening is his word play; his penchant for weaving elusive narratives held together by witty punch lines ("I've never been slim/But my attitude's still Shady," he raps on "The Essence"), slang, and in-jokes deserves close listening, even at the expense of the music itself.


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