Maroons' cuter name is Lateef & the Chief: MC Lateef, half of undie hip-hop duo Latyrx (along with partner Lyrics Born), and DJ Chief Xcel, half of slightly less undie hip-hop duo Blackalicious (along with partner the Gift of Gab). Ambush is their debut mini-album: nine servings of the sort of modestly wordy, warmly funky rap the Quannum crew has been dishing out for years. The key to what they do is the rappers' ability to balance the backpacker's natural inclination toward wordspew with a pop fan's sense of hook, as well as the producer's earthy, humane funk, whose crate-digging dustiness is perfectly complemented by a sleek digital finish that makes the music feel comfortably ambitious. In "If," a breezy rewrite of Jadakiss' "Why," Lateef imagines a world in which "Bush hadn't stole that election" and 9/11 hadn't occurred and the "troops stay on the shore"; Xcel brings the doomy strings and ominous choral oohs, but he also provides a head-nodding bounce and a catchy chorus to offset Lateef's conspiracy theorizing. Ambush doesn't improve upon Blackalicious' terrific 2002 disc Blazing Arrow, but it's par for a fine course.
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