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.
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.