Aceyalone's jazz ethos has always gone far beyond beats and production. The Freestyle Fellowship frontman brings a jazzman's relentlessly curious mindset to hip-hop; he's playfully fascinated with twisting and contorting the form to suit his needs, and he has a deep affection for album-length rather than song-length collaborations. He previously collaborated with Definitive Jux instrumentalist superstar RJD2 for several tracks on Love & Hate, but the disappointing results barely hinted at the splendor of their remarkable new feature-length collaboration, Magnificent City.
Easily Aceyalone's most accomplished album since 2000's Accepted Eclectic, the disc boasts a sonic palette nearly as varied and vivid as the one found on RJD2's last solo album, the masterful Since We Last Spoke. The first track epitomizes the detail and sophistication of RJ's Technicolor production, with a jazzy opening giving way to caffeinated scratching before mariachi horns slide in conspiratorially, riding an infectious south-of-the-border rhythm. Aceyalone's warm, supple voice is relaxed and playful throughout, giddily joyriding RJ's simpatico production from the bombastic cinematic drama of "Cornbread, Eddie And Me" to the retro kiddie psychedelia of "High Lights," the obligatory tribute to pot.
Marijuana has always been a recurrent theme in Aceyalone's work, but Magnificent City reveals no shortage of ambition, sonically or lyrically. It's the product of two remarkable artists working in perfect unison, powered by an effortless chemistry that recalls similarly blessed collaborations between Madlib and MF Doom, or MF Doom and Danger Mouse. Production has long been Aceyalone's Achilles heel, but he has his work cut out for him here just keeping up with RJ's endlessly inventive, constantly shifting beatscapes. Call it a comeback: Aceyalone hasn't felt this vital in ages, and RJD2's creative winning streak continues unabated.