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Capital D & The Molemen: Writer's Block (The Movie)

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Album: Writer's Block (The Movie)
Label: All Natural

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One of the leading lights of Chicago's thriving underground hip-hop scene, All Natural has long derived inspiration from the beats, rhymes, and ethos of hip-hop's golden age. A charismatic MC in the tradition of Rakim and Big Daddy Kane, the duo's Capital D seems equally comfortable kicking straight-up battle raps and incisive social commentary, while the beatwork of its DJ, Tone B. Nimble, betrays a fondness for the production styles of the late '80s and early '90s. As All Natural, Capital D and Tone B. Nimble put out a pair of well-received, socially conscious albums, but Writer's Block (The Movie) finds Capital D stepping out with fellow Chicagoans The Molemen, whose production is even more retro-minded than Nimble's. Consequently, Writer's Block often sounds like a time capsule from the late '80s, when charismatic MCs elevated hip-hop storytelling to an art form, and social consciousness wasn't yet considered a commercial kiss of death. Retro in the best sense, the disc boasts a remarkable sense of ambition and cohesiveness that more than compensates for the convoluted wordplay and grammatical ugliness of its title. Inspired by "Writer's Block," a 1997 All Natural single, Writer's Block (The Movie) thrusts Capital D's skills to center stage for an album rooted in the joy of a well-told story. Cinematic in atmosphere and scope, it chronicles an urban milieu where life is cheap, crime is rampant, and fate plays tricks on people. A series of connected narratives, many of which feature characters introduced in the title song, Capital D's solo album reflects a strong sense of morality rooted in the rapper's Muslim heritage. The characters in Writer's Block are frequently hoodlums involved in criminal endeavors, but D remains a moralist, not a gangsta, so his stories tend to serve as cautionary tales about the evils of sex, drugs, and easy money. Nothing on Writer's Block quite matches the giddy heights of All Natural's "Queens Get The Money" or "Elements Of Style," but with a running time under 50 minutes, the album is tighter and more consistent than either of All Natural's two fine but uneven albums. D's high-minded narratives may be commercially out of style, but that doesn't make his voice any less vital, or Writer's Block any less compelling.