Chemistry

Rap is famous for its feuds, battles, and acrimony, but rappers tend to be a collaborative bunch. And few rappers deserve higher marks for playing well with others than Murs, a longtime member of California supergroup Living Legends, a Def Jux all-star, and a veteran of album-length collaborations with 9th Wonder and indie-rap heartthrob Slug. After releasing the cheekily titled Felt: A Tribute To Christina Ricci, two of underground hip-hop's most literate smartasses reunite for Felt 2: A Tribute To Lisa Bonet. But the goofy title proves misleading, as Felt 2 is the furthest thing from a throwaway side project. Slug, Murs, and Atmosphere producer Ant are swinging for the fences this time around, capitalizing on both artists' heat with an ambitious, cohesive, sonically diverse set of witty songs about sex and the single rapper.

Murs' sharp wit brings out the comedian in Slug, who keeps his tendency toward histrionic self-mythologizing in check. And while Felt 2 is only slightly less obsessed with carnal matters than R. Kelly's last album, the duo's raucous, irreverent take on indie-rap sexual politics is as self-deprecating as it is self-aggrandizing. With come-ons like "Bring along your ethics and your issues and your taboos," Slug's pimp game has earned a masters from a reputable Midwestern state school: Slug is the rare rapper who appeals to the arty pretensions and innate sense of drama of his potential one-night-stands. Musically, Felt 2 is surprisingly sophisticated. "Early Mornin' Tony" connects the dots between vintage Ice-T, minimalist old-school percussion, and the electrified head-banging of Krush Groove-era Beastie Boys and Run DMC. Bonet should be proud of the fine album, however ironic the dedication. It's a hell of a lot better than anything her ex-husband Lenny Kravitz ever did, that's for sure.

Murs reportedly plans on doing another album with 9th Wonder, but meanwhile, the latter has just released a new collaborative joint with Buckshot, the charismatic rapper behind Black Moon's stellar jazz-rap album Enta Da Stage. Buckshot hasn't exactly lived up to the promise of Black Moon's debut, but on Chemistry, he sounds hungry for redemption, and thanks to 9th Wonder's characteristically stellar work, it seems safe to call it a comeback.

On Enta Da Stage, Buckshot rapped about street life with an excess of bloodthirsty boyish bravado; here, he analyzes the game from a more mature, jaded perspective, which works perfectly with 9th Wonder's soulful, elegant production and smartly sampled choruses. Buckshot carries the weight lyrically on sublime early tracks like "Chemistry 101" and "Slippin'," but as the album chugs toward the end of its brief running time, it becomes a family affair, thanks to guest turns from Justus League affiliates Phonte, Big Pooh, Joe Scudda, and L.E.G.A.C.Y. It takes chutzpah—something rappers are seldom accused of lacking—to name an album Chemistry, but 9th Wonder and Buckshot's impressive effort lives up to its title. Albums loaded down with label-mandated and demographics-pandering collaborations long ago became an annoyingly persistent cliché, but these discs suggest that savvy extended collaborations between complementary artists might be exactly what the genre needs.

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