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Mr. Complex: Twisted Mister

Album: Twisted Mister
Label: Raptivism

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Since establishing itself as an underground force with projects like 1999's No More Prisons compilation, savvy hip-hop indie label Raptivism has grown into the antithesis of Tha Row. Where gangsta-rap labels tend to market themselves as white America's worst nightmare, Raptivism's roster is filled with nice young men with whom most listeners might comfortably share a dorm room. From Danny Hoch to Zion I to comic-book geek The Last Emperor and now amiable goofball Mr. Complex, Raptivism is filled with acts whose albums winningly combine ambition with playfulness.

On his charming new Twisted Mister, Mr. Complex uses the English language as his own private jungle gym, bouncing around nimbly over airy, melodic beats and dispensing excitable narratives like a third grader on a sugar rush. On the bouncy, DJ Spinna-produced "Extra, Extra," for example, he shares a cautionary tale about an overly aggressive ball of testosterone deemed "too thugged-out to order Chinese food"; it ends in an altercation with an employee who gets "violent with the broccoli."

At his best, Complex exudes an infectious sense of joy in the act of creation. He's assisted throughout by a deftly employed roster of formidable guests: Dave from De La Soul and Pharoahe Monch add star power to the first few tracks, Morcheeba produces some appropriately rousing theme music, and habitual track-stealer Vast Aire provides the irresistible hook for "Calm Down," which follows a skit in which Complex airs his long-simmering tongue-in-cheek beef with Lil' Bow Wow.

Biz Markie adds his stray-cat yowl to "Glue," a characteristically goofy love song that veers into bondage and comic obsession, suggesting the shadier territory into which Complex occasionally ventures, as on the dark-hued narratives "380 Lady" and "No Turning Back." Yet somehow, he always returns, retaining the liberating lightness that makes him such welcome company and his album such a giddy delight.