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One A.M.

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Soul Position

Album: 8 Million Stories
Label: Rhymesayers

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Diverse

Album: One A.M.
Label: Chocolate Industries

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Last year's largely instrumental Dead Ringer helped make RJD2 an underground hip-hop superstar, part of a new breed of producers whose instrumental work is as popular as their work with rappers. He also makes up half of Soul Position, an indie-rap duo that pairs him with fellow Midwesterner Blueprint, a rapper whose malevolent wit, distinctive delivery, and sinister take on the world finds a lyrical equivalent to RJD2's brooding beats. The pair's 8 Million Stories begins on a lighthearted note, with Blueprint spewing funny, inventive putdowns on "Printmatic" before grudgingly reconciling himself to a fatally flawed relationship on "The Jerry Springer Episode." Three separate but connected "Candyland" interludes provide a respite from the subject of adult life by gazing back with fetishistic longing on the trappings of childhood. Beyond finding common ground between Wu-Tang Clan and I Love The '80s, these tracks–on which Blueprint free-associates nostalgia over gorgeous beats–possess a poignancy derived from the contrast between the innocence of youth and the corruption of shitty day jobs, bad relationships, and random violence. Where Dead Ringer and its follow-up EP The Horror are the sonic equivalent of arty horror movies, all sinister atmosphere and dark shadows, 8 Million Stories finds the horror endemic in everyday life. RJD2 also produces roughly half the tracks on One A.M., the impressive, filler-free debut album from Chicago's Diverse. A True School standout with an urgency and sense of purpose that recalls Talib Kweli, Diverse gets One A.M. off to a terrific start with "Certified," but it's easily topped by the similarly RJD2-produced "Uprock," which radiates a sense of joy and exuberance 8 Million Stories largely lacks. While the rest of One A.M. never quite measures up to the brilliant four-song stretch at its beginning, Diverse's debut is flat-out great as a whole.