For the past five years, independent-rap fixture Planet Asia has marauded his way through underground hip-hop, brazenly using his unmistakable charisma, irresistible rasp, and oft-perfect flow to steal tracks from some of the genre's finest. Along the way, he attracted a sizable following and the attention of Interscope, which signed him, then dropped him again after years of delays and a lot of flashy guest appearances. Finally, Asia headed to Avatar for his official full-length solo debut, The Grand Opening. A contemporary West Coast cat who raps like a head-busting New Yorker from 1988, Asia takes hip-hop back to its storied pastnot out of some sort of retro fixation, but out of a strong natural affinity for the flows, vibe, and ethos of golden-age hip-hop. One of rap's most charismatic figures, Planet Asia wields a titanic presence ranking with that of Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, or Rakim. On How The West Was One, his collaborative album with Rasco as Cali Agents, Asia stuck mainly to neck-snapping battle raps, but on The Grand Opening, he opts for a broader, more eclectic, and more accessible palette. The album gets off to a fire-breathing start on "16 Bars Of Death," with Asia rapping over head-banging production that suggests a cross between early Rick Rubin and an M.O.P. anthem. Ironically, given that Asia owes so much of his rep to brilliant guest spots, The Grand Opening boasts only a few guests, but each makes a substantial contribution, particularly Ghostface Killah, who lends a blazing turn to "Real Niggaz." Thrillingly, Asia is able to sustain for an entire album the intensity, passion, inspiration, and consistency that characterize his guest appearances. For Asia, rap's golden age never ended, and it won't until the last breaker pop-locks and the final B-boy drops.