Spirit In Stone

Portland, Oregon's Lifesavas is a spiritually minded trio whose audacious debut, Spirit In Stone, takes indie hip-hop back to church without overlooking the power of quicksilver rhymes and earthshaking beats. Executive-produced by Blackalicious sonic mastermind Chief Xcel and featuring appearances from Gift Of Gab, Lateef The Truth Speaker, Lyrics Born, DJ Shadow, and J-Live, Spirit In Stone is shot through with the ambition, depth, musicality, and genre-hopping eclecticism that has become the Quannum label's trademark. The group occasionally overreaches, as on the flaccid and overlong posse cut "Emerge," but it connects more often than not, with frequently transcendent results. Sonically and lyrically, Lifesavas is a little like Blackalicious' younger brother, although lead producer Jumbo The Garbageman periodically outshines Chief Xcel. Rooted in deep soul and blessed with a zealot's conviction and sense of purpose, Spirit In Stone casts a compassionate eye on a world gone awry. "State Of The World/Apocalypse/War," "Livin' Time/Life: Movement 1," and "Skeletons" each echo the vividly rendered surrealist social commentary of Blackalicious' "Sky Is Falling," but Spirit In Stone isn't all fire and brimstone. The delightful "HelloHiHey" offers yet another clever musical variation on Fight Club, as Vursatyl exchanges words with a pretentious would-be conceptual mastermind and a casually arrogant rapper before noticing that each bears a curious resemblance to himself. The result is at once a celebration, critique, and examination of the egotism present–and, to a degree, necessary–in all great rappers. Lifesavas also pops up alongside Declaime, a.k.a. Dudley Perkins, on "Government Cheese," one of the standout tracks on We Came From Beyond Volume 2, the sequel to underground-radio legend Mike Nardone's stellar compilation. "Government Cheese" would qualify as the best track on 90 percent of underground-rap albums, but Lifesavas collected such an embarrassment of riches on its debut that it can afford to contribute a knockout collaboration to a worthy cause. Independent rap compilations tend to feel thrown-together, but many of the songs here sound more like singles than outtakes. People Under The Stairs' "Chollo Dad" is an unforgettable satirical sketch about middle-aged Latino hoods who combine a father's over-protectiveness with an old-school gangbanger's mercurial temper. Wildchild's "The Justice" is as good as anything on his excellent solo debut: Madlib's brother Oh No laces the track with a folk-rock sample so scratchy and ethereal that it feels like it's being channeled via a séance, while Wildchild does the Stones Throw time warp, darting to a dystopian future before doubling back to give props to his present-day musical allies. An inspired collection of unusually consistent sonic treats, We Came From Beyond 2 eclipses its predecessor, which is no small accomplishment.

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