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Sway & King Tech: This Or That

Album: This Or That
Label: Interscope

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Rap is perhaps the most postmodern of all popular musical genres, with its releases routinely challenging conventional ideas about ownership, authorship, and originality. And perhaps no element of rap fudges issues of authorship with quite the intensity of the mix tape and its glossier, bigger-budgeted offspring, the star-studded, major-label mix-tape-like CD. For disc jockeys and DJs, these projects offer a rare opportunity to step into the pop-music spotlight, while the artists represented are allowed a chance to get in the good graces of important radio programmers. Still, the genre, which received a big boost via New York DJ and mix-tape compiler Funkmaster Flex's status as a gold-selling recording artist, presents some interesting questions for listeners. For example, how exactly can This Or That be credited to Sway & King Tech if Sway, unlike his partners Tech and DJ Revolution, didn't write, produce, or rap on any of its songs? Setting aside such nagging unresolved issues, it's difficult to argue with This Or That's mind-boggling musical alchemy. This Or That boasts one of the coolest album covers in recent history, with its cheesy old-school magic-motion rendition of Sway, Tech, and DJ Revolution all morphing from old-school B-boys to Puffy-style jiggy showmen with the twist of a wrist. But the cover is also important thematically, as the purpose of all mix tapes, and this one in particular, is reconciling past and present, connecting the dots between old-school and new-school, between hip hop's beginnings in the parks and its current status as a cultural institution. Seamlessly integrating vintage old-school survivors Kool Keith, Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One, Gang Starr, and Eric B. & Rakim's music alongside new-school bad seeds like Eminem, Canibus, and the furiously kinetic Chino XL, This Or That plays like an alternate history of hip hop, one in which rappers like Will Smith and Ma$e don't exist, and skills are the only thing that matter. Furious, history-minded, and lightning-fast, This Or That is a remarkable achievement, even if it's not always clear exactly whose achievement it really is.