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Tony Touch: The Piece Maker II

Album: The Piece Maker II
Label: Koch

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No hip-hop star's career is complete without acting roles, a production company, a record label, and a clothing line, but Tony Touch is still a rap renaissance man's renaissance man. He raps, produces, spins on the radio, and breakdances, but he's made his most profound impact on hip-hop as a mix-tape DJ. Touch's most prominent mix-tapes promised and delivered 50 or more rappers apiece, so it's not surprising that when Touch ventured out into more conventional albums, plenty of hip-hop heavyweights were willing to kiss the ring of the influential mix-tape don. Touch's 2000 major-label debut The Piece Maker boasted a massive guest roster, and it sold close to half a million copies worldwide. Like seemingly half of hip-hop, Touch joined independent powerhouse Koch for the sequel, The Piece Maker II, which retains the inclusive, eclectic, free-flowing Nuyorican vibe that made Touch's debut so endearing. A uniter, not a divider, Touch creates a space where artists as diverse as P. Diddy, Dead Prez, Pete Rock, Slick Rick, and Ruben Blades can feel at home. The Piece Maker II is all about finding the common ground that joins hip-hop's endless niches; Touch does so nicely during the album's first third, which segues seamlessly from salsa hip-hop fusion ("Tony Navaja") to glossy Bad Boy electro-pop ("Non-Stop") to meat-and-potatoes Def Squad funk ("How You Want It") to Wu-slang ("Rock Steady"). The album flags a bit in the middle, thanks to a limp Sean Paul collaboration ("Ay Ay Ay") and the dull retro dance of "Just Be Good To Me," but it rebounds with vital contributions from Slick Rick, Pete Rock, and Dead Prez, who agitate for Hispanic/African-American solidarity on "Touch 1 Touch All." The Piece Maker II isn't as essential as its precursor, but Touch still knows that the secret to throwing a great party lies in its guest list.