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Various Artists: Rawkus Presents: Soundbombing II

Album: Rawkus Presents: Soundbombing II
Label: Rawkus

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Mixed by J-Rocc and Babu of the Beat Junkies and featuring an engaging mixture of big names (Eminem), underground heroes (Tash of Tha Alkaholiks, Mos Def, Common, and Sadat X and Grand Puba of Brand Nubian), and cult icons (Company Flow), Soundbombing II is a 27-track, mix-tape-style compilation united by an emphasis on no-frills, down-and-dirty lyrical skills. As its name would imply, Soundbombing II is both a kaleidoscopic stream of oral graffiti and a state-of-hip-hop address for the bohemian rap scene, understandably leaning heavily on the integrity-intensive roster of Rawkus Records. Conceptually ambitious to a fault, Soundbombing II is an encouraging reminder that the essence of hip hop as both a music and a culture—a sense of community, artistic integrity, competition both fierce and respectful, and a profound understanding of the music's past as well as its current possibilities—is alive and well. On an album laden with highlights, quite a few of the acts on Soundbombing stand out. Eminem's contribution, "Any Man," doesn't deviate much from his work on Slim Shady LP, but it does feature the star in particularly relaxed and playful form; he even uses the word "frolic" in an unironic fashion. Mos Def and Talib Kweli of Black Star distinguish themselves on several tracks, with Mos Def contributing the introspective "Next Universe" and Kweli joining forces with DJ Hi-Tek as Reflection Eternal on "On Mission," and with Bahamadia on the jazzy, laid-back "Chaos." The artist formerly known as Common Sense continues his legacy as a great singles act with Soundbombing II's first single, "1-9-9-9," a Sadat X collaboration that favorably recalls Brand Nubian's "Slow Down." If Soundbombing II has one major flaw, it's that while the nine or ten intros and messages might be important thematically and symbolically, they're bound to get pretty irritating during repeat listens. But the fact that the album stands up to repeat listens at all indicates that that's a pretty minor flaw for an otherwise exceptional project.