In spite of battles with its aboveground counterparts' chronic misogyny, underground hip-hop couldn't be more male-centric in its makeup. There's no conspiracy there, but there's no surfeit of female rappers making the backpacker rounds, either. Northern State more than qualifies on paper, but the three white MCs from Long Island seem less interested in hip-hop politics than politics in general, from abortion rights and wack warmongering to a personal platform studded with party-starting talking points. The latter makes up the bulk of Dying In Stereo, a "mini-album" that marks Northern State's proper coming-out after a four-song demo grew bigger than intended last year. There's no separating the hype from Northern State's singular specs, but Dying shows a group finding its feet without staring at the ground on which it stands. Piercing and nasal in that bizarre Long Island way, Hesta Prynn, Guinea Love, and DJ Sprout recall the Beastie Boys in every way imaginable, as they punctuate their line-ends with choral shouts and use jumpy cadences to invoke old-school rap with goofy reverence. The rhymes drift in winsomely bookish directions, touching on Al Gore, Dorothy Parker, Fast Food Nation, and the word "palimpsest," but they also sear with a clarity that proves more than cloying. Tracks like "A Thousand Words" and "At The Party" carve out the MCs' identities while treating fun as more than a footnote. And rangy swerves–the moody dirge "Vicious Cycle," the angry shove-off "The Man's Dollar"–get serious without getting preachy. Bets are still out on the sound of Northern State's forthcoming full-length, which will have major-label money behind it, but Dying In Stereo holds out a lot of promise without falling prey to the solemnity that haunts so much underground hip-hop.