Scienz of Life

Coming Forth By Day: The Book of the Dead

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Scienz of Life's one long-player shows the chops that won them a spot at the Montreux Jazz Festival in July 2001. With A Tribe Called Quest and Digable Planets overdue for tributes, here's more positive-thinking jazz/hip-hop fusion that will irritate hip-hop fans who must have clarity and brutality. The best sample floats Billie Holiday in a nice little compote of alto sax and strummed piano strings on a cut called "Strange Fruit." "Afro DZ Act 1" samples kalimba keys so tiny they must have cut Maurice White's fingers. The recessive beats of Coming Out By Day: The Book of the Dead don't fail to focus -- they defy focus, moving as if crunching peanut shells and pizza crusts into the carpet of a den. And talk about recessive: the ruminative raps by I D-4 Windz, Inspektor Willabee, and L'il Sci are less "I'm-tellin'-you" and more "you-tell-me," which probably comes easy to guys who've been friends since 1993. But these murk-slingers frame a great late-night listening party, kindly ignoring the carpet to fill overflowing ears with one more saxophone riff ("God-Core") or flute chorale from minor artists; it's too deep in the night to keep track of. Still, listeners may never get hold of the keyboards, which noodle around like Herbie Hancock's on Miles Davis' Water Babies. And among many indecipherable pronouncements, "USA (Undaground Starvin Artist)" stands out because it runs one insight on repeat: "Negativity sells/But positivity dwells/In the mind/Of the illest rhymer." That's a charitable dissection of the will to sell in the minds of the grimmest rappers; it shows that Scienz of Life is on to their illin' sojourners. Every now and then, charity is preferable to clarity. This is also available on vinyl.

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