Hawthorne's Most Wanted

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There's a quiet shift taking place in the hip-hop underground, as a small but growing number of rappers reject the glorification of gangstas and bling-fueled lifestyles. Offering an alternative is RedCloud's raison d'etre, scathingly dismissing his competitions' violence-driven material concerns on "Krylon Teardrops." That road, he warns on "Death of a Salesman" leads to self-destruction: "We gain the world, but we lose our soul. We own the freeway, but we pay the toll."

On Hawthorne's Most Wanted, the rapper's third album, RedCloud keeps it real, and never more so than on the poignant, autobiographical "Boulevard Knights," as he balances his family tragedies with a steely message of survival and hope, all accompanied by a melancholic acoustic guitar. The title track, in contrast, plays off RedCloud's adoration of his L.A. home, even while recalling the low-points of his life. The rapper eventually escaped the gang warfare that blighted his neighborhood, and the realization of the futility of the fighting is reflected in the powerful "Battle of Little Bighorn." Here, the rapper powerfully recounts the event, first from Crazy Horse's perspective, then from General Custer's. It's telling that the rapper chose as his moniker RedCloud, an homage to the native American warrior who eventually put down his weapons to insure his people's survival, and carried on the fight through peaceful means. This message of strength through non-violence is further driven home on the guest-heavy "Guns & Roses." "Guns" is one of a trio of singles that appears on the set, alongside the entertaining tribute to California highway "405" and the catchy, boastful "Tapatio," where RedCloud goes head to head with Pigeon John. Pigeon, who co-produces with the rapper and sirROCDOMZ, pops up throughout the set, as do a pair of Visionaries, Kurupt, Def Shepard, Jayo Felony, Tonèx, and Jamaican toaster Eek-A-Mouse. Ripping a page from the founders, some of Hawthorne has a decided old-school feel to it; there's old and then there's ancient, and the inspired "Songs They Sang" looks lovingly back at the past with a C&W guitar riff and a nod to the big-band era. The set is flush with strong, positive messages, powerful rhythms, great use of samples, and irresistible choruses. Perhaps still too thoughtful for the mainstream, RedCloud battles on, fighting the good fight, his words weapons of hope.

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