Stetsasonic's acknowledged classic, In Full Gear greatly expanded the musical approach of their debut, making full use of new sampling technology as well as their unique live-band format. It's an ambitious double-LP set that seemingly aims for nothing less than to encompass every stylistic branch of hip-hop circa 1988. Over the course of 17 tracks, the group runs through state-of-the-art street-level hip-hop, an R&B crossover ballad, human beatboxing, Afrocentric spoken word poetry, Def Jam-style minimalism, DJ cuts, James Brown and Sly Stone samples, proto-Daisy Age sounds courtesy of Prince Paul, early jazz-rap, dancehall reggae, slamming Run-D.M.C.-style rap-rock, and Miami bass. It all makes for a staggering tour de force and a highly individual record that really doesn't sound quite like anything else -- whether before, after, or during its time. The group makes no secret of its desire to help hip-hop push music forward, calling hip-hop "the most progressive form of music since jazz" in the liner notes, and launching a spirited defense of sampling as an art on the groundbreaking single "Talkin' All That Jazz." Yet no matter how progressive-minded things get, Stet keeps a warm, genial block-party vibe going throughout the record, which holds all the experimentation together. Prince Paul fans tracing his career backward might initially be disappointed that his warped humor isn't much in evidence here, since he was an equal member of a multi-talented six-man crew, and gets (or shares) production credit on only six tracks. But, even if it isn't wholly a product of his vision, the vibrant eclecticism of In Full Gear is very much in keeping with his aesthetic anyway. This album doesn't always quite get its due, partly because of the flurry of hip-hop classics released around the same time, but it's certainly up near the head of the class of 1988.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Huey