Nitro Microphone Underground

Special Force

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On their third full-length album, released in conjunction with some group member-designed shoes from Nike, Nitro Microphone Underground span a pretty large spectrum of styles on their way to taking up the crown as one of the top Japanese hip-hop outfits. Everything on Special Force is undoubtedly urban in sound, with slick nighttime items making their way in from time to time just as easily as the heavier-thumping anthems. Member Dabo takes a lower-key role on Special Force, leaving more room for the others to work their magic (in particular, XBS and Gore-Tex take the spotlight). As on their previous albums, the group runs with a mix of call and response style motifs and some higher energy pass-the-mic cadences, wherein each member gets to show off their unique approach and delivery à la Wu-Tang Clan. Perhaps most importantly, the group takes the Japanese language to its full potential in hip-hop cadence; with a stronger syllable structure that can also be a bit disconnected in delivery, the members are free to manipulate the language to effectively hold exactly the rhythm that they desire, without any loose-fitting pieces. Highlights here include the darkly thumping "Night Raid," "Tokyo State of Mind," and the outstanding title track, wherein each member takes an extended rap solo, simultaneously wildly dissociating their styles against one another and yet coming back together for choruses and hooks that flow mightily, all over a funky guitar loop, clattering percussion, and a few tidbits of well-placed English lyrics. Language aside, this is easily one of the better hip-hop releases of the year.