The Shopkeeper's Wife

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As consummate an album as Drums was (and is), The Shopkeeper's Wife is nothing less than Oddjobs plunging into the deep end. The deep end of abstract lyricism. The deep end of exploratory music-making. The deep end, even, of its own enlarging psyche. This six-song EP is the vanguard of hip-hop, rap as brain food. Rap as soul extension. Five years earlier, DJ Shadow had pointedly posed the challenge "What Does Your Soul Look Like?" Whether intended rhetorically or not, The Shopkeeper's Wife is a brilliant reply to the question. And it is a rather definitive example of why hip-hop most certainly did not suck in 2003. Deetalx and Anatomy, as a start, raised the bar several notches with their remarkable production work. The degree of layering and juxtaposition on the opening song ("Hypnotized") alone -- a bass foundation draped in lovely duskiness, smears of turntable scratching, jazz cymbals drifting around the beat, the intermittent punctuation of vibraphone and Hammond organ, sax moans massing against the song's horizon like clouds -- is exceptionally sophisticated. Virtuoso, in fact. Painterly. And that's before even touching on the deep intelligence of the traded verses of Advizer, Crescent Moon, and Nomi, which, above and beyond their verbal dexterity, dance through the shifting rhythms like navigators of the immaterial. The pattern holds for the rest of the EP, through the darting, gem-like radiance of the title track, the sole holdover from Drums, through the superb collaboration with Eyedea on "Tricked," through the Spanish guitar and lugubrious confessional aphorisms of "Burden Streak" and the midnight shimmer of "Transparent." This is extraordinary music. Must listening.

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