Ski Beatz

24 Hour Karate School Presents: Twilight

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Ski Beatz' debut album begins with a little old and a little new. 24 Hour Karate School -- which features all Ski Beatz productions in the same vein as other "producer albums" -- begins with "Nothing But Us," a horn-heavy track that sounds like Ski Beatz's ode to some of the music he produced for Jay-Z on his classic debut Reasonable Doubt, music that garnered Ski Beatz moderate, regional fame and insider legs. He updates that sound with live instrumental textures, while his new Jay-Z is New Orleans emcee Curren$y, his frequent collaborator behind the mike. But, if you're expecting more music along the lines of the ambient vibe of Reasonable Doubt and Ski Beatz's "Feelin' It" or "Politics as Usual," you won't find much of it here. He's moved on, as he should. His skills and ideas, however, have not atrophied in the 15 years since his early success. Here, Ski Beatz is offering more gutter fare, like the Just Blazey-organ'd and fuzzed-out "Go" with his fellow Harlemite Jim Jones, or the boom-bap stomp of "Prowler 2" he lays out for Jean Grae and Joell Ortiz to mike-rip, bookending the never-not-dope Jay Electronica's usual, self-described blazay-blah -- images of "salt rivers comin' out my eyeballs" and Kennedy assassination metaphors. Ski Beatz does well to bring in credible rappers to do his music right. Ras Kaas is Ras Kaas on "I Got Mines," your typical but still nasty hop-hop rock where Kaas lets you know where he stands: "everybody can't sing tryna get they Drake on." The Cool Kids emcee a beat from Ski Beatz that could be described as gutter dance music, full of distorted bass and aggressive synths that sound like fire alarms. D.C.'s Tabi Bonney and Stalley are relatively unknown rappers who get sparse canvasses to paint on. Their respective solos sound like tracks that you'd find on their debuts. But even on an album with Ortiz and Electronica and Kaas, "Super Bad" might feature the album's stand-out verse. Here Rugz D Bewler (who owes much in flow and tone to Lupe Fiasco), nimbly flips the word "super" for the song's final eight bars. It's brief but compelling. It also doesn't hurt that Ski Beatz provides a groove that somehow morphs from dancehall rock to neo-bounce. The album is lean -- just 12 tracks, the last two instrumentals. The final track with lyrics is the snarling "Back Uptown," Ski Beatz's reunion with Camp Lo, a group for which he's handled much of the production load on all three of their albums, including one of the '90s truly iconic production efforts, "Luchini aka This It." That, along with Jay-Z's "Dead Presidents" and "Streets Is Watching," makes Ski Beatz one of the '90s most unheralded but important voices. Nothing on 24 Hour Karate School reaches those heights, but it is an album of solid and, at times, stellar work.

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