The High & Mighty

Air Force 1

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The High & Mighty's debut album for Rawkus, Home Field Advantage (1999), put the duo on the hip-hop map in a big way. At the time, Rawkus was arguably the most esteemed label in underground hip-hop, mostly because of the critical success releases such as Mos Def and Talib Kweli's Black Star had garnered for the New York label. The High & Mighty thus became an overnight sensation with the release of Home Field Advantage, thanks to the affiliation. However, the affiliation ended there. The duo left Rawkus after its debut and used its newfound clout to boost the profile of its own label, Eastern Conference, beginning with the Eastern Conference All-Stars collection in 1999, which compiled many of the underground label's 12"-only releases. Three years later, in 2002, the High & Mighty returned with its second album, Air Force 1, released on Eastern Conference rather than Rawkus. Granted, not much had changed for High & Mighty members Mr. Eon and DJ Mighty Mi in the interm. They still represented underground hip-hop at its best: lots scratching and sampling; a quirky and witty rather than tough and glamorous ethos; and no pandering crossover efforts. There were other changes, though: the most obvious being the missing Rawkus affiliation, which is invaluable in underground hip-hop where integrity is all important. And with the missing affiliation comes the missing guests -- Mos Def, Pharoahe Monch, Eminem, Kool Keith, etc. -- that helped make Home Field Advantage such a momentous debut for the High & Mighty. So, the question remains: Without the Rawkus brand equity and the who's-who of underground hip-hop guest list, is Air Force 1 a step backward for the Philly duo? There's no easy answer. On the one hand, without the branding and without guests like Eminem, Air Force 1 obviously isn't going to appeal to as large of an audience as the duo's debut. On the other hand, however, Mr. Eon and DJ Mighty Mi are able to follow their muse here; this is very much their album without any outside influences or voices forcing them to compromise their vision. Therefore, if what you enjoyed best about Home Field Advantage was the High & Mighty rather than the Rawkus "sound" or the myriad guests, there's a good chance you may actually prefer this follow-up, even if it's a little rough around the edges (which, of course, is part of its beauty, being an underground hip-hop album).

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