Blac Sabbath

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Despite its proximity to hip-hop's birthplace, the Constitution State has failed to produce much in the way of stand-out rap artists. But the up-and-coming lyricist known as Blacastan is out to change that. Representing Hartford, CT, Blacastan has been steadily earning stripes since the mid-2000s with a string of highly touted mixtapes and appearances alongside underground mainstays like Jean Grae, Krumbsnatcha, and Esoteric. "Locked up in jail during the shiny suit era," as he puts it, Blacastan was inspired to side with the indie hip-hop movement that developed in the late '90s in response to the excessively danceable hip-pop efforts of Mase and the artist formerly known as Puff. And while he's been quick to cite first-wave Rawkus albums such as the Soundbombing comps and Pharoahe Monch's Internal Affairs as the material that awoke the lyricist in him while he was inside, a cursory listen to his debut studio LP should give an inkling to the CT rapper's true pedigree. A street-level realist more in line with the hardcore side of the boom-bap tradition than brainier backpack rap trends, Blac's finely honed storytelling skills recall Raekwon at his best, his unflinching vignettes of Hartford's street-life are reminiscent of QB vets like Tragedy Khadafi, and the man's poetic sensibilities, which include a penchant for first-person personifications (displayed most compellingly on the extraordinary "Life of a Tape" as well as verse two of "The Dice Life"), will inevitably draw comparisons to Nas. Blac Sabbath has been years in the making (as Blacastan's ad libs indicate) but the crisp production -- largely handled by CT homie ColomBeyond, with supplemental beatwork from Blue Sky Black Death, DJ Doom, Mr. Green, and Statik Selektah -- built on spine-tingling piano lines, haunting vocal loops, resounding horn samples, and hard-hitting drum arrangements, add up to a sonically cohesive exercise in updated boom-bap. And as far as mike skills go, Blac proves he can wear a lot of hats; from the confident, battle-ready approach of the minimalist intro and "The Dice Life," to the disturbing verbal brushstrokes of "Crac House" and his powerful characterization of a mentally scarred Vietnam veteran on "Returnin' to Nam," he executes it all with finesse. The closest Blacastan comes to soft is on the stand-out, relationship-themed cut "Diamond," in which he details strife with his Puerto-Rican love interest's father while borrowing the hook from a yesteryear K-Solo hit. Engrossing from start to finish, Blac Sabbath heralds the arrival of a new hip-hop heavyweight, and stands as a strong contender for the title of hottest debut of 2010.

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