Various Artists

Fat Beats, Vol. 1

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Fat Beats is best known as a much-respected underground hip-hop store, with franchises in New York and Los Angeles (the latter of which has a strong connection to the Beat Junkies turntablist crew). In 2001, Fat Beats branched out into releases of their own with Fat Beats Compilation, Vol. 1, a mix of newly recorded tracks and underground joints from the last several years that had never before appeared on CD. Opening and closing with turntablist cuts from the X-Ecutioners and the Beat Junkies' DJ Babu, respectively, the comp brings to light a generally excellent selection of singles that deserve to be heard by more than just dedicated crate-diggers. Big-name veterans the RZA (as Bobby Digital), Grand Puba, and KRS-One all fit the underground-purist aesthetic quite well, but the real focus is on the lesser-knowns and new names. Bumpy Knuckles' raw style fits his politically incorrect references to a tee on the hugely entertaining "The Lah," which is immediately followed by "Legacy," the terrific first single by backpacker favorites Non-Phixion. Elsewhere, Canadian MC Saukrates comes off well on the spare "Father Time"; the Juggaknots' "Clear Blue Skies" is a full-fledged drama on the subject of interracial romance; Pacewon's "Sunroof Top" has a brash appeal; Virginia's Supafriendz build their highly literate "Consequences and Repercussions" on a Beethoven sample; and female MC Helixx weighs in with the trip-hoppy "My Time." All in all, it's a wide-ranging cross-section of hip-hop's underground at the dawn of a new millennium, and the future looks bright indeed. With a little more publicity, Fat Beats could well take over the mantle of Rawkus' Soundbombing series as the top name in underground hip-hop compilations (and its re-release on the larger Koch label is a step in the right direction).

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