The U.M.C.'s

Fruits of Nature

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On their debut album, Fruits of Nature, the UMC's -- Hass G and Kool Kim -- are endlessly imaginative, witty, and effervescent by disposition and lyrical flow, and always intelligent. When it came to the music, co-producers Hass G and RNS decked it out in vintage soul and old Blue Note-styled tracks, with reams of obscure, idiosyncratic vocal samples tossed in as hooks, breaks, and bridges. The resulting effort is yet another vastly underrated rap album out of those banner years in hip-hop, 1991 and 1992, when commercial and economic instincts had yet to turn the music formulaic. The ironic thing is that nearly everything on Fruits of Nature is sing-along catchy and so ebullient that it would have sounded great bounding out of radios or from MTV. Unfortunately, it is also the sort of hip-hop that is too idiosyncratic and brainy to garner a widespread audience. Instead of alchemizing their jazz-tinged sensibility into a more earnest and reverent underground hip-hop extension of the jazz tradition, UMC's twist their jazzy inclinations into what are essentially pop songs that, even while generating a singular style all their own, cover the full range of the catchiness spectrum: ingratiating melodic tunes ("One to Grow On"), carbonated word play ("Blue Cheese"), cleverly disguised boasts and straight rhyming ("Kraftworks," "Swing It to the Area," "Any Way the Wind Blows"), loping urban anthems ("You Got My Back," "Jive Talk"), and more serious-minded cuts ("Morals"). There's even an urban take on storybook tales ("Never Never Land") and a sort of ballad ("Feelings"). The commercial failure of the UMC's and groups like them opened up hip-hop to the same sort of Top 40-ready and cookie-cutter artistry in the latter part of the decade that had previously swallowed rock and pop music. For a brief couple years, though, rap as uniquely excellent as Fruits of Nature could be found around every urban corner.

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