N.Y.C./Washington, D.C.-centered imprint Halftooth makes its full-length debut with this strong compilation, aligning its in-house producers and MCs with such name-brand talent as J-Live and Talib Kweli. The set starts strong with Halftooth's Oddisee and Kenn Starr dropping erudite rhymes over cut-up jazz and soul beats that are crisply inventive yet never overdone. They rarely reach for the easy break, either, instead hesitating in time for the MC to finish his line. "There's more to life than just ice and cream," Oddisee declares on "Quest to Find." The couplet speaks to Halftooth's m.o., which generally avoids the gangsta pose in favor of honest raps. There's little out and out denouncement of gangsta; rather, the MCs here seem to desire a qualification of it. Wordsworth delivers the neighborhood violence rumination "Here We Go Again" over a spiky percussion track and foreboding bassline. Starr, Kweli, and Asheru's "If" has a mellow, hopeful vibe, despite its bittersweet tone. The MCs here are glad they got a chance to make it, but have no illusions about how tough the game -- and the world -- can be. Besides his vocal contributions, Oddisee is also the principal producer here, and his brief drop-ins add even more gritty, sliced-up groove to his already simmering tracks. Other highlights of You Don't Know the Half include "In the Middle" from Dash and "Long Time Comin' (Makin Moves)," which features Phonte and Big Pooh of Little Brother over one of Oddisee's more inventive beat creations. Underground but furiously contemporary, and socially conscious but rarely preachy, Halftooth's debut compilation definitely makes its own statement.
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AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus