Unlike conventional various-artists albums, Hidden Beach Recordings Presents: Unwrapped, Vol. 1 does not feature tracks by a series of recognized performers. Rather, each track is performed by a group of musicians assembled for the purpose by the producers, who are the auteurs here. They are Tony Joseph and Darryl Ross. Joseph gets credit for the album's concept, which is to take rap songs and play them in a smooth jazz style. If that sounds like an odd idea, it is only a variant of one often adopted by jazz producers and record company executives over the years, one that also has given listeners, for example, jazz versions of the songs from a Broadway musical. But rap is more about the words than anything else, of course, with rhythm tracks often augmented by samples from other songs. The music of rap is so rudimentary, it would not seem to support instrumental improvisation, and that's all that's left when you eliminate the rap from rap music. In such a context, Lil' Kim's "Crush on You" sounds a lot more like smooth jazzman Jeff Lorber's "Rain Dance," which was sampled in it, while Eminem's "Stan," minus Eminem himself, reverts to being Dido's "Thank You." Though it perhaps intends to confer respectability on rap, the album is not one likely to be much enjoyed by hip-hop fans, and smooth jazz fans may like its typical saxophone, keyboard, and violin soloing over steady rhythm tracks without any recognition of the source material. While there are no doubt many in the music business who think the best possible rap album would be one with no rapping at all, you don't create a hybrid by subtracting elements, but rather by combining them in unexpected ways. Unwrapped attempts to make hip-hop palatable by emasculating it, and the result, not surprisingly, lacks potency.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann