Ill-Oet: The Last Element

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Part of the same Portland underground/alternative hip-hop scene as the duo Lifesavas, Libretto preaches black consciousness and self-reliance (his father was a Black Panther, and the opening salvo "Slum Funk" details the rapper's youth in the Watts projects and how he came to the comparatively stable confines of suburban Oregon) over a complex mixture of samples and beats that seems to be self-consciously recalling the golden age of thoughtful, proactive hip-hop, from Public Enemy to De La Soul. At his best, Libretto is worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as those masters; the single "Volume" is brilliant, a mixture of old-school and strictly modern that's as good a hip-hop single as any that came out in 2004. Ill-Oet: The Last Element is a slightly uneven debut, however, with a few songs that don't reach the same heights as "Volume" and "Slum Funk," thanks to less imaginative production or a more leaden lyrical flow. Still, this is a promising debut that hints at even better to come.

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