Lords of the Underground

Keepers of the Funk

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After EPMD and the rest of the Hit Squad, Lords of the Underground was the East Coast crew who most frequently utilized the thickest vintage funk samples (look no further than the Parliament-Funkadelic title track, with a cameo by George Clinton himself) and pasted them into the most menacing and bare-bones of contexts. As with the trio's freshman outing, Keepers of the Funk features production handiwork straight from the crates of the legendary Marley Marl and his protégé, Kevin "K-Def" Hansford, and again the pair developed backdrops as dense and absorbing -- the gritty, rock-solid, low-end grooves, dug six-feet deep, and the crunching tempos -- as they are disorienting and foreboding with their queasy swirl of keyboards and horn loops, but with a few additional nods to jazz this time around. On top of the music, Mr. Funke and Doitall bring it as terse and raw as ever, craftily trading off verses in between gruff, crowd-shouted choruses, a fine approximation of what you might hear in the bowels of the New York/New Jersey underground but given just enough of a spit-shine to bring them street-level. Keepers is less consistent on the whole, and less catchy, than the sensational Here Come the Lords, but its high points are right up there on the same shelf: the exhilarating late-night chant "Tic Toc," with its Spartan, vibraphone-pocked track; the cool and collected cash-grab "What I'm After"; an unexpected expression of "Faith"; and "Frustrated," another of the Lords' characteristic mental, free-form flows.

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