Various Artists

Natural Selection [Nature Sounds]

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Brooklyn-based label Nature Sounds, wanting to impress the public with its list of 2006 releases, issued the sampler Natural Selection to highlight some its most promising upcoming albums. This means, basically, a lot of Wu-Tang-inspired New York hip-hop (from the source itself: Masta Killa, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Mathematics, and Killah Priest are all included here), plus two rather uninspiring cuts from Los Angeles supergroup Strong Arm Steady. The best outlook for the year probably comes from Masta Killa, whose song "Ringing Bells," from his 2006 sophomore album, Made in Brooklyn, has the best production and most interesting beat of all of the tracks, and the MC himself has quick, smooth rhymes and a nice flow. "Stick 'Em Up," by Problemz, Psycho Les, and Al Tariq, despite its use of the hip-hop platitude "put your hands in the air," is a good song, too, meandering around the story of a robbery, a theme that is echoed nicely in Psycho Les' heist-movie-esque samples and production. Unfortunately, not much else from the album sticks out as particularly noteworthy. The cut by Ghostface Killah and MF Doom, "Angels," starts off decently, ignoring drums and using only horn, string, and piano samples for its beat, and both MCs sound good, but a third of the song is taken up by shoutouts, which kills any momentum it may have gained. It's an odd way to introduce a highly anticipated group, and hopefully the blame can be laid on the label for a poor selection rather than on GhostDoom for producing poor, lackluster material. As to be expected from anything even slightly associated with Wu-Tang, violence is the overriding theme, and everything else is secondary or nonexistent. While this might challenge some MCs to talk about the topic in an interesting way (which Masta Killa, Raekwon, and MF Doom do), more commonly it only perpetuates clich├ęd gun-slinging rhymes, and after 12 tracks, gets rather boring. Natural Selection, if it truly is a portent of what's to come, won't retard the progress of the genre, but it also won't advance it any further.

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