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The emerging Northwest hip-hop sound has no greater exponent than the Oldominion crew, which consists of more than 20 MCs, artists, and producers, almost all of whom seem to make an appearance on this glorious sprawling mess of a debut album. Staying mainly in a dark, mid-tempo groove, the album treads an artfully fine line between gangsta posturing (notice the tone and general lyrical standpoint of "Better" and the morally ambiguous depictions of violence and greed on "Look in Your Eyes") and pointy-headed backpacker hip-hop ("Harshest Darkness" includes some of the more intellectually nimble rapping in recent memory). There are also several tracks that flirt heavily with Nation of Islam ideology -- note the edgy crypto-spirituality of "Imagine" and "Parallel to Hell," not to mention the explicitly gay-bashing hidden track at the end of the program (which appears to be titled "We Can Drink Fire Baby, We Can Drink Fire"). The album's highlight is its first track, the brilliant "Esmeralda," which features the aggressive rapping of female MC Syndel; her appearances are high points throughout the program. Sloppy track registration makes it hard (impossible, actually) to separate the waste-of-time "interview" segments from the actual raps, but it's a small price to pay. Highly recommended to all fans of progressive hip-hop.

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