Swap Meet Seers

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As hip-hop becomes the universal catch phrase for anything with drums (and even some music without drums), this exceptionally large San Francisco group -- led by composer/multi-instrumentalist Greg Howe and featuring any and all combinations of 12 drummers, hitters, string players, horn blowers, and computer programmers -- is insistent on pushing the hip-hop definition as far as possible. The dark and moody film soundtrack style of "Coming of Wage"? Hip-hop. The hyperactive jazz break and horn skronk of "Off-Kilter"? Hip-hop. The slow-dancing French coo of vocalist Nathalie Sanchez on "Je Me Souviens"? Yup, you guessed it, hip-hop. Truth is, this album isn't that horribly different than what U.K. labels like Mo' Wax and Ninja Tune have been insisting is hip-hop for a decade, only someone finally has the gall to call it such without some quirky "trip-hop" tag. One guesses the main point is that you can envision some adventurous hip-hop DJ cutting on any one of these dozen selections between some Jay-Z pomp or Lil Jon crunk. Or, at least it sure would be nice if some DJ out there would do just that. Hip-hop used to mean one thing; now it means all things. Some fear that might dilute the cause. But if more "hip-hop" sounded like dissent, the movement would be stronger than ever.

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