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If you want to know what separates Beans from the competition, compare his declaration "I'm the Ornette Coleman of this rap shit" with the way your everyday mainstream rapper boasts. With Thorns, the rapper proves he's just as important and controversial as avant jazzman Coleman, rattling off lines that can be studied by any aspiring alternative rapper while raising issues unpopular even among the left-field crowd, like why the Caucasians outnumber the African-Americans at underground hip-hop shows. Least that's the way Beans sees it, so maybe it's no big surprise that Thorns sees release through the man's own Adored and Exploited label, allowing this maverick among mavericks the freedom to speak freely and enlist help from whomever he chooses. Here, Ghostly International producer Dabrye and post-rock powerhouse Holy Fuck lend a hand, but mostly it's Beans spitting the lines and creating backing tracks that stutter, bump, and challenge with beats that are brittle, hypnotic, soulful, and so wonderfully rich. Half of the record looks inward, with the rapper telling devastating tales of growing up and his later heartbreaking journey as a father. The other half of the album -- the half that offers hope and relief -- points outward, attacking both the corporately endorsed state of hip-hop and the larger ills of society with anger and wit ("Now run along like Dave Chappelle and disappear"). Rarely is a line wasted and the knockout punches are thrown with the timing of a veteran, but the greatest achievement here is the entire package. This album is crafted, giving equal consideration to the rapper's need to exorcise his demons and the audience's ability to absorb, understand, and even enjoy the outcome. Shortly after Thorns was released, it was announced that Beans' legendary group Antipop Consortium were reuniting, giving every backpacker, Wire magazine reader, and fan of fringe hip-hop a reason to live. Shockingly, Thorns gives the announcement a bittersweet side, since 2008 should have all eyes on Beans and the marvelous full-length he's created on his own.

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