Freestyle Fellowship

To Whom It May Concern...

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Freestyle Fellowship's first album is a potent glimpse into the subcultural, conscientious side of Los Angeles hip-hop, one that would later be eclipsed by gangsta boogie from the likes of Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and all the pretenders who followed in their wake. As such, the joint -- like much of the work from De La Soul, the Pharcyde, A Tribe Called Quest, and other equally diverse artists of the period -- is a snapshot of a burgeoning art form's purity before it capitulated to the market and rolled out its gripload of Kristal and Bentley worshipers. Not that Freestyle Fellowship ever wandered down that path: they were too busy twisting tongues with blissed-out, stream-of-consciousness rhymes -- which is more or less what you'll find, without the hard-hitting beats, on To Whom It May Concern... For example, songs like "Jupiter's Journey" and "Sunshine Men" showcase Self-Jupiter and J. Sumbi's respective rhyme flows, but ignore song structure altogether; basically, you're getting the MC without the DJ, which can get boring after a while. But when they pull it all together and work as a collective (as their name implies), things heat up quickly, like on "Convolutions," a breakneck bebop session that is over all too quickly, or "We Will Not Tolerate" and "Dedications," shout sessions that are truncated versions of songs found on their later (and better) album, Inner City Griots. Which is not to say that To Whom It May Concern... is a snoozer when each rapper works alone. Most of the woefully underrated Aceyalone's tunes are bracing exercises in skill and speed, and Mikah 9 and Self-Jupiter are stellar wordsmiths. But a fellowship functions best when everyone is working together, and there's more evidence of this particular group's promise in its ensuing work.

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