DJ Vadim

U.S.S.R.: The Art of Listening

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U.S.S.R.: The Art of Listening, even more than its predecessor, represents a large leap toward the rapping side of hip-hop, with guests on every track but one and virtually no space for the exquisite ambient breakbeat of previous DJ Vadim productions. It's difficult to mourn the loss of Vadim the solo artist, though, when the tracks and productions found here are so refreshing and totally distinct. All but one of the rappers are fresh faces (for a Vadim LP), which paves the way for talented newcomers (Yarah Bravo, Phi-Life Cypher, Vakill, TTC), some of whom have their own releases but all of whom will benefit from more attention. Vadim continues to strip his productions down, so far in fact that occasionally there's more space between the sounds than there are sounds themselves. One of the best tracks, "It's On" features the excellent Vakill freestyling over some standard jazz keys but also a few blink-and-miss-it samples: jew's harp, the distinctive sound of Japanese noh music, and a precious few grunts and moans from an earthy blues vocalist. Yarah Bravo is easily the most distinctive rapper here; she plays with her rhymes, drawling like a sloshed debutante and practically tripping over her own vocals like the hip-hop equivalent of Jackie Chan's drunken master. Gift of Gab from Blackalicious brings it back to the earthier side of alternative (read: American) rap with the deep groove "Combustible," but great features for Phi-Life Cypher and Demolition Man return to the up-and-coming British sound of ragga flow over heavily distorted analogue synth. While his sizable generosity -- inviting an assortment of voices to appear on his own album -- initially appears to be a fault, it quickly becomes clear this is a blessed virtue instead.

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