Iswhat?!

You Figure It Out...

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Forsaking the usual hip-hop standbys (drum programming, samples, constant mic checks), the Cincinnati hip-hop trio Iswhat?! debuted with a challenging record -- beginning with the title but extending to the entire set. A complex, difficult album, You Figure It Out. . . . is much more musical than lyrical, a fiery fusion of Matthew Anderson's strong, dexterous work on upright bass; Jack Walker's fluid explosiveness on reeds; and the human beatboxing of Napoleon. Napoleon's speedy rapping, closer in effect to a live poetry slam than usual in hip-hop, is difficult to decipher but offers much to listeners willing to devote the time to message tracks like "Parachutes" and "Can't Get In." Anderson's prime influence comes out in a pair of late-period reworkings of Charles Mingus' material: "Fables of Faubus" and "Trust." Surprisingly, for a first record Iswhat?! was able to get some outstanding collaborations, including Cincinnati's own John Doe (from 1200 Hobos) on scratches, avant-garde jazz luminary Hamid Drake on drums for three tracks, and rap theorist DJ Spooky on a remix of "Parachutes" (also found on his own remix album, Dubtometry). A bold and refreshing first effort, You Figure It Out. . . . is often frustrating but often stunning.

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