If the Family Feud research team were to take a survey of the most popular things shouted out at hip-hop concerts, nowhere on that list would you expect to see "Is Ohio in the house?" But although the Buckeye State may be flying beneath hip-hop's radar, one of its sons could flip that. DJ Hi-Tek, representing Cincinnati, has been most noticeably associated with Mos Def and Talib Kweli. But he's also proved himself behind the boards for other artists, including the Cocoa Brovaz, Phife Dawg, Sadat X and Common. Now Hi-Tek is following the path chosen by many of today's hip-hop producers -- releasing a "solo" album and hosting a handpicked collection of talent to articulate his artistic voice.
That album, Hi-Teknology, may not surprise those familiar with Hi-Tek's work. It is an artistic evolution, not a revolution. Hi-Tek continues to favor a traditional analog sound built from elements of jazz, soul and found beats. His hip-hop influences are easy to divine, but respectable: Premier, Pete Rock and Diamond D are all producers with reputations for putting the artist before the capitalist.
What is surprising is Hi-Tek's choice of lyrical collaborators. For instance, his unions with hardheaded rappers such as Buckshot ("The Illest It Get") and Cormega sound awkward on paper, but the results pay out. And artists like Slum Village ("L.T.A.H."), Common ("The Sun God") and Jonell ("Round and Round") also benefit from creative coupling, whereas some tracks -- such as the eager-to-please "Where I'm From" by Juvy Da Jinx -- unfortunately cannot even be saved by the company they keep.
Hi-Tek continues to work well with old friends. He takes Mos Def's singing voice a smooth step beyond last year's "Uni Says" with "Git to Steppin'" and provides Talib Kweli with the action-packed "Theme From Hi-Tek." And, aside from the album's title and an understandable but misguided turn at emceeing that falls somewhere in quality between Jam Master Jam and Bilal from House Party, Hi-Teknology is refreshingly without ego. Hi-Tek has a mature sense of what sounds will propel, rather than smother, his collaborators. Better still, he doesn't pollute the album with courtroom sketches featuring stern white judges and shout-outs from the likes of Gordon Jump and Pokey Reese. If this is how Cincinnati represents, welcome to the party.