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Various Artists

Lyricist Lounge, Volume 2 (Rawkus)

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Back in 1998, Rawkus Records created a soundtrack that defined a moment: the beautifully rich Lyricist Lounge, Volume 1, a collection of cuts by up-and-coming and established revolutionaries that illustrated a sort of renaissance in conscious hip-hop. Three years later, we have the follow-up, another accurate reflection of the state of the hip-hop nation: a bit muddled and uncertain but definitely club-friendly.

In the past half-decade, the culture itself has splintered into many tribes: There are the underground revolutionaries (Dilated Peoples, Dead Prez); the players (Biggie, Beanie Sigel); the get-crunk thugs (Pastor Troy, JT Money); the street prophets (M.O.P., Ghostface Killah); and the old-timers still going strong (Erick Sermon, Q-Tip, Kool G Rap.)

All these names can all be found on the roster for Lyricist Lounge Volume 2, and fans familiar with Rawkus may at first cock a skeptical eyebrow at the list, wondering how the compilers could put rap stars on a collection whose concept was born of an open-mic event showcasing the cream of the crews of unknown emcees. The confusion is especially understandable in the wake of Volume 1, a double-disc album that featured such powerful forces in the alternative stream as De La Soul, Zach de la Rocha and KRS-One.

Rawkus used to be the definition of "real" hip-hop because, like the artists they featured, they seemed equally concerned with art and commerce. The market that will be buying and enjoying Volume 2 is much more varied and less aware of the well from which Top 40 hits have been bubbling, a well that, in part, had as its source LL1.

The late Notorious B.I.G, gracing the intro to Volume 2 with a freestyle from a 1993 Lyricist Lounge event, is the personification of the rise of hip-hop. Though the album lacks lyrical content and becomes irritating as a result of the uniform production, a few tracks stand out. But if you're looking for something that compares to Volume 1 in terms of hip-hop idealism, Volume 2 isn't it.

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