Seven minutes into “Underground Hip-Hop Volume 9” I had that old familiar deja vu feeling. It didn’t take me long to connect the dots and realize I had just heard “Dear Lord” while reviewing Elaquent’s “Less Is More” a couple of months ago, one of many beats that showed off his increasing prowess as a production wizard. Someday we may be putting him in the upper echelons of music wizards like Dr. Dre and Pete Rock, but for now he’s still a young hungry Canadian producer on the rise, paying dues and crafting the kind of interesting soulful tracks that will make rappers flock to work with him.
That’s the point of “Underground Hip-Hop” compilations in general, dating back to the earliest editions we’ve reviewed — a showcase for Canadian artists signed with or distributed by URBNET. Some are up-and-coming like Fortunato, trying to get to that next level of mainstream exposure and success. Others like Moka Only are long established veterans of the North American rap scene. If “Volume 9” is your first edition of the series let alone your first exposure to Moka, rest assured there is a plethora of material for you to explore, as Moka has one of the deepest hip-hop catalogues going.
On this edition more than others, the more familiar artists stand out in an umistakable way. Swamp Thing, Spacesuits, Animal Nation and Myka 9/Factor turn this compilation into a “Greatest Hits” of sorts. I have to append the “of sorts” descriptive since I can’t fully describe what a “hit” would be for a label that purposefully defines itself and its compilations as “Underground.” These aren’t songs you’re likely to hear on mainstream radio, and might just barely find their way into rotation on satellite or college radio, but as songs like “Skyscraper” showcase the emphasis for this collection is to share what’s interesting on the label no matter how big or small the impact.
I have to step outside of myself a little reviewing “Volume 9” being so familiar with the music and artists compiled within, and imagine how you the consumer would feel hearing this the first time, compared to my own experience of having songs I already know and like conveniently packaged together. In my mind’s eye I picture general satisfaction, with even a few of the more ho hum songs like Bless’s “25th Hour” featuring Fred The Godson still being musically solid enough to carry the project through to its conclusion. There’s nothing revolutionary about this concept, which shouldn’t be surprising given this is the ninth installment of it, but as old cliches go this album fits “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” well.