Beyonder, Dr. Noh, Encore, Kero One, KRS-One, Lexicon, O.C., Open Thought, Raw Produce, Styles of Beyond, Tru-Paz ::
The Singles File Volume 025

EDITOR'S NOTE: All of the reviews found in 'The Singles File' are being presented WITHOUT scores. You are left to interpret the dopeness/wackness of the single on the words of the writer alone. If you have any questions about this format, please e-mail the editor for more information.

Artist: Beyonder
Title:  Revolution Leaders 12"
Label:  Brick Records
Writer: Steve 'Flash' Juon

The name Beyonder rings bells in underground circles, known mainly for his production of classic 7L & Esoteric joints including the hip-hop meets Transformers anthem "Be Alert." Beyonder now seeks to make his name as a lyricist and pulls double duty with beats and rhymes on this single. While B proves himself a competent spitter in breath control, he does display regrettably commonplace hip-hop homophobia with the lines "what they do in they beds is they biz, but these perverted-ass parades affect my kids." His biggest problem on the title track though is the lack of emotion or change of pace, making chorus and verses blend together seamlessly. "That's Absurd" improves the formula by adding Karma and Esoteric as guests, and the latter shows up on "Boondox Saints" as well. This single is lyrically and musically average, not painful to listen to but doing little to distinguish itself from the crowded indie field.

Artist: Dr. Noh
Title:  All Alone b/w Action Crews 12"
Label:  Karma Response Unit Records
Writer: Steve 'Flash' Juon

Wielding the skills of a spy movie supervillain, Dr. Noh manipulates words and beats alike on "All Alone" with exemplary skill. The chunky instrumental builds layer upon layer of melody into harmony, while Noh smoothly spits lyrics like "You can't stop an object that is already in motion; my inertia will hurt ya, if you try an' block my culture." On the B-Side "Action Crews" brings in the KRU Records all-stars 40th Dimension while Dr. Noh steps into the background to provide the beat. The only surprise on this single is that the lead track has only a radio edit to go with the instrumental, while the flipside has both street and radio edits. "All Alone" deserves more love than that, especially since it shines a bright spotlight on Dr. Noh's many skills; word is James Bond.

Artist: Encore
Title:  Zigga Zigga b/w Essentially Yours 12"
Label:  Hiero Imperium
Writer: Matt Jost

After a stint on Dan the Automator's 75 Ark label, Encore prepares for his second album, this time under supervision of the Hieroglyphics crew. The appetizer features two collaborations with producer Jake One, but neither of them tickles the taste buds enough to eagerly anticipate the main course. "Zigga Zigga" has strong samples buried somewhere under a slowly dragging drum/bass structure. Encore addresses the folks who still sleep on him, but fails to come up with a line as memorable as Tash's "wake yo punk ass up like MC Eiht" used to introduce the song. "Essentially Yours" is a throwback to his very first solo single, "The Essence" from 1997. Another track that sets up graceful samples only to let the beats trample over them like a bull in a china shop. Add to this scenery Encore stumbling forward with a flow that fellow Bay Area rapper Rasco uses to much better effect, and you have a single that is far from essential.

Artist: Kero One
Title:  Check the Blueprints 12"
Label:  Plug Label
Writer: Steve 'Flash' Juon

Representing the Bay Area for California, Kero One is a West coast MC with decidedly old school East coast influences. "Check the Blueprints" flexes the horny horns of a Pete Rock bomb, with a scratch of Biz Markie reminding you to "respect the architect," while Kero himself is all about "expanding elements that pioneers started building" lyrically. One could mistake the entire presentation for a Mountain Brothers track; ironically enough Kero is of the Asian persuasion himself. "The Cycle Repeats" is another winner, with well chosen samples, scratches, beats and verbiage. Although it's hard to top the lead track, both songs demand repeat replay, and the latter comes with a remix for your aural pleasure. Kero is definitely One to watch in the underground.

Artist: KRS-One
Title:  Let 'Em Have It 12"
Label:  Grit Records
Writer: cornerstone

KRS returns with a single slated to drop in early 2004, and his first step is to affirm his long-standing presence in Hip Hop with the words "What is this? Like the thirteenth album?" Cue Soul Supreme's sampled horns and KRS' rugged flows running all over the track with warnings that he's back in the game and he's about to let wack MC's have it. A typical but nonetheless enjoyable lesson from The Teacher. The B-Side, "F*cked" features similarly boisterous and angry flows, but with a touch of simplistic genius in the hook of "Now you're FUCKED!" Fatin's production, with its flickering wah-wah effects and basic looping, has a mid-90s feel and, as KRS informs us that rappers who have built their careers on materialistic dreams instead of knowledge are (you guessed it) fucked, you can't help thinking he's still referring in part to his beef with Nelly. Whether or not we agree that commercial rappers are actually fucked, while they sit back and count their money, both sides of this 12" are examples of solid hip-hop, as you might expect.

Artist: Lexicon
Title:  Brokenhearted b/w These Days (Remix) 12"
Label:  SpyTech Records
Writer: Steve 'Flash' Juon

Already familiar with the L? If not, this is a good place to start. Nick Fury and Big Oak have some of the most natural chemistry in hip-hop since Run and D.M.C., quite possibly due to the fact they are BROTHERS not in the melanin but in the sibling sense. Don't mistake them for being on some Eminem shit though, because they're on some strictly underground shit with this twelve inch. "Brokenhearted" is their slow-paced ode to all good relationships gone bad, complete with all necessary radio edits and instrumentals. The flipside takes another cut from "Youth is Yours" and flips up brash words like "we're here for good so don't mistake the name" with jazzy beats. Don't hear these songs or your local underground mix show? Then call and complain.

Artist: O.C.
Title:  The Professional 12"
Label:  Grit Records
Writer: cornerstone

"The Professional" plays like an old Premier track, despite the fact it's produced by Vanguard. O.C.'s verses are backed by trumpet samples and kick drums, and are broken up by scratched-lyric hooks. This isn't the most original track some might even class it as highly derivative, but O.C. still flows like the veteran pro we all know he is, even if his modern efforts don't really compare to his earlier glories. Soul Supreme's beat on the flip-side track, "Worst Nightmare" featuring Kai, is a combination of keyboard-synthesised strings and rapid beats which both O.C. and Kai spit over nicely with plenty of D.I.T.C affiliate namechecks. I don't doubt O.C.'s professional status, it's just been a while since he truly illustrated it.

Artist: Open Thought
Title:  Force of Life 12"
Label:  Wide Hive Records
Writer: Matt Jost

Looking for rap with a positive vibe that's actually enjoyable? Look no further than Open Thought's "Force of Life". The track itself is a dry affair, yet succeeds on the strength of its elements who combine to form an actual track, not the usual heap of samples and drum sounds. The icing on the cake on this one is an old school sample that goes "the only way to learn about life is living," but don't forget to pay attention to rapper Baba's own reflections on life. The "Universal Remix", features additional participation by DJ Center, while "Cold Cut", a simple yet subtle tale about a not so colorblind society offers another glimpse into the Open Thought universe, making "Force of Life" not particularly one for the dancefloors, but a good promotional piece for their album of the same name.

Artist: Raw Produce
Title:  The Feeling of Now EP
Label:  Female Fun Records
Writer: Matt Jost

Don't call it a maxi single, the people at Female Fun Records insist that you call it a maxi-EP. At nearly 30 minutes length, they got a point. Selections off this release will be featured on the upcoming "The Feeling of Now" full-length, but if you wanna make sure you have the Thes-One remix and the "State of the Art" remix featuring Akro, Eso and CheckMark, you better cop this one. The lead track sees the duo of Pitch and Cadence waxing philosophical over a melodical, string-infused beat, "looking at this world top down like a convertable." For the remix, Thes-One shifts the song into higher gears but maintains the mellow vibe. Evoking memories of EPMD's "Mr. Bozack" or Capital Tax' "Mista Wonka", Raw Produce kick into "Richard's Radio Jam" (a minor-friendly version of their "Dick Jam"), a song dedicated to man's best friend (not that one, the other one). There's also an update of one of their very first offerings, 1995's "Cycles", as well as "What I Do" from Cadence's solo album plus the "Feeling of Now" instrumentals.

Artist: Styles of Beyond
Title:  Pay Me 12"
Label:  SpyTech/Ill Boogie Records
Writer: Steve 'Flash' Juon

"If you want that shit for free," then don't call Styles of Beyond. They came back a little leaner and meaner on their sophomore album "Megadef" and "Pay Me" is proof they still got the knack. Cheapshot and Vin Skully give rap phenomenons Ryu and Tak a methodically menacing beat for them to growl the words "fuck your benefit show if you gettin thirty thou'." It's not about bling bling though, because as the chorus says "I can't make impulse purchases, and blow dough on kicks and shit." 4-Zone provides the icing on the A-Side's sweet pastry, but the B-Side wins again with classics like "Bleach" and the Biddy-Bi-Bi Remix of "Mr. Brown" that sound like unreleased classics from "2000 Fold." Hardcore underground at it's finest, the SOB's age like cheese and only get sharper every turn around.

Artist: Tru-Paz
Title:  Feel This 12"
Label:  Incognito Ent./URBNET Records
Writer: Matt Jost

Canadian crew Tru-Paz comes through with a new single that screams 'get up, get into, get involved' almost as loud as James Brown, but isn't quite as convincing. Think thumping rhythms infused with euphoric sound bits, think urgent rhymes and an even more urgent hook. Likeable, but certainly nothing we wouldn't have heard before. With a mix that still needs work, "Feel This" might become acceptable once this advance copy turns into the proper 12" format.

Originally posted: November 25, 2003