various artists :: Presents – The Ear of New England Vol. 1 :: Matrix Recordings
as reviewed by William Ketchum III

Many facets of hip-hop, whether it be artists or the sound of songs, are known for their coastal affiliation: Snoop Dogg's laid-back flow is associated with the west coast, Jadakiss' hood tales breathe NY, Lil Jon's riot-inducing anthems are synonymous with the south, and even the soulful backdrops of Kanye West's tracks are making the middle west blow like the Middle East.

Apparently, New England—the region that comprises of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut—wants to claim a stake in the hip-hop world as well., a web site founded by then 10th grader Brian "Neomatrix" Shirley as a media outlet to get exposure for artists in the New England hip-hop scene, has released The Ear of New England Vol. 1, hoping to create a buzz for something other than Pedro Martinez' Red Sox baseball team and Tom Brady's 2004 Super Bowl-winning champions.

Upon first listen, if this record is any indication, it's evident that New England is understandably influenced by the east coast. The Team lifts the beat of NY-native Jae Millz' "No No No," and the Sickmen rhyme over a beat that was originally used by none other than the Brownsville Bombers themselves, M.O.P. Besides the use of NY artists' beats though, the rhyme structure of emcees like Grime the MC ("That's Grime") and Suprano ("All Out") is reminiscent of other east coast rappers. These may be measures to show that New England artists can be as grimy as street favorites like Mobb Deep, as the aforementioned Suprano raps, "what, you thought I was another white cat cracker?/hell naw, I'll be the type to clap right back at ya."

These similarities to east coast artists aren't for the worst though; they're actually for the better, because they help the listeners easier identify with the artists. In the end, all that matters is the music; and fact of the matter is, all of the artists on this compilation are talented, and provide for entertaining listening. Boston-bred crew O.V.M. flex their storytelling muscle on "Tell Your Children," E3 rhymes over a hot piano loop on "No Money," and Insight takes hip-hop back to its basics on one of the disc's best tracks, "Zone." The mixing by Neomatrix is on point as well.

Aside from the occasional appearances of generic emcees, The Ear of New England Vol. 1 is what a compilation is supposed to be: a plethora of artists and hot beats, along with a cohesiveness that ties the songs together. This disc may not have hip-hop fans running to New England to find the next "big thing," but it'll certainly let listeners know that New England certainly isn't far behind in the hip-hop scene.

Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10

Originally posted: May 11, 2004