For those skeptical of how solid a compilation of new music from a hip hop label’s collective artists can be, allow me to direct you to Rawkus Records’ excellent late-90’s “Soundbombing” series, which features the likes of Black Star, Pharoahe Monch, and Diamond D. For those curious of how poorly constructed and consistently awful said label compilations can turn out, Hustle Hard Records bring you “Hustle Hard Records Mixtape: 2nd Edition.” And trust me, the music really IS as insipid as the mixtape’s title.

Then again, Rawkus Records had a number of great artists.. so the result wasn’t all that unexpected. Hustle Hard Records’ biggest setback is that they don’t really have any talented artists, and a rather unreliable ear for valuable beats. You’d be forgiven for assuming, even after listening to the entire tape, that Hustle Hard Records are from the south; production is typically bass-heavy and toys with snap music conventions, while the various MCs make immature attempts at club hits – my favorite of which being a hook that goes, verbatim: “WHEN I’M IN THE ZONE I BE GLIDIN’ LIKE ALADDIN, GLIDIN’ LIKE ALADDIN, GLIDIN’ LIKE ALADDIN.” The joke’s on you, though, as these guys are actually from Colorado Springs, a region whose hip hop scene I’m utterly unfamiliar with. I understand the air is thin out there, but there’s simply no excuse for this.

When Dirty, Vegas, Ghost, J-Blev and company aren’t penning unimaginative hooks, they’re generally impersonal emcees, occasionally coming up with a solid flow or two but mostly blurting out wack punchlines (“it’s a wrap homie, no pun intended”) and coming up with enough bars to fill up the time between the choruses. Perhaps if it weren’t nineteen tracks long I’d be more forgiving, but HHR persist to beat you down with repetition and dullness beyond the point of surrendering.

But alas! There are some minor victories here. Ghost’s “Take Flight” is wholly listenable, mostly because of its haunting sample, but the rapping here is also better than elsewhere on the mixtape. And then, the very next track, J-Blev’s “Too Damn Tru,” is also sort of delightful, which may or may not be hyperbolic considering what it’s surrounded by. Its sparse, mellow production is something of a relief from the rest of the tape, and J-Blev is a lot less contemptible here than on the aforementioned “Aladdin.” A guest rapper by the name of Phoenix Jay manages to reiterate the collective blandness of the HHR members on the very last verse of the record, delivering a simple, passionate verse that shows up the other rappers on the track with its sheer straightforwardness. He isn’t bringing heat like the Sun or going so hard like Viagra (yup, word for word). Needless to say, this isn’t a tape I recommend, and its future on my hard drive is considerably bleak. Try harder, fellas.

various artists :: Hustle Hard Records Mixtape: 2nd Edition