Underground Hip-Hop continues to thrive, with each generation influencing the next one, but let’s not beat around the bush, there is an element of diminishing returns. After decades of listening, studying, and writing about it, it’s easy to dismiss much of it as our ears grow numb from similar-sounding rappers over similar-sounding beats. Nonetheless, it’s always appreciated when an artist instils a bit of fun into their art. A bit of character. I stumbled across this captivating video from DJ Akil and Starvin B, the latter an emcee from New York with a fairly ordinary approach to rap. The video for “Aliens” is one you can’t keep your eyes off, thanks to the usual awkward background distractions you find in low-budget videos, but also because of a real ambulance and some creepy (and shoddy) special effects of aliens lifted from 1960s conspiracy theory footage. You end up forgetting how enjoyable the work of DJ Akil is.

This barmy blend of low-budget video and polished beats isn’t surprising – Akil hails from France, and that flair for dope beats is certainly something I’ve grown to become accustomed to from French Hip-Hop artists, namely ones that collaborate across the Atlantic. Yep, Starvin B is another one of those East Coast emcees utilizing the production skills of a European (one for your list, Matt). There’s a reason these partnerships continue to thrive, they just work! The Europeans get that credible New York accent, and the New Yorkers get those dope beats that aren’t as commonly found in their city these days.

The rest of the album is more mixed – “In the Rough” is very familiar, with Starvin B sounding like a diet Tragedy Khadafi, someone he collaborated with many years ago. The influence of 90s New Yorkers is undeniable, and this record is aimed at anyone who either remembers experiencing these albums first-hand via CDs and tapes or simply can’t resist the so-called real rap the likes of DJ Eclipse and DJ Premier celebrate each week on the radio. There’s nothing wrong with either, and I’m guilty on both counts, but “Planetary Underworld” primarily benefits from the strength of DJ Akil’s output. That’s not to say Starvin B isn’t worth listening to, he has his moments – and sounds inspired on “Old Heads” as if he’s proving a point to anyone dismissing him as another 40+ rap fan stuck in the past – but the intergalactic theme isn’t prevalent through much of the album.

F.T. and Foul Money appear on a few songs each, and without doing anything spectacular outside of the usual brand of blunt ignorance, they often upstage Starvin B. Credit where credit is due though, I really liked his hooks on “Astronauts” and “Mantis”. A special mention has to go to Akil’s scratching too, which adds an extra 10% of life to potentially dull songs and flat-out makes “Same Difference”. Something that ultimately undercuts Starvin B a few times (and is common with similar projects) is the fact that one line from these scratched-in legends is more enjoyable than most verses. Fat Joe’s “motherfuckers” on “In The Rough” is glorious, as is Method Man’s hook on “Red Hot”.

“Planetary Underworld” doesn’t stick to its theme, but the cross-continental approach works well for the most part. Akil’s scratches and B’s hooks ensure this is a solid listen, but the verses in between don’t leave their mark. It’s not a great album by any means, and aside from the video singles that play to the duo’s strengths, there’s not enough of the goofy charm found on “Aliens” to be heard elsewhere in this “Planetary Underworld”.

DJ Akil & Starvin B :: Planetary Underworld
6.5Overall Score