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Eyedea & Abilities - E&A

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Artist: Eyedea & Abilities

Album: E&A

Label: Rhymesayers

Review date: May. 20, 2004

Eyedea and Abilities have plenty of each, which makes them one of the most creative acts in mainstream underground hip hop. On their second record, E&A, the duo continues to do what they do best: set up a standard (that old, 'hip hop is tired, MCs is weak' bit) and then knock it down. Their formula is relatively simple: showcase the MC, then showcase the DJ, then showcase the both of them together. Then repeat. For the most part, it works.

What keeps E&A above the fold is variation rather than innovation. Musically, this record is all over the place. It's a sound collage with a variety of musical textures: plenty of samples (from movies to hip hop classics), kooky interludes a la Kid Koala, sudden jumps into double time, long scratching sessions, even just plain rapping. In Abilities' production you can feel the influence of both his battles at the DMC regionals and his work scratching on El-P's Fantastic Damage. He does a particularly excellent job of containing Eyedea, who might otherwise bring too much party to the party. Just when you start to feel bogged down with Eyedea's often grating voice, a long montage of scratches or classical music or a sample from Todd Solondz's Storytelling breaks up the monotony. Abilities even cuts Eyedea's voice into scratches, one obvious yet fruitful innovation that most hip hoppers rarely attempt.

Have no fear though, E&A is all about ego, and Eyedea gets to do his thing. When the beat suddenly doubles, our MC demonstrates an admirable staccato breath control, mimicking the scratches of the DJ, like trading fours in jazz form. He's got the gift of gab, and like most MCs he seems to be talking to himself as much as his audience, puffing himself up, manifesting the necessary braggadocio. The lyrics aren't exactly from the Compton streets, but they aren't hokey J5 positive shit either. There's just enough poetry about Eyedea's love psychoses and his 9-to-5 angst to keep it fresh. Indeed, Eyedea seems to have listened to his label boss Slug quite a bit: long breaths followed by short ones; echoed themes of bitterness, loneliness, lost love; an innate ability to tell a story; even the basic tone of his voice; it all mimics Mr. Daley.

Rather than exploding the hip hop genre, Eyedea and Abilities have chosen to be as creative as possible within it. There aren't that many pairs of one DJ and one MC left in hip hop, and these two bounce off one another as well as any duo currently working the circuits. Eyedea's style may alienate some, and Rhymesayers could do much worse than to release Abilities' beats sans vocals.

By Matthew Bernstein

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