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V/A - Natural Selection

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Artist: V/A

Album: Natural Selection

Label: Nature Sounds

Review date: Mar. 19, 2006

This is a release designed to build a healthy appetite for the Brooklyn based Nature Sounds label’s 2006 release schedule. The major problem with this is that the album appears geared towards representing the Wu-Tang in 2006, rather than solid quality hip-hop; eight of the compilation’s twelve tracks feature members or affiliates. Considering the fragmented nature of the Clan’s public profile and the recent redundancy of most of its member’s solo work, this is a courageous move.

Masta Killa, recent PETA cover star and Wu standard bearer, initiates the LP with "Ringin' Bells," which sees him sermonizing over a dull soul loop courtesy of old school Wu revivalist Bronze Nazareth. While his words and metaphors aren’t overly complex here, his basic but lengthy flow still requires a few listens before it becomes easy to settle into his scholarly approach. The increasingly weary presence of Raekwon wastes a smooth funk production job and buoyant hook on Pete Rock’s “The PJ’s”; he becomes as complacent and utterly boring as a million other New York MCs on the archetypal hustler sound of “Guerilla Rap.” Raekwon is best when he’s furiously arrogant, wrapping imaginary phrases around street hustling narratives. He seems to have forgotten the storytelling tag-team chemistry of his work with the now universally adored Ghostface.

This release's selling point and predictable highlight is further fruit from Ghostface’s collaborations with MF Doom, a b-side from the forthcoming LP called “Angeles.” The music comes cut straight from a Bernard Herrmann and Bacharach TV show theme and both MCs seem to be on the same lyrical page, telling conversational tales of avenging angels (the ‘Charlie’s’ variety). As for the affiliates, Wu producer Mathematics drops an untitled and inconsequential instrumental, while Killah Priest comes more from the Miami streets than the heart of Brooklyn as part of the thug/preacher Black Market Militia clique.

The poor showing from the East Coast leaves Xzibit’s West Coast ‘super group’ Strong Arm Steady clique offer up two reasonably rocking tracks, the Krondon-led and smurf-chorused “Gold Chain Music" and shiny grime of "You ain't me." Xzibit and Ras Kass show glimpses of their fiercer youth on the latter, while Chamillionaire does a Nate Dogg impersonation on the song’s poppy hook.

The closest thing to a commercially viable (and club bumpable) cut here comes from the three man pile-up of Psycho Les, Al Tariq & Problemz on "Stick Up.” All three spit funny, tight and smart-arsed rhymes with knowledgeable hip-hop bites, each seemingly aware of the others strong verses; its only real fault lies in the generic “jump / hands in the air” chorus. This is the kind of thrusting horn beat that MOP can be found bellowing all over causing stampedes from club land to billboard.

Perhaps without the prevalence of Wu-Tang acts on Natural Selection, it could’ve been a more varied release, taking tracks from different corners of the hip-hop experience. But as this compilation is built on the crumbling (if not now almost fully decrepit) foundations of that now defunct empire, it's not a surprise that it doesn't spark lasting interest.

By Scott McKeating

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