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V/A - Constant Elevation

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Artist: V/A

Album: Constant Elevation

Label: Astralwerks

Review date: Sep. 2, 2002

Showcasing Creative Talent

Assembled by Joseph Patel, the Constant Elevation compilation brings forth a collage of tracks cooked up by independent hip hop’s most creative DJs, producers, rappers, and turntablists. With the intention of showcasing creative talent that lies just beneath the radar of popular culture, Patel calls on friends, some familiar, some not so, to put together a collection of ear-opening cuts that manages to broaden even the most narrow of minds. Formerly known for his work on the Deep Concentration series, on which Patel showcased turntablism as a legitimate musical art, he accepted critical acclaim and moved on to hip hop. In the wake of the recent corporate-sponsored tour success of turntable artists X-Ecutioners, one wonders exactly how substantial of an impact 1997’s Deep Concentration LP and the all turntablist/DJ tour that followed made on popular culture. To note, the aforementioned tour featured Cut Chemist (Jurassic 5), Prince Paul (Handsome Boy Modeling School), and Kid Koala (Bullfrog). When Patel’s axe was away from the regular grind of being a culture journalist and music consultant, he managed to co-found SoleSides Records where he took a chance on DJ Shadow and Blackalicious, both of whom released well-received records on MCA this year. Needless to say, Patel has certainly defined industry credibility via his dedication to aesthetic, foresight of talent, and most importantly, good taste. The point here is simple: perhaps we should pay attention to this guy’s projects.

What should be explicitly stated from the start is that the Constant Elevation is not created by the same formula as used to assemble the Source Hip Hop Hits, Vol. x, or even the volumed Independents’ Finest series released by Ill Boogie. Instead, artists on the cusp of being notorious push the limits of what the average Top 40 listener can handle. Constant Elevation is more a platform upon which selected artists can embrace their creativity and release it with vigor.

Based solely on Patel’s past picks, professional music critics may overlook the album opener by calling attention to the fact that El-P has already found breakthrough success with Company Flow and Def Jux, and further because he has a history with Patel. They would, regrettably, be overlooking the feel-good track of the comp. Though instrumental (most of the album is, sans vocal samples) El-P conveys with clarity a concise message: relax and take it easy. No worries, we will. Through a barrage of disjointed backbeats over catchy bass lines and, at times, seemingly atmospheric samples, we travel. Most of the vocals are sampled and repressed, and added only for the sake of recognizable ambient sound with a dash of humanity; an effective tactic subliminally utilized to remind you that people, not computers, are indeed behind the sounds. And though it’s a minimal organic touch, it is indeed one that is comforting when battling difficult electronic planes of sound, catchy or not. Highlights on the album include tracks by Z-Trip and Peanut Butter Wolf & Madlib, which flow into one another so gracefully and effortlessly, that it is evident the sequencer had her shit together. A bit more serious on the way out, Chief Xcell (Blackalicious) blends an eerie piano segment with contemplations of the meaning of death and love with an epic overtone of anxiety – it seems odd that I can’t write it off as emo.

The standout track on the album comes from the eccentric New York trio Anti-Pop Consortium (RIP). Playful, clever, and intriguing, “Crab Lice” is simplistic and intelligent; an early insurgence of creative expression reminding you what this project is all about.

The conspicuously absent artist is DJ Shadow. In attempting to determine why exactly a contribution from him is missing, one hopes that a swollen head is not a factor. With a perspective schedule packed with more press meetings than drum loops on any one of his tracks (see virtually any music industry magazine released in June of this year), we’ll chalk it up to being predisposed.


Regardless of standouts and stand-outs, what you have here is a solid, throughly enjoyable record.

By Billy Shand

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