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V/A - Chrome Children Vol. 2

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Artist: V/A

Album: Chrome Children Vol. 2

Label: Stones Throw

Review date: Jul. 30, 2007

The late Charizma's guileless self-introduction toward the end of Big Shots, an album that predated its own label by three years, hangs like a benevolent epigraph over all that Stones Throw has become: "I'm 18 years old, and I'm into rap music, and I just love it." The label is 11, a venerable prime by indie hip hop standards, but it exudes a vitality that few others can match, thanks to its resolute open-mindedness, weeded exuberance and supremely evident affection for the medium. This compilation, a slightly condensed follow-up to last year's Peanut Butter Wolf-curated volume, is another primer to the surprisingly many facets of the imprint – from funk and soul revivals to straight-up rap effrontery – and the more surprising ways they cohere.

True to its name, the forward-looking rap side of Chrome Children 2 gives equal weight to the thuggish and the playful, in keeping with the nerdy swagger of the label's biggest past draws (namely Madlib, who turns in three instrumentals here, and J Dilla, who is respectfully if lamentably absent). The best newer acts on the roster, like Oh No and the laconic Guilty Simpson, reconcile those poles in one generally endearing haze; elsewhere, it's the contrast of cerebral-ish beats from Four Tet or Dabrye with half-baked raps about getting, uh, fully baked that delivers the same effect. (Either Simpson's "Money Motivated Movements" is a freestyle, or he's actually a less cogent rapper than Cam'ron.) Roc C sounds confessional on the excellent Oh No-produced "Living for the City," a refreshing change from his confrontational solo album; even Percee P – whose flow is always awesome, and always exactly the same – sounds mellowed on "Reverse Part Two."

Equally engaging, and equally reflected here, is the label's attention to its heritage: Alongside the light-handed retouchings of work from pre-rap forefathers like Gary Wilson and Clifford Nyren tradition would dictate, the collective pays tribute to its own cults of personality in the making, from interdisciplinary recluse Baron Zen to L.A. electro magnate-cum-N.W.A. member Arabian Prince, taking just enough time to locate the weird in all of them (this is particularly easy in the latter's "Strange Life"). These figures blend in all but seamlessly with their geek-thug rap counterparts in a gentle madcap celebration, one that would seem overly self-absorbed if it weren't so earnest, so improbable.

All told, at just under 50 minutes, Chrome 2 is hard pressed to devote much time to any one exhibit, which gives it an occasionally jarring feeling of ephemerality. Still, for a slender offering of content, it's of an admirable depth and breadth, a collection of arrows in giddy and sometimes stupefying directions, all of it assembled less according to a conceptual or self-promotional mandate than for the simple joy of tribute and reunion. In this way especially, it's a perfectly faithful testament to the quality of the label as a whole.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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