(Definitive Jux, CD)
Boston-based hip-hop trio The Perceptionists are fast-rising stars in the rap music underground. Featuring the bold mike talents of Mr. Lif and Akrobatik as well as the buff bounce of DJ Fakts One, the group makes mincemeat of their "below the radar" competition. Black Dialogue, released on the celebrated Def Jux label, is one of the finest hip-hop records to be released this year.
The album hits hard right out of the gate. Opener "Let's Move" thunders across the speakers like digital elephants set loose on urban streets. Vocally, it's obvious these guys not only possess mad mike skills but also have something to say. "Strange fruit used to swing from the Southern trees / Now there's only leaves and those who laid the path are lovin' these / Discoveries in the brothers' frees," the MCs spit. This ain't no G-Unit album, kids.
The trip-hop-tainted "Blo" shows a group with one foot in the old school and one in the new. Fat analog synth squawks and deft turntable scratching keep hip-hop's street tradition alive, while the staggered beat and speedy verses give the track a 21st-century edge.
Perhaps the most politically charged cut on the disc is the incendiary "Memorial Day." "Where are the weapons of mass destruction?" Akrobatik and Lif ask in the opening verse. "We been lookin' for months and we ain't found nuthin' / Please Mr. President, tell us somethin' / We knew from the beginning that your ass was bluffin!" Recorded before the '04 elections, the cut is sadly still relevant.
The album loses a little steam with "Love Letter," a paean to old-fashioned romance. While it's not a bad song, I can imagine the narrative being transposed into a schmaltzy screenplay for an urban romantic comedy. But they bounce back fiercely with the title track, which articulates the assimilation of black culture into the mainstream. Rejecting the "minstrel show" so prevalent in the media, the group suggests real pride comes from integrity. "It was written in the books of Europeans we were savage / That our history was insignificant, our minds below average / But how could one diminish the worth / Of the most imitated culture on this Earth?" they angrily ask.
Modern hip-hop doesn't get much better than this. Forget about bling and vanity clothing lines -- The Perceptionists are truly keeping it real. Hear them at the Northeast Kingdom Music Festival Saturday, August 6.