[cd review] One Be Lo

Though One Be Lo has been an underground hip-hop legend for nearly a decade since his Binary Star dropped Masters of the Universe, he's still pretty slept-on, some of which you can blame on geography. He hails from Pontiac, Michigan, a depressed rustbelt burg about an hour north of Dilla's Detroit stomping grounds, which he spends The R.E.B.I.R.T.H.'s “Born N Raised” extolling. You can't blame Lo for being a little homesick; his last disc, 2005's S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M., came out on Fat Beats, but he got so tired of waiting for them to release its follow-up, he's dropping R.E.B.I.R.T.H. on his own.

Part of the “R.E.” here is the jump in production, with beats from more than half a dozen producers, running the gamut from Jay-Z-ish “Show 'Em What You Got” live-sounding burners to slower, more winding indie-hop funk. For the most part, Lo holds his own, though the busier tracks can make it a challenge for his verses to find their footing. On “Headlines,” a Texture-produced beat that leaps out from the speakers like Obie Trice producer Emile channeling the White Stripes, Lo steps up to the crash-and-boom melody with internal rhymes: “They got technology and . . . democracy/But all I can see is chaos, monopoly/Robbery, mockery, hypocrisy, debauchery.”

Not every track needs the lengthy movie dialogue, which, though better than skits, makes you want to hear more Lo and less Netflix (especially “War”). By the time “Gray” comes around, Lo hits his stride on the lushest, slowest cut here-and his best. It's a to-and-fro, slow-mo soul shuffle with smooth jazz horns and frothy strings produced by D.L. Jones. Lo turns in a performance worthy of Rakim, riffing on gray as an inner-city state of mind, being mixed race and getting jacked around by the music industry, in pure lyrical and musical bliss. It's as chill as it is chilling.

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