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Mos Def, Diverse & Prefuse73 - Wylin' Out

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Artist: Mos Def, Diverse & Prefuse73

Album: Wylin' Out

Label: Chocolate Industries

Review date: Aug. 12, 2002

Expectations can reach dangerous levels when the hyped hook-up with each other. "Wylin' Out," the latest episode of Chocolate Industries' "Urban Renewal Program" finds New York's Mos Def and Chicago's Diverse dropping rhymes over beats made by Atlanta's Prefuse73. Throw in a remix by the red-hot RJD2 and you've got enough on-paper potential to make the heads' heads spin in their hoodies. Should it then be considered a letdown when the music itself does not exceed its potential? Probably not, but in this case it's hard to not want just a bit more from such a brilliant combination. Or maybe that's just the hype talking.

If nothing else, "Wylin' Out" is a refreshing return to hip hop for the "Mighty Mos," who has seemed a bit less than mighty during the past year. His Black Jack Johnson project (another all-star combo of sorts in which Mos Def tried to break out as a soul singer) made many long for a return to his Black Star/Black on Both Sides 2000 form. While his dancehall inflected flows and minstrelled honesty worked wonders for independent hip hop, his meandering and almost-on-key crooning did quite the opposite for, uh, independent soul. His off-Broadway acting has apparently been earning rave reviews, but until now it was at the expense of his rapping career. That Mos Def: a) was interested in collaborating with Scott Herren; and b) raps as if he hasn't missed a step since 2000; is quite encouraging, and saves "Wylin' Out" from becoming the beginning of Def's end. Chiming in with a verse and a chorus and a trademark "ha-hah!" Mos Def's quick and loose flow jives nicely with Prefuse's angular and witty beat. Lyrically Def comes a bit weak, doling out praise to himself, Brooklyn, Diverse, and the project itself. While meta-hype is surely commonplace in hip hop, here it feels a bit trite given Mos Def's proven lyrical talent as well as that of his collaborators.

Mos Def and Prefuse73 may be the selling point, it's Diverse who reaps the most benefits. His verses fly by quickly, incorporating a freestyle arrhythmic flow, coming early and leaving late and sometimes stretching his coherence ("Angles like isosceles / Read my b-i-ography"). Still, he brings his style together nicely, perhaps even emulating Talib Kweli by the song's end. And while his inflection is no match for Mos Def's, Diverse's energy and presence add much-needed charisma to the track.

"Wylin' Out" also marks, to my knowledge, Scott Herren's hip hop coming out. Although his extra-instrumental utility was a no-brainer, after just a single track Herren already sounds like a natural born hip hop beat-maker. While he eschews the chopped-up vox that normally characterized Herren's work under as "Prefuse 73" (rather than his other artistic aliases) he works his toned bass-drum and factory-crank swooshes nicely. Herren jerks the beat but doesn't lose the flow, restraining himself from dominating the track (which he easily could've done), but still leaving quite a mark. Ohio newcomer RJD2 also comes through with a screamingly unique remix (in the case a complete re-working), combining IDM rapid-fire sampling with a funky drum 'n horn background. A third mix by K-Kruz is a bit more mellow and something of a letdown especially given the company.

But even with all pieces and individual parts present, the whole doesn't come together with quite the fluidity that could be expected, or at least hoped for, from such a collaboration. In spite of the frequent multi-regional shoutouts thrown, "Wylin' Out" reeks of studio-by-mail production and lacks the synergy that can occur when MCs and DJs really work TOGETHER. John Herdon's brilliant collaboration with anticon (earlier this year) succeeded largely due to the minute interactions between the producer (Herndon) and the anitcon MCs. Chocolate Industries is releasing the "Urban Renewal Progam" singles as a series to eventually be compiled as an entire album. While hype and talent can surely go a long way, a little bit of eye contact can take everything that much farther.

By Sam Hunt

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