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V/A - Everything

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Artist: V/A

Album: Everything

Label: EV

Review date: Mar. 30, 2007

Anthologies documenting Chicago's chronically slept-on hip-hop underground are nothing new. Thanks in large part to curators like Galapagos4, a loose collective of middlebrow intellectual rappers, and the Molemen, a team of north side producers with a certain thuggish bent, attentive locals have been able to sift through the city's offerings since long before Kanye broke (his jaw, or anything else). The diversity of those offerings is laudable, but it's surprising and a little disheartening how rarely anything catches on in a meaningful way. For every Common or Twista or (cough) Da Brat, there are 10 other acts, often just as talented, who wear their obscurity as a grudging merit badge.

Relative upstart EV Records joins the fray with Everything, another faithful and well-appointed chronicle of the city's buzz. It divides its time sagely between promising newcomers and underground somebodies, cools off with brief interludes at appropriate moments, and offers a varied, enticing sample of acts drawn mainly but not exclusively from its roster. We get cautionary street anthems from Longshot on "Day By Day" and from Pace One on the excellent "Here We Go," cerebral abstractions from Diverse and Illogic on "Vintage," gun-toting wordplay and precious sample breaks from Royce Da 5'9", Longshot and Profound on "The Mic," romantic catharsis from British import Verb T, and so on in this fashion. Especially impressive are the two tracks with female MCs, Ang13's "Ain't Goin Down" and Psalm One's "Things I Do," both of which are clever, uncompromising, and mildly risqué without being Lil' Kim-caliber vacuous.

Unsung as it is, Chicago hip-hop does have a consistent aesthetic, and Everything captures its poles with a wide lens: smoky and bright, jazz-inflected and hard-edged, fluid and stuttering. While holding its own in the moment, the production here also manages to nod to missing elements of the city's scene: Overflo's jazz flute in "Nightshift" conjures the dusty grooves of WHPK-centered acts like Typical Cats (who, for the record, appear to remain wholly unknown outside of Chicago); K-Kruz's twinkling beat for "Learn" recalls the half-weeded positivity of the All Natural collective; Copperpot, who also runs EV, channels a strain of the Chocolate Industries vibe on "Aint Goin Down." Neither the rappers nor the producers ever really steal the show – and while this makes for a pleasing equilibrium, it also sheds some light on the scene's underlying troubles.

To wit, if there's a problem with Everything, it's that weird feeling of ephemerality that dogs similar compilations of the past: give or take the absence of a few perennial cameo-droppers (venerated battle MC Juice, for instance, or recent near-hit Rhymefest), it doesn't feel substantively different from what's come before or what will inevitably succeed it. If Chicago hip-hop lacks distinction or staying power, this compilation offers no compelling solution. But if it's not the knockout argument for a Chi-town renaissance, it's still a sleek and consistently enjoyable primer of a city neither maligned nor overhyped, its trends, its exceptions, its names to watch – or rather to root for in the struggle against the local underground's congenital anonymity. Not quite everything, but hardly nothing.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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