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Height with Friends, 'Versus Dynamic Sounds' (Self-released)( Handout / August 6, 2013 )
RATING: ** 1/2 out of 4
DOWNLOAD: Height with Friends, 'Versus Dynamic Sounds'
Hip-hop nostalgia is a tricky thing. Despite the annual Forbes list of the usual elder statesmen (Jay Z, Dr. Dre, Diddy), rap thrives as a young person's game, with veterans often taking cues from up-and-coming artists. And even when rap fans get nostalgic for old times, it's often for dazzling lyricists such as Rakim and 'Illmatic'-era Nas.
Baltimore indie-rapper Dan Keech is digging even deeper in the crates for inspiration. 'Versus Dyanmic Sound' is a 30-minute homage to the live hip-hop tapes of the late '70s and early '80s. There are 12 songs, but really they're short vignettes (half the tracks are under two minutes) of Keech, who raps as Height, and his Friends (including frequent collaborators Emily Slaughter, Eze Jackson, PT Burnem, DJ Secret Weapon Dave and more) loosely interacting and rapping with spirited silliness.
As a tribute, it's an endearing, well-executed tip of the hat to a pioneering era that is rarely recognized. As an album without context, it's a passion project that lacks replayabillity. Its effectiveness will hang on how much you cherish hip-hop lineage and the purveyors of the time -- the Cold Crush Brothers, Spoonie Gee and Fab Five Freddie, to name a few. It's a modern recording made to sound like a relic, for better or worse.
"Pleasure Club Disco '79" captures the album's essence: Early on, the music cuts out and an announcer comes over a loudspeaker to instruct a rowdy (and imaginary) crowd to "back away from the ropes" because they're tripping over the MCs' microphone wires and affecting the "performance." A breakbeat returns and Height, who delivers his lines as if he was auditioning for Run-D.M.C., raps, "Up in the sky, a booming voice said you will soon be the MC choice / to give the people a great delight / from west to east, they'll call you Height."
"Versus Dynamic Sounds" is a novelty that will sound refreshing to old school rap fans who remember when an MC's job was to brag about his DJ and his own party-rocky abilities. There's nothing "new" here, and that seems to be the point. -- Wesley Case