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Freestyle Fellowship: The Promise  

Decon Records

Before there was Flying Lotus and Truthlive, there was Freestyle Fellowship. A heady, psychedelic collective from L.A., the crew's '90s output stood in bemusing contrast to the more straightforward jazz-rappers of the same era. Aceyalone and Myka 9 have since achieved immortality in certain corners of the hip-hop underground (their 1999 collaborative effort Haiku D'Etat is a must-have),

But Freestyle Fellowship hasn't sounded quite this liberated in almost 20 years. "We Are," with its dub-inflected percussion break, even recalls Nigel Goodrich's work on the last Radiohead album. Other songs fuse a sexy R&B lilt with short-sleeve jazz reminiscent of Aceyalone's 1995 solo breakthrough, All Balls Don't Bounce. The Promise's beats - courtesy of "it" producers such as Exile and Black Milk - are shaded with diffuse ambience, bringing a sinister, almost aerial calm to the record. Every time The Promise threatens to regress into experimental indulgence, though, a track like the B-boy anthem "This Write Here" blindsides you with furious, polysyllabic finesse. (4 out of 5 stars)

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