Lateef the Truth Speaker & DJ Z-Trip Ahead of the Curve

[Quannum; 2007]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: underground hip-hop, west coast, bay area, “mashup”
Others: Lyrics Born, Blackalicious, Project Blowed, E-40

The first 60 seconds of any record are vital in hooking listeners, and Lateef the Truth Speaker wastes no time on his newest release, dropping an intro verse so slick that it sent goosebumps down my spine. As Lateef slowly winds his effortless words around the emerging beat, it's a kick-to-the-nards reminder that the underground is still here, and it's still producing some incredible music.

The Quannum crew is in full force on this mixtape, with Lyrics Born & Gift of Gab dropping verses all over the place, and Chief Xcel adding his typical production sheen. Slug, Evidence (of Dilated Peoples), and DJ Q-bert also drop by to add their own flare to the mix, which is held down like a pro by DJ Z-Trip. Z-Trip's influences and styles run the gamut, with distorted guitars, heavy beats, sparse electronics, and a generous helping of samples making up the record's sonic palette. The overall production is best described as slick, with effortless segues between songs, and a near-masterful approach to incorporating new material into existing works, including Gift of Gab spitting over Dark Side of the Moon.

“Listen to the DJ” is from Z-Trip's debut album Shifting Gears, but he fiddles with the track after Soup's verses, rebuilds the beat (with Lateef providing new lyrical content), and you would swear it's part of the original. Lateef channels Soup's original style for consistency, but quickly ups the lyrical wordplay like only he can. “Lady Don't Tek No” and the “Last Trumpet” (off the Maroons album) show up in modified forms, in addition to some reused Z-Trip beats, and they're perfect for a mixtape. This isn't a proper LP, and the boys don't let you forget it. Shout-outs to Lateef and Z-Trip litter the breakdowns, and there are a few spoken-word interludes, but it never lets up. Just right for a party.

My only gripe with the mix are the inclusion of the Fatboy Slim tracks, which are easily the most boring on the record. Fatboy Slim's beats are on soccer-mom autopilot, which leaves little room for our MC to be creative. “The Wreckoning” is also included, which is a perfect example of Lateef destroying a beat that lesser MCs would fear. Some would argue that “The Wreckoning” is over 10 years old now, and shouldn't be included in a new mix, but it's an excellent juxtaposition to demonstrate how fresh Lateef was 10 years ago, and that he still is in 2007.

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