Critic's Choice

Roosevelt Franklin

In a cultural landscape littered with decaying, decrepit rap stereotypes, Mr. Len is resurrecting yet one more: the strong, smart hip-hop artist who is neither pumped-up thug nor science-dropping spazz. Len began his career as part of the New York City crew Company Flow, whose 1997 debut, Funcrusher Plus, was one of the high points of the decade. After going solo two years later, he released Pity the Fool, a bleak, breathtaking monument to his skills as producer and DJ that featured the cut "This Morning," a landmark single that pushed the Company Flow formula into the spectral outback of Massive Attack territory. His most recent releases are the twelve-inch Take Yo Ass to the Store -- a wide-load, old-school funk groove spotlighting Living Legends rapper MURS -- and Something's Gotta Give, his new full-length collaboration with Kimani Rogers of Masterminds under the nom de rhyme Roosevelt Franklin (the duo appears Tuesday, February 17, at the Bluebird Theater, with Kice and Dialektix). The disc opens with a diatribe against both played-out poles of hip-hop: gangsta rappers who've never actually seen a gun, as well as pretentious, thesaurus-thumping underground MCs. Layering juicy, crate-plucked samples with scratchy static, jarring guitar and shrill jazz brass, Len maintains a sense of the absurd while Rogers flows in four dimensions at once on tracks like "s n m" ("Smart nigga music/That's how they labeled it") and the libel-inciting "Kurt Loder" ("Motherfuckin' Kurt Loder tried to vibe me at a Citibank ATM" ranted ceaselessly over a loop of Nirvana's "Scentless Apprentice"). Political without being stuffy, assured without being arrogant, Mr. Len's tough, true music ought to be one of the blueprints for rap's future.

 
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