If the name of the label releasing Federation's debut rings a bell for Denverites, it should. The moniker was chosen by Big Jon Platt, a local-hero-turned-industry-powerhouse who heads the imprint, to honor the metro-area neighborhood where he came of age. The local connections end there, but the disc remains notable for its canny commercial instincts and willingness to upset expectations.

Even though Federation-mates Doonie Baby, Goldie Gold and Mr. Stres hail from the Bay Area, they don't exude the standard West Coast hip-hop vibe. Instead, under the tutelage of producer Rick Rock, who's worked with Platt pal Jay-Z, they ransack the continent in search of great sounds. "What Is It," featuring El Dorado Red, salutes Atlanta via an enjoyably crunky beat; "Hyphy," co-starring E-40, has a Carolina feel thanks to its spare, Neptunes-like arrangement; and "Go to Work" evokes vintage Strong Island with its ferocious party groove.

The majority of tracks here are about as original as The Album's name, but Rock's skills as a sonic synthesist keep the fun rolling. That's good news for Montbello Records -- and if Big Jon reacts to this success by reaching out to talent in his home town, it could be positive for the original Montbello, too.



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