Mane Rok, Ichiban, InkLine

The Gem in I is a short concept project from Mane Rok, InkLine and Ichiban, dedicated to the zodiac sign under which they were all born. Whether or not you buy into astrology, the shared chemistry is clear from the beginning track, "Young Guns," on which all three put forth similarly phrased, graceful verses in a waltz-like cadence. The elegant delivery works beautifully with a pitched-up vocal sample. Another collaboration track, "Question," features samples from an old Gang Starr cut, "Who's Gonna Take the Weight?" The production, from Black Mask's AG Flux, is a consistent highlight: moody, full of personality and detail-oriented. The solo tracks are good, too, with Mane Rok's being the strongest and certainly the easiest to swallow. These MCs may be too smart for their own good, as they occasionally suffer from Aesop Rock syndrome: hyper-elevated diction at the price of musicality and relatability. But that's nitpicking, really. This is a rock-solid release.

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