Just as underground rock didn't really exist for the first decade of the rock era--until rock became sophisticated and codified enough to need an underground--it's taken a decade after rap's emergence as a commercial force for a hip-hop underground to assert itself. An "underground," that is, not of unsigned or regional acts yet to go national, but rather a progressive sub-genre that's neither defined by nor aspires to the Suge/Puffy/Rush rap industry oligarchy. Exemplified by labels like Mo'Wax--and acts like Davis, California's SoleSides crew--underground hip-hop earns more critical praise than dollars, but often stays truer to the spirit of rap's originators.
Latyrx, the first release from SoleSides (both a label and a collective of MCs and DJs), features rappers Lateef the Truth Speaker and Lyrics Born performing solo and together on tracks by DJ Shadow, Chief Xcel, and Lyrics Born himself. While Shadow's dense mixes have already earned him attention (see his excellent instrumental set Endtroducing...), the SoleSides rhymers are a new revelation. Informed by dynamism of unsung west coasters like Freestyle Fellowship, Lateef and Lyrics Born intone like combination preachers and beat poets. Their words flow in rhythmic patterns, with recurring themes and motifs that make sense both as music and oratory.
Lateef shines on the intricate "Bad News," while Lyrics Born's conversational slur delivers streams of mature introspection with "Balcony Beach." On "The Muzappers Mix," the rapper's separate recordings get scratched together, mixed-tape style. And when the two actually meet, as on "Latyrx" ("la-tee-rics," a combination of their names), the results are stunning: Without bothering to pass the mic, they rap independently and simultaneously over the same beat. It's disorienting, but thrilling. Thoroughly hip-hop, yet completely experimental--just like rap was a decade ago.