The list of hip-hop crews who rely on live instrumentation is brief because the music can be redundant if the group doesn't take risks, or embarrassing if there's no intuitive intimacy between the MCs and the band. And yet, after nearly seven years together, Heiruspecs is achieving the sort of magical synergy that only the Roots have really mastered. When the group is feeling risky and frisky, rappers Felix and Muad'Dib spit rhymes like saxophone solos in a jazz jam; Sean McPherson's funky basslines become even more extroverted; the keyboards shower tones with an empathy no sample can anticipate; and the drummer alternately keeps the beat locked down and joins in the freestyle. Their experience backing a variety of MCs (most notably Slug and the folks from Oddjobs) has both honed the band's concentration and expanded its range, yet even when Heiruspecs are in a conservative mode, their tunes are strong enough, and the rappers-musicians mesh balanced enough, to satiate the crowd. A new album will be released as soon as the group chooses among prospective labels. But, not surprisingly, hip hop with live instruments is best heard live.


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