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J-Live 

All of the Above (Coup D'Etat)

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If Ja Rule's theory that cranking out an album every year is the only way to stay atop the rap charts, it's no wonder J-Live is still strictly an underground sensation. The much-hyped Brooklynite lost his entire first album, The Best Part, to record-label consolidation, and he hasn't officially released anything since bursting onto the hip-hop scene with his "Braggin' Writes" and "Can I Get It" singles in 1996.

Sadly, All of the Above stands little chance of catapulting Live back into the spotlight. Everything about Live screams "true school," and his tendency to favor lyrical narratives over flashy one-liners and amped-up hooks won't endear him to most fans of fast-paced commercial rap. Live combines the aggressive, cocky presence of Pharoahe Monch with the nerdy linguistic experimentation of Blackalicious's Gift of Gab while covering a full range of subjects. The beats, supplied chiefly by J-Live, DJ Spinna, and Jazzy Jeff, range from dubbed-out funk numbers to spellbinding celestial jazziness. It all leaves us hoping we don't have to wait another six years for Live's next album.

More by Steve Boughton

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