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Lo Down 

The Foundation (Ill-Type)

These days, it's rare that a hip-hop CD will have an "intro" that works. But simple as it might be, the opening track on Lo Down's debut, The Foundation, has a catchy beat and vocoder vocals that kick things off with a slightly retro, 2Pac-inspired sound. Rapper Marlo "Lo Down" Bloxson wrote all of the tracks on the 15-song album, and Ill-Type owner Gregory Morrison, a student at Kent State University, produced them. The samples Morrison and Bloxson choose suggest their influences -- they borrow beats from original hip-hop artists such as the Roots, Rah Digga, Mos Def, and Common.

Not afraid to slow things down for the groovy, jazz-oriented "Dough"; mimic Funkadelic on the overproduced "Megabyte"; or preach resistance with poetic eloquence in "The Revolution," a track that features guest appearances by local rapper Darque Phoenix, Bloxson doesn't adhere to just one style. Like the best rap artists, say Wyclef Jean or Prince Paul, Bloxson embraces a variety of sounds. The lazy beats in "Live It to the Limit" let Bloxson show off his rapping skills and flow. On occasion, he ends up in well-traveled territory -- in "Freak Hoz," he writes about loose, gold-digging women and fancy cars while a cacophony of discordant moans roars in the background. And then there's "Big Blunts," a harsh, DMX-meets-Bone Thugs tribute to smoking pot that has chest-thumping vocals and an insipid refrain. Two live songs, "Just Ice" and "Strategic," sound so rough and clunky next to the well-produced studio tracks, they're clearly out of place and disrupt the flow of what is an otherwise solid debut.

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