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Ripsquad 

Illa Godz (Deepthinka)

While Ripsquad rappers Speed (Robert Hill) and Furious (Jayson Floyd) have been working together for six years, they have released only one single prior to this, their full-length debut. But that single, 1998's "Ice Water/Ultimate Dialect," established the duo as one of Cleveland's best-kept hip-hop secrets. Not concerned with rapping about jewelry and cars, Ripsquad is, in its own words, a "throwback to when rap albums not only had replay value but made you want to listen from start to finish." Clocking in at just over 65 minutes, the 15 tracks on Illa Godz really do function as a whole.

Ripsquad has the indie attitude and poetic aspirations you'll find in albums on labels such as Rawkus and Ark 75. The scratchy string arrangements that run through songs such as "Squad's Theme III (Beats to the Rhyme)," "Sycamore," and "Petty Cash" recall the RZA's work with the Wu-Tang Clan; the title track has something that sounds like a Portishead sample percolating in the background; and the Prince Paul-inspired "4.2 40" has a perky beat that displays the group's sense of humor. There are a few missteps here -- the Too Short knockoff "Fleetwood Caddies" doesn't flow smoothly enough, and the phone conversation that bookends "Jewel of the Nile" is an inside joke that doesn't translate. But the occasional lulls don't detract from the album's overall appeal. Even a fake news report about an invasion of Cleveland by wack MC-eating monsters in "Freedom Writers" doesn't suggest the group has exceeded its limits -- Ripsquad backs up its boasting with a heady array of quirky samples, fierce rhymes, and dense beats.

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