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S.O.S.C. 

Souls of a Silent City (Rival)

After three tracks and nearly three minutes of what amounts to little more than "intro" material, the Lorain-based rap quintet S.O.S.C. finally delivers its opening song. But first, we have to sit through a commercial (cut one is actually called that) and several skits before "Livin' for Today" shows up -- not the best way to kick off your self-titled debut. And that's the main flaw with this skilled record: It's filled with so much flotsam that it's a tough task to wade through it all to get to what really matters. Once the peripherals are omitted, the album's core is a little more focused. Still, Souls of a Silent City is a disjointed listen, moving from one street style to another with little thematic purpose.

The sound itself alternates between cut-rate RZA production and an undistinguished beat machine. But the five voices cut through strong enough -- most of the time, at least -- that the monotony of the grooves disappears into the background. There's nice interplay among the five guys (Mr. Ruff, Smok Blak, Blak Boy, Slept-On, and Big Junn), even if they're not always easily separable. But the usual odes to sex and weed (one is even not-so-imaginatively titled "Mary Jane") are as dull as they are conventional. S.O.S.C. pays tribute to its hometown throughout Souls of a Silent City, and while its declarations that Lorain is a hip-hop hotbed are at times dubious, we applaud the loyalty. There are several keepers here -- "Livin' for Today," "It's My Time," "Come Now," "S.O.S.C.," "Back It Up," and "Grimmy N****s" -- that would make a fine EP. But the pointless interludes need to go.

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