Aceyalone 

Magnificent City

Aceyalone's 2003 album Love and Hate inspired a lot of hand-wringing, as critics bemoaned the glaringly obvious gap between the emcee's slick, flowery raps and his bullshit-ass beats. It looked like he'd hit a career zenith with 1995's All Balls Don't Bounce (reissued in 2004), and wasn't destined to produce anything else worth writing about. But this year, Aceyalone makes a comeback: On his new, phenomenal joint Magnificent City, the emcee manages to isolate what was good about Love and Hate (producer RJD2), cast off the bad (fellow beat-cobblers Sayyid and Priest), and tone down what was also bad (his penchant for moralizing and philosophizing without actually saying anything). RJD2's beats -- a seamless garage-funk blend of horn loops, vocal vamps, and electric organs -- enhance and sometimes outpace the emcee's verbal stylings. But on most tracks, Aceyalone proves himself worthy. The persona he cultivates on this album -- sarcastic, dislocated, tired of the world -- is what he should've been going for on Love & Hate. Maybe he needed three years to grow into it.

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