A Prince tribute, Sam Cooke, Goddamn Gentlemen, Molemen, ans mucho Mondo

The Molemen have been working their magic for several years, cooking up tracks for underground heads like Rasco, Rubberroom, Vakill, and Aesop Rock, among others. A highly touted production crew from Chicago, they've been putting out EPs since '97, dropping the impressive full-length Ritual of the Molemen in early 2001. Now, less than a year later, Panik, Memo, and PNS return with Chicago City Limits, a 17-track compilation-style record showcasing their smooth beatscapes and choice rhymes from a variety of up-and-coming emcees.

Disregarding the current trend of digital, computerized beats (a la Timbaland and the Neptunes), the Molemen sound is distinct yet familiar, building quality instrumentals with layers of ear-tickling samples and neck-bending drums. Warm pianos, catchy guitar loops, and dusty snares abound, with several tunes reminiscent of classic DJ Premier. "Onion Rings," featuring O-Type Star, sounds like a lost beat from Group Home's Livin' Proof, with its chopped keys, subtle bells, and scratched chorus. "Conjugation of a Woman's Name" sports a spacier vibe, with filtered guitar flourishes and bubbling bass tones. Other standouts include the jangly action of "The Sheppard," and the instantly likable "Family Ties."

Though the rhymes are solid throughout, the real star here is the beats. While not necessarily super-complex or revolutionary, they nonetheless grab your attention from the get-go and never let up. In a year that's seen a lot of so-called "producer's albums," Chicago City Limits is one of the best.


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