Jel 

Soft Money

Whether or not you consider the results "hip-hop," you've got to respect Oakland's Anticon collective for establishing its own paradigm. Since 1998's Deep Puddle Dynamics, the Midwestern transplant crew has branched off into numerous subgroups, exploring new creative waters each time. A celebrated beatmaker for Themselves since going solo, Jel has something to say and a unique way of saying it: spatial, texturized instrumentals with drum programs that sound like elephants playing basketball, random found-sound samples (check "Sweet Cream in It"), and a fair amount of original instrumentation and production make up the majority of this instant emo-hop classic. When Jel does touch the mic, however, he makes it count. "To Buy a Car" might be the best argument ever against the vehicle-industrial complex, and "Soft Money, Dry Bones" comments on the folly of politics and the irony of war from the perspective of a West Oakland warehouse dweller. The clincher is the appearance of Wise Intelligent of Poor Righteous Teachers on "WMD," which delivers (with apologies to Juelz Santana) what the rap game's been missing: a wondrously rambling soliloquy about government conspiracies that's as paranoid as it is fearless.

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