Air Cartoons

If you like gangsta/spoken-word, then chances are you enjoyed East Bay rapper Azeem's 2001 album Craft Classic, which contained tour de force joints "Ima" and "God's Rolex," both so imaginative and well-crafted that Azeem probably could have made nothing else for the rest of his career and still claimed a place in the indie hip-hop canon. This year's Air Cartoons is the sequel fans have been waiting for.

For one thing, Azeem found a cast of (mostly lesser-known) producers who actually match him, creatively. If you turned the vocals off, you'd still get a really interesting album: artful noise effects, break beats, Afro-Latin horn sections, R&B vamps, modal harmonies. Of course, Azeem — the scrappy, low-class swindler who gets by on his wits and the force of his personality — is the glue that holds everything together.

Air Cartoons opens with Azeem chanting over an industrial, heavily electronic beat: The tip of the tongue, the teeth, the lips/The tip of the tongue, the teeth, the lips. The garbled conspiracy theories that crop up in "What If" — on everything from Oklahoma City to the World Trade Center bombing to the levee breach during Hurricane Katrina — will appeal to anyone who's enjoyed the more paranoid, politicized side of Azeem (the one fond of saying that "George Bush is a gangster"). "Latin Revenge" pairs live horns and a cha-cha beat by DJ Zeph with a series of seemingly unrelated metaphors that make about as much sense as a Jackson Pollock painting, but create some nice alliteration (e.g., metronome in it like a methodone clinic). In fact, most of the songs don't make sense, and they don't have to; a gifted poet, Azeem obviously likes the sound and shape of words more than their literal meaning. The best thing about his music is the music in his writing. (Oaklyn)

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