Opio 

Triangulation Station

In the East Bay hip-hop scene, we rely on Hieroglyphics to keep the lights on, churning out new commodities year in and year out. But like our power plants and refineries, the prolific crew and label releases its share of unwanted by-products along the way. The subgroup Souls of Mischief (of which Opio is a member) seems to have black-painted itself into a corner of brooding inaccessibility, while 2004's first Souls solo joint, Tajai's The Power Movement, had the wattage of an Oakland brownout.

Opio avoids this fate on Triangulation Station by realizing and working with the limitations of his stylistic quirks. He has a nasal voice and a clipped rhyme delivery that isn't dynamic enough to float an entire long-player on its own, so he pads the affair with guest spots from the usual Hiero suspects and Rasco, Pigeon John, and Planet Asia. The cut with all four of the Souls, "Drivers Wanted," crackles with the stanza-swapping routines that forced East Coast rhyme snobs to recognize the group's '93 'Til Infinity. But even when standing alone, Opio proves to be a more nuanced songwriter than his previous work suggested. On "Roxanna," an appreciation of a drug-dealing girlfriend, he plays the loving enabler, conflicted over she who speaks three languages yet still manipulates her mind for crime.

As a producer, Opio has distinguished himself less than A-Plus, who produced most of the Souls' early standouts. But he is confident and diverse from start to end here, concocting an unusual quasi-house beat for the bubbly "Granite Planet" and bending electronic sounds under the choruses on a few of the choicer cuts, which works well as a unifying signature move. This is a solid workhorse of a hip-hop record whose shortness of ambition is made up for by Opio's understanding of his own limitations.

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