By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Back in 1998, Rawkus Records created a soundtrack that defined a moment: the beautifully rich Lyricist Lounge, Volume 1, a collection of cuts by up-and-coming and established revolutionaries that illustrated a sort of renaissance in conscious hip-hop. Three years later, we have the follow-up, another accurate reflection of the state of the hip-hop nation: a bit muddled and uncertain but definitely club-friendly.
In the past half-decade, the culture itself has splintered into many tribes: There are the underground revolutionaries (Dilated Peoples, Dead Prez); the players (Biggie, Beanie Sigel); the get-crunk thugs (Pastor Troy, JT Money); the street prophets (M.O.P., Ghostface Killah); and the old-timers still going strong (Erick Sermon, Q-Tip, Kool G Rap.)
All these names can all be found on the roster for Lyricist Lounge Volume 2, and fans familiar with Rawkus may at first cock a skeptical eyebrow at the list, wondering how the compilers could put rap stars on a collection whose concept was born of an open-mic event showcasing the cream of the crews of unknown emcees. The confusion is especially understandable in the wake of Volume 1, a double-disc album that featured such powerful forces in the alternative stream as De La Soul, Zach de la Rocha and KRS-One.
Rawkus used to be the definition of "real" hip-hop because, like the artists they featured, they seemed equally concerned with art and commerce. The market that will be buying and enjoying Volume 2 is much more varied and less aware of the well from which Top 40 hits have been bubbling, a well that, in part, had as its source LL1.
The late Notorious B.I.G, gracing the intro to Volume 2 with a freestyle from a 1993 Lyricist Lounge event, is the personification of the rise of hip-hop. Though the album lacks lyrical content and becomes irritating as a result of the uniform production, a few tracks stand out. But if you're looking for something that compares to Volume 1 in terms of hip-hop idealism, Volume 2 isn't it.