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
The Missouri underground hip-hop scene gets its own supergroup in Academy Hill, which is comprised of locals Nite Owl and DJ Sno alongside the Kansas City-based emcee James Christos. Together, the trio offers an album's worth of hip-hop chestnuts from retro-leaning rhymes to modern beats. How else to explain "Over Here," which opens with the well-worn salvo "Throw your hands in the air and wave 'em like you just don't care," delivered without irony? It's to Academy Hill's credit that such lyrics come off as sincere instead of trite and tired. In fact, that love for the b-boy lifestyle comes through on Jewelry: It's the kind of record that is comfortable referencing Kurtis Blow's "The Breaks" on one track and Wu-Tang Clan on the next.
As co-emcees, Nite Owl and Christos complement one another with a hard-but-smooth style of delivery. The former plays the straight man while the latter acts as the wild card; in fact, Christos' country twang gives a little Southern bounce to these tracks. Academy Hill can cruise through Quiet Storm ballads (as on "Ironic"), but the latter half of the LP favors a rough-edged, spitfire vibe. The air-raid siren, booming bass-drum kicks and tuba hits on lead single "Intense" give a warlike swagger to the track. That vibe carries over to the next track, "Come to My City," where gamelan-like strings offer an airy and nimble backing to a loud-and-proud hometown boast. (If you happen to miss the message of Academy Hill's supremacy, an audio clip of a no-bullshit Robert De Niro from Casino drives the point home.) In the end, Jewelry spends more time looking backward than forward, but it speaks to the emcees' versatility (and DJ Sno's beats and production) that the album never drags; Academy Hill's guided tour of hip-hop's sonic touchstones proves that the group can bring it hard or soft, fast or slow.
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