Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Like so much underground hip hop, the first Lyricist Lounge collection was too long on good intentions: a double-CD of fancy rhymes and minimal beats that didn't signify sufficiently out of its clubbish context. Lyricist Lounge Vol. 2, in contrast, is a nonstop tribute to the vitality of New York hip hop--all of it. Studio-recorded with top-drawer beatmasters, its 18 tracks unite alt-rap icons Q-Tip, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Dead Prez with known hards M.O.P., Beanie Sigel, Erick Sermon, and Cocoa Brovaz and brings in such fence-straddlers as Redman, Ghostface Killah, and Pharoahe Monch too.

Rather than taming the hards, the compilation respects their quote-unquote reality: the politically circumspect Talib Kweli and Dead Prez are the ones who lay out the limits of gun control in "Sharp Shooters," though it's M.O.P.'s Billy Danze who promises to "spit fire from the heavy metal." Scary stuff, but convincing. Maybe in California, where gangsta should only be as funny as the cartoon it is, undergrounders need to preach peace and love. In Rudy Giuliani's and RZA's New York, with Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismund haunting the collective unconscious, other truths hold sway.

Rolling Stone, Apr. 12, 2001