The War on Hip Hop – U-Fam

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U-Fam’s press release for The War on Hip Hop argues that this multi-artist compilation LP is somehow more than “just” a mixtape. Perhaps, perhaps not. Of course, it’s open to debate whether many so-called “mixtapes” are having more impact than artist LP’s these days. But, then again, U-Fam has much more to prove beyond the legitimacy of their album formatting.

U-Fam (the “U” standing for “Universal”) is a collective of Boston-based MCs, some partly known for their work outside the umbrella (Dagha and Insight both guested on co-Bostonian Edan’s brilliant Beauty and The Beat album), some not so (Kane Major, Queen Viv). In any case, there are no established stars in the various groups collected here so the album, it seems, is partly staged as a come-up party for the whole lot.

And some of the artists collected here rise to the occasion. Powerz Boof opens up and shows touches of vulnerability (as well as competent beatsmithery — he produces as well) on the smooth relationship jam “Jealousy”. Insight’s production — a digital knock with a plinky keyboard melody — sets up Cloke and Dagha on “Down”, and the beats from 1st Official, particularly the stately album opener “Malcolm Speaks”, are highlights as well.

But the album’s drawing from a mixed bag of more than 20 artists.The trouble begins three tracks in when the menacing feel of “Killin’ ’Em” strikes a dissonant chord against the more conscious flavor of “Malcolm Speaks”. A number of production bricks (a less polished Powerz Boof on “U-Riders”, Matty Trump’s leaden “Power”) thin out the few standout lyrical performances among far too many MCs. In the end, medium caliber guest spots (U-God, Lord Jamar) that could have been highlights are getting lost in the shuffle as well — a shuffle that starts to feel suspiciously like the blur of a mixtape.