Us vs. Them

Artist: The ChapterTitle: Us vs. ThemRating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Chris Yuscavage

Fans of The Roots and company are already halfway towards becoming a fan of Hip-hop duo The Chapter. Handpicked by ?uestLOVE to appear on 2004’s OkayPlayer compilation, True Notes Vol. 1, emcee Verbal E and producer 3Sixty are introduced to the world again by The Roots’ drummer on the introduction to their debut album, Us Vs. Them (Awthentix Music). Somewhere between the abstract examples of Hip-hop devotion on Us Vs. Them’s “This Thing” and the time-valued “One Moment” though, The Chapter actually starts channeling the spirit of the Philadelphia hip-hop live band in an enticing Roots-meets-Pete Rock and CL Smooth blend of tasty b-boy excellence.

Hailing from the neon jungle of Las Vegas and its infamous Strip via the concrete jungle of South Side Chicago, 3Sixty laces a simple drum beat and sing-songy slowed-up sample for Verbal E on the album’s opening song, “Life in the City.” Aside from the cliché sample infusion though, “City” serves as one of the very few songs taking a page out of any other hip-hoppers book to create this Chapter. Elsewhere, Us Vs. Them plays on cohesively like a lesson in lyrical diversity with Verbal E flipping on everything from the advice that others give over the beautiful piano strokes of “Pop Said” to the politics and intricacies of the music business on “Soundwave Slavery” (“God damn, they done found a way, to turn cats like me into soundwave slaves…They set the baits with these cars and these cribs”).

The album’s title track pairs Verbal E with an inquiring narrator that guides E back-and-forth over the track as he discusses the differences between industry cats and The Chapter – a stale subject on paper rejuvenated with the commanding yet effortless presence of Verb E on the microphone. Even “Akhil Hill,” a storytelling venture into the tale of Verb’s former cheating female stops just short (thankfully) of recreating Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend” and climaxes into a lambasting of unfaithful significant others without losing its small hints of flippant humor and self-pity. “Looking at a n—- hooked on sex is hard to watch, especially when the girl is a B, as in –otch…Biotch!” he raps on the track’s closing line.

Yet, even with a tracklisting of notable messages and ideal examples of what other Hip-hop is not, The Chapter’s real strength is the ability of Verbal E and 3Sixty to unify on a record minus the political bullsh*t and need for either to shine individually. Verbal E raps, 3Sixty produces, and the cooperation is what makes the sound so unique and so refreshingly peerless. Without dismissing the strong influence of The Roots and other similar Hip-hop bands present throughout, Us Vs. Them still plays out as one of the most original and distinctive listening experiences of 2005. This is one battle that just does not seem fair for Them.

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