Big Shots

Artist: CharizmaTitle: Big ShotsRating: 4 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Brolin Winning

The past year has been a good one for fans of early-nineties hip-hop. We've seen the release of some crucial, previously shelved albums (Dooley-O's Watch My Moves, Pete Rock's work with INI and Deda), and discovered new artists who flip the classic styles of old (Little Brother, Edan). The latest entry comes from Stones Throw mastermind Peanut Butter Wolf, who hits us off with the long awaited full-length from him and San Jose emcee Charizma. For those who don’t know the deal, the duo were signed to Hollywood Basic back in the day, but Charizma was killed in '93, and the album never dropped. Stones Throw put out a few 12-inches from the project ("My World Premiere" was the label's first release), and finally, the LP is here.

From the first track on, this shit is bangin’. Wolf's production is relentless, loaded with up-tempo break-beats and absurdly funky loops, while Charizma goes all out on the mic, mixing vivid storytelling with mad metaphors and Big L style bravado. "Here's A Smirk" starts things off right, rocking a stuttering guitar sample and snares with more punch than a young Mike Tyson. "Jack The Mack" employs a rubbery bassline and seriously live drums, while telling the tale of a flashy crack dealer who ends up catching AIDS. Charizma breaks down his player tendencies on "Devotion" an organ-fuelled, scratch-laden jam, and gives advice to the females on the horn-propelled "Tell You Something." Grade-A braggadocio abounds on several tracks, especially on "Charizma What", set to a neck-breaking boom-bap and jumpy piano loop.

While most of the album is on the fast and furious tip, the mellower joints are equally hot. "Talk About A Girl" is a short but sweet romance rap, and the self-descriptive "Methods" is straight classic, built on mellow keys and dusty vinyl pops, punctuated with tight SP beats and swift cuts. Other highlights include the raga-flavored "Soon To Be Large" and the ridiculously catchy "Ice Cream Truck."

Recorded entirely between '91 and '93, Big Shots is just what the doctor ordered for heads who remember the days when rap music was about more than just flossing your shine or trying to out-abstract the next man. Had Charizma lived, there is no doubt that he would have been huge, his mic skills were extraordinary and his emcee name very fitting. With fifteen dope tracks and zero filler, this is easily one of the year's best albums. Another triumph for Stones Throw, and a must-cop for any hip-hop fan.