Live & Learn

Artist: MekalekTitle: Live & LearnRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Brolin Winning

As the DJ and main production force behind Time Machine ™, Mekalek has been crafting highly melodic, hard-knocking tracks for many years now. He's consistently impressed synth-weary heads and has elevated his beat game with each TM release, from the early 12-inch singles ("Reststop Sweetheart" and "Personal Ads") through their stellar full-length debut Slow Your Roll (Glow-In-The-Dark). On his much-anticipated solo shot, he connects with a variety of skilled MCs; some you know and some you don't, but its Mek's work behind the boards, and decks, that truly steals the show.

"Even Though" kicks things off in fine fashion, a hype opener loaded with quick-wristed scratching, a bouncy keyboard loop, bird whistles, and plenty of hi-hat enriched drum work. The home team homies Comel and Jaysonic handle their business on the mic, while Mekalek keeps the neck-breaking momentum throughout. They also co-star on "Here It Is," a more laid back piece that employs a Will Smith vocal sample to excellent effect. Fast rap legend Percee P absolutely destroys it on "The Gritty Bop," a fiercely uptempo anthem built on rock solid beats, crazy cuts, 60’s organ action, and a freaked out beeping noise. It also serves as the album's lead single, and further whets appetites for P's upcoming Stones Throw full-length.

Most of the featured rappers are relatively low profile, but lack of name recognition is never a reflection of ability. Raw Poetic comes correct on the horn and guitar-laced "Face Your Life," while "2 For Me, 1 For You" highlights Starrs and Murph over a bed of strings, thick low end, discreet chimes, and some more great drums. Shawn Jackson lays it down over smooth pianos and hard snares on "Dream Come True," and fast-rising NYC player Cool Calm Pete flexes his conversational flow over the melancholy trumpets of "Interlude Cocktail Freestyle." We also get a half-dozen quality instrumental jams, most notably "Beat Break #2," a short but sweet mini-tune built on heavy bass, subtle vocal clips, meandering keys, and dusty hi-hats.

Twenty joints deep, pushing almost an hour in length, Live and Learn delivers what we've come to expect from one of Hip-Hop's most promising beat maestros. Whereas some would be content to just throw a break over a few catchy loops and walk away, Mekalek goes the extra mile, peppering his compositions with unexpected change-ups, well-placed sound effects, razor-sharp cutting, three dimensional pans, and expert EQing. His drums stay banging even on the mellower selections, and the overall vibe of the album flows from start to finish. Followers of Time Machine have been up on this guy for a while, now it's time for the rest of the world to recognize.