Magnificent City

Artist: Aceyalone (accompanied by RJD2)Title: Magnificent CityRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Paine

Aceyalone wants to hear about Freestyle Fellowship about as much as Kool G Rap wants to pontificate about DJ Polo. Times have changed but the problem has been that Acey-alone has given audiences nothing nearly as pleasing as his early group albums. On his last solo, Love & Hate [featuring the oddly titled, "City of S**t"] there was a burst of excitement in his two collaborations with Def Jux producer, RJD2. Perhaps this led to Los Angeles and Philadelphia's unified vision of a Magnificent City. (Project Blowed/Decon)

Storytelling drives Magnificent City to concept-album status. Like a Robert Altman film, perhaps it is these stories woven together that completes the picture. "Soloman Jones" uses a Tone-Loc rhyme pattern, but a mild delivery to present a tale of a post-Wild West bar-fight. "Cornbread, Eddy, and Me" takes references from several 70's films, and allows Aceyalone to put himself in a protagonist's shoes. Though abstract, the energy makes the message clear. In other places, the stories are told in seduction tales, such as "Supahero." Here, Aceyalone speaks on the absent chivalry in romance, and offers himself as the next best thing. A 2050-minded Electro beat leads the chase. "Heaven" is one of the most exciting tracks in Aceyalone's career. With a dynamic beat, Aceyalone creates an abstract jam concerning death, screaming, "Heaven ain't got no stairs, Heaven ain't got no ghetto..." The anti-cliche ballad finds Aceyalone defining himself as a lively entertainer.

RJD2 is owed plenty in this breakthrough. Magnificent City finds the producer returning to his earlier Dead Ringer and Soul Position EP usage of soulful guitars and hard percussion. "Junior" is fast-moving, funky, and like most of RJ's beats, never feels loopy. "Fire" dabbles with Disco-Soul as peppy high-hats and a nice chorus could remind listeners of "A Rollerskating Jam Named Saturday." Meanwhile, "Caged Bird" uses a similar formula to Large Professor on "Halftime" with jingle-bells and hard snares. In tradition of Aceyalone's past, electronic creations such as "Mooore" and "Supahero" also find their way onto the album. There are no rules to follow, as much as Magnificent City proves to be a time to experiment, and get as colorful with music, as Aceyalone did in thought and lyrics. The successes on both sides crowd the duds.

Both Freestyle Fellowship and Project Blowed have been about collaborative chemistry. Perhaps with RJD2, Aceyalone was able to build with a silent partner in making his boldest, most cohesive solo work to date. This energetic and emotional effort is essential to the Los Angeles underground spirit at a time when Pharcyde and L.A. Symphony are struggling to be remembered. Whether sarcastic or not, Magnificent City positions itself as one of the better story-driven albums of late, and an early independent heat-seeker in '06.