Soft Money

Artist: JelTitle: Soft MoneyRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Max Herman

Ever since the Bay Area-based collective Anticon released Music For The Advancement of Hip Hop in 1999, countless Hip-Hop circles have written this crew/label off for what has been perceived as blatant elitism. Whether it be Dose One or Pedestrian, these guys have often made music that’s simply so far off in left field that most heads won’t even bother giving it a listen. There have been exceptions though. And for everyone who’s written off Anticon since the beginning, now’s the time to give them a chance. Just take a listen to the SP-1200-wielding producer Jel’s new album, Soft Money (Anticon), which is an intricate yet remarkably accessible release.

On every one of the twelve tracks featured here, Jel piles on so many captivating layers of sounds that he makes most instrumentalists’ work sound one-dimensional. But beneath all the intricacy, it’s the variety of Hip-Hop-centric drum patters that gives this album its approachable nature. Jel can flip lively double-time drums alongside East Indian melodies (“All Day Breakfast”) just as effortlessly as boom-bap rhythms with a hint of distortion (“Thrashin”). Of course, the politically charged collaboration with the Poor Righteous Teachers’ Wise Intelligent (“WMD”) doesn’t hurt Jel’s cause of reaching beyond Anticon’s existing audience. Sounding more on-point than ever, Golden Era alum Wise Intelligent heatedly dissects the “war on terror” while Jel’s hard-hitting instrumental pounds lovely.

Sure, there are a couple tracks like “Mislead” that may be a little too jumbled for the everyday Hip-Hop head. But for the bulk of this album Jel knocks out SP-1200-born heat with enough melodic twists to keep things fresh. Ironically, the song with the album’s most quintessential Hip-Hop beat (“Chipmunk Technique”) is where he lets Anticon’s notorious elitism creep back into the picture as he takes a clear stab at Kanye and other Hip-Hop producers for their over reliance on sped-up vocal samples. While funny, it wasn’t really necessary. Mockery aside, Soft Money stands as one of the more down to earth instrumental efforts to come along in awhile. Don’t sleep on it just because it’s on Anticon.