Artist: O.C.Title: StarchildRating: 4 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Paine

1994 is the fitted year of reverie in Hip-hop. That year, three New York MC’s arrived with potent solos that served as a triadic keystone to what was to come. Notorious B.I.G., O.C., and Nas. There’s a good chance that you hold two of those names much higher than the third. But Puffy thought O.C.’s Word…Life was worthy enough to remix as Bad Boy’s third release. Just as MC Serch guided Nas into his Columbia deal, he sent O.C. to Wild Pitch. The connections go much further. But as Biggie made two highbrow albums and Nas carried the torch in his wake, O.C. wandered off into the mist after ‘95’s Jewelz with one of the most disappointing cases of shiny suit Rap, Bon Appetit; O.C.’s departure cry. Five years later, out of the ashes, disconnected from his 90’s momentum, O.C. returns with an album that burns with the resonance of a honey-dip, and challenges his best work yet. Without doubt, O.C. is a Starchild (Grit Records/Import).

Rather than prove himself with sour verses that reek of bitterness, O.C. uses his veteran eye to reflect on what others can’t. “Memory Lane” is an updated chapter to “Born 2 Live.” Here, O.C. returns to his childhood in deep search of purity, overstepping his regrets and painful missteps in life. Strong images of snow angels and carefree walks in the rain are accessible to any audience. This is revelation so good that it hurts. No matter how tough you are, you can relate. But O.C. offers his distinctly street accounts with “Story To Tell.” Amidst all the intimacy, it would be foul for O.C. to not come hard, at least once. “The Professional” does just that. With a faster paced, more percussive beat, O.C. reminds Hip-op why he isn’t a pawn in the game. Crescendos at the end of the verses, powerful language, and aggressive scratch-choruses courtesy of DJ Revolution bring it home. Starchild shuns the guest-list that Jewelz relied on. Pharoahe Monch makes a lone appearance, which aids recreating the complete Word…Life atmosphere. In short, this album succeeds in just that – bringing O.C. back to the place he was once at.

As connected to the lyrical intricacies of his former self as O.C. is, he’s starting from scratch with production. The Buckwild, Premier, and Lord Finesse production that O.C. arose on is absent. Instead, Inebriated Beats’ Vanguard and Soul Supreme fill those big shoes nicely. Just as the Heatmakerz make a new bid for soul sampling aficionado, Soul Supreme proves that he can extract more passion from a vocal than arguably even Just Blaze. Vanguard, on the other hand brings the harder drums to the table in his thick collages. All together, this album has much to be proud of. “Getaway” and “Memory Lane” are the standout beats. But there’s not a weak, or cheapened melody on here. Everything sounds specially crafted.

For anybody who has enjoyed digging for records, please know that this is an import. However, if ever there was worth acquiring an import, this might be it. Online retailers and mom n’ pop stores shouldn’t be a problem. In any case, O.C. has quietly announced his arrival. It is on our shoulders, as purveyors and lovers of Hip-Hop to welcome his return - O.C. the Starchild.