The Basement Tapes Vol. 1

Artist: Webster Hall RecordTitle: The Basement Tapes Vol. 1Rating: 3 StarsReviewed by: Ashiya SmithLet’s take a moment to reflect on one of my favorite moments in “new school” hip-hop history. The year was 1993, the era just before hip-hop commercialism hit the fan. A time when being associated with or recognized as a member of hip-hop’s elusive “underground” was a direct testament to an artist’s skills and street credibility. Fast forward to 2003 . . .ten years later the “underground” vote has been vetoed by the mainstream dictates of Sound Scan and marketing and promotion budgets.

With that in mind, and in a noble attempt to revisit hip-hop’s fundamentals, Webster Hall Records and producer DJ Sean Sharp present The Basement Tapes, Volume One, a solid collection of rap, R&B and reggae tracks featuring - straight from the underground - the solo debuts of veterans Chip Fu (of Fu-Schickens fame) and Phantasm of the Cella Dwellas. In addition to the varied R&B/hip-hop roster, The Basement Tapes shines with appearances by reggae heavyweights Bunji Garlin and Lady Saw.

Out the gate the compilation opens up with “Pressure”, an impressive debut single from the rap team Gauge. Lyrically, the Brooklyn-based group distinguishes themselves from the middling masses by offering adept and steady flows with an overall sound that is distinctive and primed for the come up. On the R&B tip, the LP excels with the radio friendly party anthem, “Throw Your Hands Up” by 1801, a Virginia-based group with a sound surely to garner comparisons to fellow R&B crooners Next.

Not without its shortcomings, Basement Tapes delivers a few mediocre cuts like “Lingerie Party,” by R&B newcomer Stephanie, and “Scandalous” by Bronx natives Matryxxx. While the production on these tracks is decent, its clichéd theme of dealing with “scandalous” women wears thin, especially with the monotonous hook warning: “She’s scandalous/You don’t even know the half/When you meet a chick and instantly she’s giving up the ass/”. After a while, the exhausted subject matter makes you want to skip on to a subsequent more imaginative track.

Although The Basement Tapes, Volume One has its share of standout tracks, the LP delivers few extraordinary moments. Nevertheless, in an ironic sense, the purpose of the compilation is fulfilled. By listening to seasoned veterans like Chip-Fu and Phantasm, who deliver effortlessly on their joints “The Movement,” and “Real Talk”, we gain a greater understanding of the relevance of emerging artists like Gauge. Collectively, they offer a glimpse into what will probably be hip-hop music’s saving grace – the undervalued, underestimated, underground.