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Album Review

Long a part of the East Coast underground scene, MC Breez Evahflowin and producer Dirt E. Dutch — who also manages to flex his mic muscles a couple of times — joined up together for Troublemakers, which was released on Dirt's own Little Ax Records. What results from their collaboration is a consistent, steady album, though one that doesn't always set itself off as extraordinary. Breez's flow is smooth and practiced, able to change cadences and rhyme schemes easily and skillfully, and while his lyrics aren't always as profound as he'd like to think they are ("Your mind is a target/Buying anything that they sell you, blind in the market," he spits deliberately on "Killhuminati"), they're intelligent and intricate and manage to explore a variety of typical underground hip-hop themes (the state of the genre, the desire for success, the rapper's talents) without coming across as predictable or boring. Even more impressively, the duo brings up less common topics without seeming like they're trying to force their lines or ideas. "Repo Man" sets up producer against MC, both of them listing off the sorry excuses of the other for not getting their parts done, and is witty and fun, while "MDLM" manages to discuss the pros and cons of money, a bad break-up, and the drive to pursue music over a simple but effective guitar-and-drum beat. In fact, much of the success on Troublemakers is because of Dirt E. Dutch's expert production (he does it all except "El Matador"), that — while it can suffer occasionally from the East Coast hip-hop syndrome of looping an especially short soul sample so that the beat almost drones, annoyingly — generally works to emphasize the strengths in the MCs' voices and nicely set the tone of the album: reflective, warm but dark, with plenty of Wu-Tang and Premier influences. There are a couple of drawbacks here: the overuse of sampled dialogue drags things down, and while the guest MCs don't do anything to hurt the songs they're on, their average verses don't add much, either. But when both Breez and Dirt show off their best stuff ("Don't Be Afraid," "Trouble Anthem," "Repo Man"), they prove themselves to be a very talented team.

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