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Album Review

Keeping tabs on the actions of Ypsilanti, MI-based MC One Be Lo hasn't been a snap. Known previously as OneManArmy, he was part of Binary Star, a group responsible for 1999's Waterworld. An excellent underground rap album, it was hard find outside the Detroit area, until it was overhauled, retitled as Masters of the Universe, and re-released with national distribution. Binary Star then split. The former Raland Scruggs, who took the name Nashid Sulaiman after converting to Islam, switched his stage name from OneManArmy to One Be Lo for a 2002 solo album that didn't do his skills justice. Three years later, he resurfaced with S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M., his first release to be issued with major-label backing. He has a three-album deal, but you're left to believe after one play-through of this disc that he's letting loose with all that he has, as if it's his last chance to be heard. The album is 79 minutes in length, yet there's an absence of padding. The second half of the album is as strong as the first. If S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M. does have a fault, it's that there's too much to digest. One Be Lo is a deep thinker; the details and complex wordplay within his rhymes often take several plays to fully comprehend and appreciate. Similar in effect to X-Clan's Brother J, his words can be righteous, but they're always delivered with casual assurance, like he's talking to an acquaintance at a bus stop. He observes with the wisdom of a father who's been through prison, raises a lot of issues, has almost as many solutions, and never sounds overbearing or preachy. The production work is handled by One Be Lo and his three Trackezoid partners, who serve up dusty drums, decayed electric piano vamps, standup basslines that twist and turn instead of walk, and strings that levitate. Snippets of Malcolm X and Dick Gregory further emphasize that the bloodline flowing through the Last Poets, Watts Prophets, Eugene McDaniels, Brand Nubian, and Talib Kweli (to name a few) is still active.

S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M., One.Be.Lo
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