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If you have ever overlooked a Canadian MC on the basis that images of maple syrup and Canadian bacon come to mind before hip-hop does, then prepare to have your card pulled with Saukrates. Sox isn t at all new to this, as he first got the attention of underground DJ’s in 1996 with Father Time . He followed it up a year later with his highly overlooked Brick House EP, which featured him sharing mics with the likes of Common, O.C., and Masta Ace. During this four year period, Saukrates was picked up by Warner, but like most major labels without a strong hip-hop imprint, his album got swept under the table, until he was released from his contract earlier this year. Amidst all of the trials and tribulations emerges The Underground Tapes, a thirteen song album from the rhyming philosopher. Judging from the title and the track listing, it seems as if Saukrates doesn’t even consider this his album, but instead a taste of what is to come. But if that is the case, then I’ll be the first in line when he delivers the true album. Meanwhile, I ve got nineteen tracks to listen to over and over from start to finish. Not since Nas’ Ilmatic or The Beatnuts’ Intoxicated Demons EP have I felt this good about an artist’s debut. The Underground Tapes exhibits almost every trait needed for the workings of a classic. First, and most importantly, is the talent of the man himself. We ve seen wack emcees dressed up in DJ Premier beats, rhyming next to the hottest artists, with double page Source ads, trying to crank out a platinum album. But no matter how much money or marketing is put into these projects, if stripped of their guest appearances and hot producers what’s left? Just an average rapper.

Enter Saukrates. The artist. Not only does he possess natural mic presence, a dope voice, killer delivery, and fresh rhymes, but he also makes his own beats. So in five years from now, Sox won’t have to depend on the hottest producers or emcees act as his crutches, as he doesn’t even need them. While The Underground Tapes features some hot guests, Sauk’s still holds his own on the solo tracks. Unlike many other artists who need like Canibus or DMX or whoever next to them to shine, Saukrates shines with his guests.

As the title suggests, this is more of a compilation of previously released tracks, as a few previously released Saukrates classics return. 2Rude s Innovations with Pharaohe Monch, the timeless “Rollin’” with O.C. and Masta Ase, The Ultimate MC Rush with Heltah Skeltah, and a DOPE 99 mix of “Play Dis ’99″ with Common all show up. But, on the real, this album is so good, that when you hear them again, among everything else, you realize what a brilliant piece of work this is.

Among the album’s new tracks are “Money Or Love”, which features one Saukrates trademark soulful hooks, as he ponders his reasons for rhyme, over a wicked track that sounds like almost nothing you ve heard before. He then takes it to the next level with “Fineline” , which blows the speakers out with it s symphonic violins that Saukrates rips right through. Body Language is a tag team with Choclair, as the two proclaim themselves “Los Conquistadores Chocolates”, embarking on a pussy hunt, while “Keep It Movin’” with Xzibit does just that. Need I say more?

The praising for this pre-album could go on for days, but instead of repeating myself over and over, just purchase this CD, aiight?

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