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by Matt Conaway
1 January, 2002@12:00 am
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Name one up-and-coming emcee, (or, in fact, any established emcee) that does not yearn to hear their voice over the production of DJ Premier. However, for every benefit that comes from working with Primo; his signature drum claps and cut-up voice samples add an instant credibility and curiosity to any project. There are drawbacks as well, as you run the unavoidable risk of being typecast. For verification, just ask Group Home and for that matter Primo’s own omnipresent wingman, Guru, who even after proving time and time again to be one of hip-hop’s most consistent emcees still fights the stigma of merely being Primo’s vocal instrument of choice.
Afu Ra knows a little something about being typecast. After all, Afu’s “Perverted Monk” origins can be tracked back to his work with fellow cerebral scientist Jeru The Damaja, where he soon earned the label of being Jeru’s protege. In search of establishing his own identity, Afu’s underrated, DJ Premier produced debut, Body Of The Life Force, (which included one of 2000′s truest underground gems in “Whirlwind Thru Cities”) helped him break free from comparisons to Jeru, only to be replaced by associations with Primo.

While Primo is once again a significant contributor to the direction of Afu’s sophomore project, Life Force Radio, this time it is almost strictly in a Executive Producer capacity (produces a scant one track). Perhaps, Afu’s quest to prove his naysayer’s wrong is the cause of the decreased workload, but whatever the case maybe, to say that Primo’s “Works of Mart” are missed here would be an understatement. Though Afu proved on his sci-fi debut that he was evolving as an emcee, as the former freestyle whiz kid went toe to toe with M.O.P. (“Warfare”), GZA/Genius (“Bigacts, Littleacts”) and Smif N Wesson (“D&D Soundclash”) for some memorable moments. Perhaps, Afu’s regression as an emcee and Life Force Radio’s inconsistent production can be directly attributed to not working exclusively with Primo, as he and Guru shine on the lone Primo number “Blvd.”, but Afu is outclassed by RZA on the True Master  blessed “Dangerous Language” and M.O.P. on “Crossfire”.

While Body Of The Life Force created its own natural vibe, Life Force Radio beats to a more commercial drum. Yet, instead of letting his music crossover naturally again, Afu force-feeds these commercial whims down our throat this go round, as A&R influences are prevalent on flat collaborations with Teena Marie (“Open”) and apparent comeback kid of 2002 Big Daddy Kane on “Stick Up” Even Life Force Radio’s most stellar moments, the frenetic “Hip Hop” gets points subtracted for flipping the same loop to Pete Rock’s “Strange Fruit.”

If Life Force Radio proves anything, it highlights how important the yin-yang relationship between beats and rhymes really is; whether or not it comes with tags or stereotypes. Perhaps, Afu needs to rethink his strategy, as it’s a blessing, not a curse to have talented people in your corner. After all, would you prefer hearing Primo fine-tuning tracks Afu made with other producers, or hear Afu ripping beats exclusively produced by Primo? Seems like a no-brainer huh?

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