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by
2 March, 2004@12:00 am
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     Getting his start under the wing of Peanut Butter Wolf, Planet Asia first caught the attention of hip-hop fans with appearances on two defining Stones Throw releases, PB Wolf’s My Vinyl Weights a Ton and Rasco’s Time Waits For No Man. Show stealing verses on both albums led to subsequent 12inch singles with west-coast staple labels Stones Throw and ABB Records (who can forget the incredible Evidence produced “Place Of Birth”?). He received lukewarm responses to his debut EP and its follow-up, The Last Stand, not to mention let-down offshoot projects from Cali Agents (Planet Asia + Rasco) and Skhool Yard, yet his stock still went up after a signing with Interscope. However, bad fortune shined upon Asia again; when the slept-on debut single “Pure Coke” failed to generate a buzz, leading to his ultimate withdraw from the record industry giant. But with Planet Asia back on the block as a free agent, he now has the freedom to control his long-overdue, official solo debut, ironically titled, The Grand Opening.

     Coupled with its limited edition precursor, Still In Training, The Grand Opening reveals much of what went on behind the scenes at Interscope, several different people trying to tell him what his album should sound like. So what we get between both projects is a variety of different styles and sounds. While Still In Training showcased a number of grittier b-side tracks, The Grand Opening presents a more polished, yet soulful sound. By no means has Asia abandoned his signature style, as joints like the opener, “16 Bars” present hardcore lyric lashing over grimy guitars and a thumping bass line. The same case can be made for the Ghostface Killah assisted “Real Niggaz”, which pits the duo over a ridiculous beat from hot newcomer Supa Dave West, best known for his collaborations with De La Soul. 

      Still, The Grand Opening also presents the lighter side of Asia, with smooth selections such as “Upside Down” (feat. Goapele ),”Pure Coke” (feat. Martin Luther), and the closer “As Long As I’m Alive”. Each are tinged with soulfully crooned hooks, and while this might be a far cry from the dusty, crate dug samples of Evidence or PBWolf, it’s done tastefully, not disrespectful to his earlier material, much like his Grammy nominated collabo with Mystic.  

       Yet Asia does attempt to venture outside of his core fanbase on “Hypnotized”, which treads the line between what is or isn’t acceptable to them, and again on the shamefully cloned Neptunes wanna-be, “It’s All Big”. He further missteps on “Light Green”, which attempts (and fails) at being a party-starter, and completely misses the mark on the outrageously wack “Paper Up”, which exhausts the loop, as Asia tries to sing his lyrics in the same key for a repetitive three & a half minutes.

      But while The Grand Opening sort of presents a label induced hodgepodge of styles and sounds (mirroring Royce Da 5’9′s Rock City), Planet Asia delivers a strong cut for every weak one (both “Right Or Wrong” and “The Greatest” should also be noted as standouts), and for the most part it comes out good. While this writer preferred Still In Training (also rated @@@1/2 on this website), Asia may have garnered stronger critical praise across the board if he had cut the fat, by taking the finer moments from both discs, creating the definitive track list of his official debut.

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