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11 October, 2004@12:00 am

     The Bay Area’s Quannum Projects has built its first-class reputation in hip-hop simply by consistently dropping quality material since the mid-90s. From the early Blackalicious EPs to the Lifesavas’ 2003 debut album, Spirit In Stone, this crews’ momentum has yet to falter.  But even as Quannum fans have come to expect nothing less than dopeness, heads may not be ready for the Maroons’ Ambush EP–a potential classic collaboration between Lateef the Truth Speaker of Latyrx and Chief Xcel of Blackalicious. Yes, the Ambush is only a teaser for their upcoming fell-length, Ashe. It’s such an accomplishment in itself, though, that it stands as one of the year’s strongest releases, EP or not.

     Here, Chief Xcel’s lush, bass-driven production sounds as vital as ever and Lateef boldly flows over it with his signature Oakland drawl and vigilant poetics. Naming themselves after the renegade 18th century Africans who refused to be enslaved was ballsy, but Lateef and the Chief are one of the few crews in hip-hop who could rightfully do so. Among the 34 minutes of this mini-album, every song has purpose. Granted, the bravado-heavy single “Lester Hayes” may not be as thought provoking as songs like the extra-reflective “Best of Me” (featuring Gift of Gab) or Lateef’s lyrical investigation of America’s entry into the Iraqi war on “If”. Sticking with the sprit of the original Maroons, however, every song on Ambush deals somehow with having self-confidence in trying times. The poised Lateef leads by example and Chief Xcel’s upbeat production, full of rich bass and pleasant female vocals, gives him the perfect backdrops to reassure everyone in the struggle of their worth.    

     The chemistry between this producer and MC obviously comes from years of building and sharing ideas. Since the Ambush is only the first project from Lateef and The Chief after 12 years of friendship, then I can only imagine what’s in store for the future from these two righteous Quannum reps. Hopefully their forthcoming long-runner, Ashe, will hold the same rock-solid consistency heard here–a consistency that’s so rare in hip-hop today.

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