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With all of the press that Mark Ronson has got lately – including a recent Grammy for producer of the year – a little heard project slipped through the cracks last month from the famed producer. Ronson teamed up with Chicago super-emcee Rhymefest for Man In The Mirror, a tribute album built upon samples from the King Of Pop himself, Michael Jackson.

Obviously, the reason you didn’t hear about this was the scary legality of it, seeing that the duo did not clear any of the samples to make this tribute album. It hasn’t been shut down yet, but distribution is very limited on it, only being offered on Rhymefest’s web-store for free download.

The album is hosted by Rhymefest and Michael Jackson, as Ronson digs up old studio session outtakes and interview footage, and turns it into conversational skits between the two artists, with priceless results. It opens with “The Cipher”, a duet built upon MJ beat-boxing, while ‘Fest raps over it, and Jackson comes in for the hook. This leads directly into “Can’t Make It”, a knocking head-nodder where Rhymefest unloads his frustrations about the industry over a beat produced by Best Kept Secret.

Much of the album is built on earlier Jackson solo material, as well as stuff from the Jackson 5 era. The obvious go-to samples like “Billy Jean”, “Thriller”, “ABC”, and “I Want You Back” are (thankfully) left alone, as it’s hard to improve on these classics, not to mention that they’ve already been done-to-death in the mash-up world. The closest thing we get to familiarity here is “Dancin’ Machine” (last used by MC Hammer, so it’s been a minute), as ‘Fest effortlessly rides the song’s opening horn section and let’s the Jackson 5 rock their original hook, making this more of a remix. The same can be said for “No Sunshine”, which samples MJ’s cover of the original Bill Withers track, working as the backdrop for ‘Fest to vent his paranoia about the pressures of the Hollywood lifestyle.

As far as collaborations goes, the album has a number of stand-out moments. Fellow Allido recording artist, Wale, chimes in for “Get Up”, a mic trading session between Ronson’s two favorite emcees. Talib Kweli appears on perhaps the album’s best track, “Never Can Say Goodbye”, another heatrock produced by Best Kept Secret, which ingeniously samples the Jackson 5 song of the same name. Ronson himself steps in for “Foolin’ Around”, where he takes a simple loop from Jackson 5′s “Don’t Let Your Baby Catch You”, and Fest proceeds to breakdown the in’s-and-out’s of cheating, with a surprise appearance from Dres of Black Sheep. “Stop Me” crooner Daniel Merriwether lends his Aussie-soul sound to the creative De La Soul remake “Breakadawn” (which is built off the Michael Jackson’s “I Can’t Help It”). In fact, “Breakadawn” isn’t the only rap remake of a Jackson sampled hip-hop classic, as ‘Fest jumps on remixes of Ghostface’s “All I Need To Get By” (from Jackson 5′s “Maybe Tomorrow”) Camp Lo’s “Coolie High” (which stretches it a bit with a Janet Jackson sample, but hey).

With all of the rampant remixing out there, it would have been really easy for this album to be a lazy, predictable run through Michael Jackson’s catalog of big hits. But Rhymefest – who declares himself on this album as the number one MJ fan in the world – has made it abundantly clear that this is instead a labor of love. There are covers and remixes here, but much of the material brings back the creative art of sampling that has been lost in hip-hop over the years. And while Mike is an easy target, thanks to his share of controversies, ‘Fest has the decency not to disrespect the legacy of the artist he is sampling. Ingenously done and well executed, Man In The Mirror could be the album that Rhymefest is one day remembered for, that is, if he could only release it. – Pizzo

Download Link: Mark Ronson / Rhymefest “Man In The Mirror”

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