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Pace Won first got notice with a guest spot on The Fugees’ The Score back in 1996.  That’s right, 12 years ago.  Dude’s been around for a minute.  He served as one of the front men for the group The Outsidaz and if you’re wondering where he’s been or surprised he’s still around, it’s been four years since his last solo release, Telepathy.

New Jersey MC and DJ duo Pace Won and Mr. Green’s The Only Color That Matters Is Green gets off to a better start than most hip hop albums for the simple fact that it actually starts with a song.  A full-fledged, meaty, five-minute-plus track with Mr. Green (not to be confused with DJ Green Lantern) laying down some rousing strings as Pace comes in to get it “bangin’ like Billy Bob Thornton.”

It sets the tone for the fairly tight package this album delivers.  The Only Color… is somewhat of a rare thing these days—a hip hop record you can just enjoy.  Put it in the deck, press play, and bob your head.  It’s not innovative or socially conscious or even that gangsta, but at only a little over 50 minutes, it’s not bloated with the requisite club tracks, southern-flavored tracks, intros, outros and skits that have you constantly hitting the skip button.

That said, the second track, “Children Sing,” employs what’s become, if not a cliché, than a hip hop staple, the children’s chorus.  It’s apparently a study in contrast producers can’t resist:  Glock-toting MC’s and the little kids who sing their hooks.  Still, Mr. Green makes it work as Pace Won takes shots at weak rappers and proclaims, “I’ma just push and push until I get it.”

Pace seems to have become a sort of journeyman of the underground.  While he gives lip-service to gettin’ cheddar (“The Only Color That Matters is Green,” “I Need Money”), he’s not ever going to be Jay-Z or 50 Cent.  On “I Need Money” he talks predictably about his spot on the Forbes list but he’s more truthful when he spits:  “Pick my pen up and just let the nouns flow/and earn/like Nature did with The Firm.” Yeah, Nature, that’s more like it.

Like most rappers, Pace is obsessed with the past, and the middle portion of The Only Color is heavy on nostalgia.  On the piano-laced “Who I Am,” he takes us through a timeline of his hip hop influences: “I’ma take you back with a heavenly rhyme/to me in kindergarten back in ’79/back to the essence/when hip hop was precious/first I heard Rapper’s Delight, then The Message.”

On the next verse, he fills us in on how he used to eat more junk food than a candy-fiendin’ Derrick Rose:  “Five-cent candies they called ‘em Jingles/who didn’t have the fever for the flavor of some Pringles … Swedish fish, Blow Pops and Chico Sticks/all before evil chicks or ego trips.” It’s not exactly a childhood reflection worthy of Ghostface talking about plucking roaches out the cereal box, but it’ll do.

The second-to-last track, “She Be So Cold,” is the unequivocal gem of the album.  Mr. Green brilliantly samples The White Stripes’ “Denial Twist,” and Pace weaves a ‘why she wanna go and do me like dat’ tale of woe worthy of Mos Def’s “Ms. Fat Booty.”  Some girl jerked Pace around for months but, refreshingly, instead of calling her a bitch he went the Project Pat route (“Don’t Call Me No Mo”) and told her to delete his number from her phone.

Unfortunately, the record closes with a not very creative diss of Eminem (who had been affiliated with The Outsidaz and didn’t exactly put Pace on his back when he reached stardom).  What might have been a bold attempt at starting a beef ends up smacking of jealousy, and threatening to “get Tiger Woods to putt you” doesn’t necessarily strike fear in the hearts of men.  Pace does raise one good point, though, where is Eminem?

The real star of this record may be Mr. Green’s startlingly consistent production.  The unheralded producer’s DJ Premier-like sound proves that you can make quality hip hop by taking a sweet sample, looping it, scratching it and letting it bump.  With so much filler and garbage out there, these beats and a solid performance from a rather seasoned MC make you wonder, is this game really so hard?  As Pace says on “Four Quarters,” the album’s opener, “It’s like fightin’ some dude that got a glass jaw/you hit him in the chin and you win/your old life ends and your new one beings.”Stefan Schumacher

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