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Who Is This Man? It’s not only the album title of this MF Doom produced album, but the question I had to ask about his partner, John Robinson.  While Doom’s work has long been heralded, John Robinson hadn’t made a splash on my radar.  Given the album title, though, it’s clear he’s out to explain exactly what he’s all about.

Robinson presents himself as a well-traveled, underground hip-hop legend.  The native New Yorker was formerly with the east coast group ScienZ of Life.  On “Indy 102,” he breaks down how to make it in the independent scene:  Getting your Web site up and running, hiring a good manager, working your way from open mic nights to touring with a band, making sure you have plenty of merchandise to sell, etc.  It’s a bit inside hardball if you’re not an underground rapper, and it’s done so earnestly (Robinson complains with some seriousness about the annoyances of air travel–“just got to the airport for a two-hour bag check/missed the first flight now you’re late for sound check”) that it doesn’t really give you the impression this is a fresh voice you’ve been missing out on.

And, if you’re not familiar with Robinson’s work, you haven’t been.  He’s just not all that good.  Not terrible–the kind of opening act you might see at a show, and say, “Well, it could’ve been a lot worse.”

The production from MF Doom is fairly solid throughout, but without a special MC to carry the album, it fails to inspire.

Songs like “Shrink Rap” and “Outta Control” are your requisite odes to hip hop, and Robinson critiques the state of the game:  “When I say shrink rap that means the culture is shrinking/faster than you can blink, man/and most don’t give an inkling or care/as long as some dough is there so heads can buy some more bling bling to wear/call me J dot, R dot, the anti-bling/spread like small pox in this hip-hop thing.”

There’s nothing awful about this run-of-the-mill independent-style release.  J.R. just isn’t the antidote he thinks he is.  - Stefan Schumacher

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