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“I’m here to tell the world man, I ain’t fuckin’ with PA Medallions.”


So says Planet Asia on “Tell The World”, a soulful head-nodder three tracks into his latest LP, Black Belt Theatre, a return to form for the indie hip-hop movement pioneer. King Medallions was an alias for Planet Asia, midway through his career, that suggested a slightly more “commercial” version of the emcee. Many longtime fans from the Stones Throw and ABB era were turned off by this idea, even if his music wasn’t terribly different under the assumed flossier alias.


So Black Belt Theatre doesn’t attempt to go for commercial appeal; instead it takes a slow-flow approach similar to Evidence’s Cats & Dogs LP. Headlined by rising beat-machine DirtyDiggs, who lends half of the album’s production, Asia sounds reinvigorated on solo tracks like “Golden State”, “Mach One”, and the aforementioned “Tell The World”. Other producers such as Oh No and Twizz The Beat Pro help round things out on tracks like “No Apologies” (feat. Raekwon) and “All Mine” (feat. Paul Wall). Despite being the work of six producers, Black Belt Theatre has a unified sound throughout.


If there is a complaint about Black Belt Theatre, it is that it’s too long, clocking in 20 tracks deep. Clearly some of the fat could have been trimmed, as it gets weighed down by a heavy guest list during it’s second half. Despite this, the album comes so strong during it’s first half, with unprecedented banger-after-banger, these later mishaps are irrelevant to the package as a whole.


Unapologetically raw, Black Belt Theatre is like the welcoming back of an old friend – the cat who made “Place Of Birth” and “Definition Of Ill”  – who has only gotten better with time.

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