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Classic Compilations: Beneath the Surface

Regardless of the fact that a label called Celestial Recordings is currently issuing electronic sounds more suited for dance floors than headphones, an imprint with the same name issued a few hallmark rap discs around the turn of the millennium. For whatever reason after the genre’s blossoming during the early nineties, the end of the decade sported some of the most adventurous productions ever caught on tape. Whatever passes for abstract or cerebral – I’m looking at Minnesota right now – is really a sallow shadow of what once was and could have been.

As a result of Project Blowed nurturing the West Coast’s underground scene, but taking into consideration the aural implications of G-Funk, a crop of musicians came along who didn’t exactly deconstruct hip hop, but took it somewhere no one really would have guessed at. Documenting the odd turn Celestial, as helmed by Daddy Kev and a few other folks who comprised Shapeshifters, issued the Below the Surface compilation during 1998. The widest view of the disc makes it seem like a crew disc, something approximating the first Wu Tang album, which collected a handful of emcees and united them under a single banner. There weren’t set to be other editions to Below, seeing as Celestial folded a few years after the release of this disc. But utilizing the production skills of a guy named O.D. – who’d eventually go buy the tag Omid, professing his Middle Eastern heritage – basically made his career. Well, there’s no way he wasn’t set to be successful, but the compilation served to introduce him to a wider audience.

Riding the vaguely electronic and wholly spacey music Omid summoned, Freestyle Fellowship and 2Mex get a few features and count as the better known names here. “BustMustJustUs,”  which features CVE, Hip Hop Klan and 2Mex related Of Mexican Descent ranks as a more traditionally sounding musical backing. Using that bedrock, each emcee turns in flows that wouldn’t make sense to radio listeners. Hip Hop Clan, on a few other efforts here, make their talents known and exhibit a truly unique style of riding the music. Of course, the group disappeared and really it’s not too surprising.

Global Phlowtations gets to close the album out with an eight minute composition feature more than a brief snatch of Omid’s skills. Obviously, no one involved in this figured the end of the compilation as the end of a style. It wasn’t exactly. But the type of inventiveness expressed here wasn’t set to live too much long.