Binary Star

Masters of the Universe (Subterraneous)

A binary star is a pair of stars that travel together, often appearing as one. Binary Star is a pair of "star" Michigan MCs whose distinct styles bind in a sonic embrace. With twice the gravitational pull of any current hip hop act, the duo has the ability to draw you in and squeeze you tight.

The group's new album, Masters of the Universe, actually began in 1998, with the release of the promising four-track EP New Hip Hop. The following year, Binary Star included the same tunes and some new material on its debut LP, Waterworld; now, that album has been remastered, augmented with still more cuts, and rereleased as Masters of the Universe, the flagship effort for the label of Binary Star's producers, the Trackezoids.

In their best moments, Binary Star's MCs, One Man Army (who also goes by the Anonymous and other aliases) and Senim Silla (read it backward), play yin to each other's yang, creating a synergy of stillness and movement, clear-eyed observations and raw inertia. On the flawless opener "Reality Check," OMA hovers weightlessly above the beat and piano accents as he takes a bird's-eye view of hip hop: "My view is like astronomy/ It ain't all about the economy/ So the fact that all these wack MCs is making G's don't bother me, honestly/ My number one policy is quality." OMA's sights seem permanently set on panoramic: No matter how long he flows in a song, he sticks to the narrative of the story. In contrast, Silla is an out-of-control Dirt Devil, sucking in material from all directions at once. Slinging solo on "Slang Blade," Silla gathers momentum like old-school rapper Rakim, offering a warning that all who step in his path will be punished.

Meanwhile, the record's production is generally dark and clean, with tempos a hair above midrange -- just fast enough to keep your ass on the edge of the couch. Music-box bells work surprisingly well on the prison meditation "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Part 1)," while on "Slang Blade," the Trackezoids spread percussive moans over a beat so sick it needs a priest.

While there are potential hits here, there are several misses, too. "Conquistadors" tries too hard to be party funk, the bouncy irony of "Binary Shuffle" comes off corny, and the backdrop of "The KGB" is cartoonishly maudlin. In the end, Masters of the Universe isn't perfectly heavenly, but Binary Star's long-traveling debut aims high and shines twice as bright.

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