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Foreign Legion 

Playtight

Wednesday, Apr 9 2003
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Unlike its more sullen contemporaries, hip hop trio Foreign Legion has always been as concerned with making listeners smile as much as think. Sure, the Bay Area threesome name-dropped linguist Noam Chomsky on its debut CD, Kidnapper Van: Beats to Rock While Bike Stealin', but the crew has also performed in Planet of the Apes masks and Batman & Robin suits. (MC Prozack has even practiced stand-up comedy for a bit.) Now, on Foreign Legion's sophomore effort, Playtight, the group's have-fun mandate has crystallized.

Whereas stark strings and sliced horn samples dominated Kidnapper Van, Playtight's production is funkier, fuller, and cleaner. This time out, producer DJ Design keeps the scratching to a minimum, while applying popping bass lines over elastic drum tracks and eclectic samples. Design sprinkles a dash of reggae on "Feel the Music" and a pinch of R&B on "Nasty Girl." On "Here We Go Again," he anchors the tune with a silky guitar sample, while keyboardist Juan Soria adds warm key tones for a lilting feel.

Prozack and fellow MC Marc Stretch match the music's hedonistic ambitions with lyrics about girls, liquor, and clubs. While song titles like "Nasty Lady," "Champagne Beamin'," and "Party Crashers" suggest the big pimpin' themes of Jay Z, Foreign Legion rises above such topics with biting, oftentimes self-deprecating humor. On "Bring It," Prozack wears an "O.J. Simpson jersey" and tells his girl about a fantasy with "her, Laverne, and Shirley." Appropriately, she "slapped the fuck out my face like Moe did to Curly."

While most outfits equate artistic success with either the street mantra "keepin' it real" or its cerebral counterpart "dropping science," Foreign Legion succeeds by balancing the equation. The crew has created an album that's smart and fun, suited to both the club and the coffee shop.

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Sam Chennault

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