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Awol One 2MEX and Life Rexall 

The War of Art ... Are $martyr

Wednesday, Jul 12 2006
Shape Shifter Awol One is maybe the most loved/hated MC in Southern California — hip hop's Forrest Gump or Crocus Behemoth, depending on which side of the slash you're on. War of Art finds Awol pirating lines from Was Not Was, R.E.M., and Egyptian Lover to add to his trademark stack of minimalist semi-sequiturs. And while guests Eyedea, 2MEX, and Riddlore all turn in rat-a-tat verses, it's KRS-ONE who's really speaking Awol's language: "Listen to me walk this way/ I live in the spirit of J-M-J," KRS says on "Underground Killz," which adds ample philosophical backup to Awol's proud refrain of "I kick styles so outdated!" With soulmate producer Daddy Kev on just one song, Awol's characteristic schizophrenia gets even more exaggerated, leaving the tightly wound sleaze-funk of 2005's Killafornia EP behind for a beat-by-beat romp through a kaleidoscopically troubled mind. "Seeds Grow" bounces from shock visuals (" ... watch you throw up on your naked girlfriend") to hopeful chorus within seconds, and "Get You" drops from a Biz Markie-style hook to a disconsolate state-of-the-art address ("Lemme hear your battle-rap comedy-punchline session ... ").

Next to Awol, fellow travelers $martyr sound more party than arty. 2MEX (the Visionary) and Life Rexall (a fellow Shape Shifter) are a self-described "new millennium Erick and Parrish" who aren't making too many dollars: "All of our fans think that we're fuckin paid! We're not, we're broke!" raps 2MEX on "Full Court Pressure." "So Money" and "Green Grass" are winning introductions — $martyr for dummies is big busy beats and catchy choruses — but the record really gets riled with independent fist-pumpers like "International" ("They got a lot of money but they ain't got this/ and if they ain't got this, they ain't really got shit!") and "Jerry Reuss," which hurtles into hyperspace when Busdriver jams in his usual thermonuclear word-cram. The partnership is fierce, funny, and smart, just like the packaging promises.

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Chris Ziegler


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