If you glanced at the cover art of Halftooth Records’ You Don’t Know the Half, you might quickly dismiss the album as another collection of second-rate artists on an indie label. Halftooth is following the formula forged by other indie labels (i.e. Def Jux and Rawkus) by releasing a compilation showcasing its artists alongside established underground acts. The question is, Does Halftooth have the artists to compete in already saturated underground market?
With in-house artists Oddisee, Ken Starr and Wordsworth and guest appearances by J-Live, Little Brother and Talib Kweli, You Don’t Know the Half is bound to be warmly received by the underground. The master of ceremonies is producer and emcee Oddisee, who handles the boards for the majority of the album and even sprinkles in a few lyrical gems. In the tradition of Pete Rock and Ali Shaheed Mohammed, Oddisee constructs a smooth set of beats on “Quest to Find,” “Brother,” and “This is Hip-Hop.”
On the lyrical tip, Ken Starr proves he can run with underground giants J-Live on “Quest to Find” and Talib Kweli on “If.” On “Walk the Walk,” Ken Starr flows effortlessly over Kev Brown’s heavenly piano loops spittin’: “I think some of us / Have forgotten the truth / ‘Cause real hustlers be in the streets / not in the booth. / And I can care less if I end up losing a fan / ‘Cause I ain’t got to talk tough to prove I’m a man.”
You Don’t Know the Half‘s downside, in fact, is that it primarily consists of battle raps and anti-gansta anthems. Without diversity in subject matter, You Don’t Know the Half doesn’t leave a lasting impact. Where are the conceptual tracks and the storytelling rhymes? The album falls into a trap: underground artists lamenting the current state of hip-hop. That angle has been beaten to death by countless emcees.
But You Don’t Know the Half does point to a bright future for Halftooth, which is clearly moving in the right direction. Most indie labels are doomed from the start, but there is no denying the skills of newcomers Oddisee and Ken Starr. But will they continue to build off this album or fall off the beaten path into obscurity? Only time will tell.