From Mood's Doom to Black Star's debut and his partnership with Talib Kweli as Reflection Eternal, deejay/producer Hi-Tek had a hand in producing some of the best underground hip-hop albums of the mid- to late '90s. Close to a decade later, he's shelved his backpacker status to join the ranks of Dr. Dre's Aftermath production team. On Hi-Teknology 2: The Chip, his second solo effort, Tek is working in the pocket, comfortably knocking out consistent beats. And although none of them are horrible, none are particularly noteworthy, either.
The music here is polished and precise, an Aftermath side effect that means the beats sound as good on your headphones as they do on your stereo. Tek raps on a few tracks, and his flow is straight-forward and conservative, but his emcee skills take a backseat to his beats and the slew of guests on The Chip.
To be sure, Tek's mainstream experience and underground respect allows him to draw upon a stable of capable collaborators from both realms. The odd pairings make for the strongest tracks. On "Keep it Moving," Q Tip and Kurupt trade verses over a densely layered track. "Josephine" is a textured gracefully, juxtaposing Ghostface's vivid lyrics ("Asshole burning like Tabasco/ She used to be thick/ It's like, Where the hell her ass go?") against Tek's meditative strings and the soulful crooning of the Willie Cottrell Band, which comprises the producer's father on vocals, uncle on guitar, and nieces and nephews on backup.
The efforts of lesser-known acts, however, are forgetful. On "Baby We Can Do It," Cincinnati acts Nok and Haze clumsily wax poetic about courting ass, and the slow and easy 808 drums-backed track sounds more like a Warren G post-G Funk Era-beat than a sure-shot banger out the Aftermath camp. "Money Don't Make You Rich" finds West Coast underachievers Strong Arm Steady unable to match an otherwise G-Unit-ready menacing beat, string synths and all.
The Game drops by on "1-800-Homicide" over a fitting synth-plucking beat, but it feels like the only reason this track came about was due to some unresolved contractual obligation. On "Where It Started At (NY)," Jadakiss, Papoose and Kweli turn in uninspired verses over Tek's theatric mafioso beat before Raekwon bats cleanup (and holds us over until Cuban Links 2 drops).
Tek puts the spotlight on underground acts and folks from his hometown; brings in his family; pulls from the Aftermath camp (not to mention a heavy dose of Dion, his protégé and recent addition to the Aftermath roster); reunites with Kweli for some Reflection Eternal nostalgia; and enlists popular rappers from New York, the dirty South and the West Coast. Though he is versatile enough to provide a safe and fitting beat to match all of these constituents, the emcees often struggle to deliver. The Chip tends to forfeit the sincerity that made Tek's previous solo effort -- albeit cruder in execution and consistency -- an engaging listen.
Label: http://www.babygrande.com/Audio: http://www.myspace.com/hitek
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