A truly stellar breakout LP from Chicago-born Diverse, One A.M. works consistently well from point A to point Bizzle, boasting a delicious feast of hot hip-hop producers. The quick-witted knit-hat clad emcee dropped the Move EP in 2001 for Chocolate Industries and has since appeared on 2003’s frequently mentioned list of top records, including Prefuse 73’s One Word Extinguisher. Diverse’s LP marks a dynamic spectrum of booming production (Rjd2, Prefuse, Madlib and more) and a rapid, multi-syllabic flow not unlike that of Talib Kweli. One A.M. is easily a standout hip-hop record for 2003, but its variety in compositions deserves more than hip-hop street cred.
Turntablist visionary Rjd2 produces the bulk of the record and incorporates his sampling and beat-matching wizardry that calls to the days of wayback. Like Roc-a-Fella’s whiz kid Kanye West, Rj fancies pulling breaks, vocal samples and organ loops from the dirtiest in ’60s and ’70s soul and funk. The big dusty beat of “Certified,” One A.M.‘s opening track, is accented by Rj’s tasteful scratching, a funky, slightly fuzzed-out guitar sample and a mini Booker T.-sounding organ lick. Diverse brags incessantly over this and every subsequent Rjd2 beat, carefully including nods to his surrounding admirers: “Prorate my income, so fam and friends can get some.” Track seven is perhaps one of the best Rj/Diverse collaborations on the album, as the matter of “Explosive” is quite literally revealed in its title. Bursting with a huge record-shredding intro and a stuttering fuzz bass line, “Explosive” only gets better by the time Lyrics Born makes his chaotic cameo within the track’s first few seconds.
Diverse keeps effortlessly in the foreground of the nearly distracting four-star production, however. He spits volumes that complement the beats well enough so that one doesn’t choose the background over the delicate rhymes, but instead takes the entire album in for all of its worth, not just the big names involved behind the tables and in front of the guest mikes. Although his speedy delivery is enough to entrance his listener, a second perusal reveals the wonderfully constructed language that Diverse employs to describe mere earthly wants and needs. The connection between the producers here and Diverse are what makes One A.M. what it is — a standout team effort with quality beats and just enough spotlight on the emcee.
No stranger to quality beat-making is Madlib, who beautifully orchestrates the backdrop of “Ain’t Right.” Since his Quasimoto LP in ’99, Madlib has proven to be a driving force in hip-hop production, specifically in 2003 with the birth of the Jaylib and Madvillain projects. He and Diverse gel like me and ChapStick on the album’s fourth track, as dramatic chimes and a soulful vocal sample provide the backdrop for a striking narrative of youth violence: “So when the news came it wasn’t news to nobody / Two bodies stuffed in the trunk of an S-Class” as well as a moving yarn about love cut short by a stray bullet. The passionate vocal sample at the chorus lends well to the overall bleakness and urban despair that Diverse has laid during in the verse; Madlib works only minimally to highlight the tone of the track.
Jean Grae joins Diverse over Rj’s grandiose beat for “Under the Hammer.” As the lazy “Kashmir”-esque track trudges forward, Diverse seals up another one with worldly musings of a most serious sort. Ms. Grae’s crisp delivery is nothing short of necessary, as she waxes as eloquently as he on the topic of keeping your head up in times of neglect, urban decay, political monopoly and overall mismanagement of the U.S. Deep and definitely a classic for 2003, Diverse is just that: an enigmatic emcee willing to skate around hip-hop’s unfortunate boundaries.