Review ·

As the hip-hop-minded subsidiary of Warp Records, one of the most consistently diverse and interesting electronic labels on the planet, Lex is having somewhat of an identity crisis trying to follow in papa's gargantuan footprints. The label's early output was suggestive of assembling talent. The three EPs compiled as Lexoleum suggested a strong and diverse curriculum was brewing: the twee-hop of why? and Fog as Hymie's Basement, the caustic and moody digital beats of Boom Bip, and the spookily sparse beats and storytelling of DJ Signify, who features rhymes and theatrics from two incredible emcees, Buck 65 and Sage Francis.

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At one end of Lexs releases lies an aspiration -- more than a simple desire to produce a dope beat and a cogent verse -- to create something interesting and progressive that remains informed by the enthusiasm behind all the world-weary hip-hop but doesn't fall into the same exhausted rut. At the other end, allegiance to the status quo lingers, with releases from Non-Prophets and Dangermouse + Jemini treading a more conventional path. Not bad hip-hop by any means, just not pushing the envelope in a serious way.

The pairing of their latest single holds some initial promise: two mixes of Hold Dat" from hot-ass pop-maestro Richard X featuring the resurgence of Organized Konfusion's Prince Poetry, who has been MIA since splitting with Pharoahe Monch in 1997. But this teaser from his forthcoming full-length plays more like the brief nipple-twist preceding a hesitant, truncated foreplay. Richard X hijacks the mid-tempo swagger of Nightmares On Wax's "I'm For Real" and augments it with an array of ray-guns, bleeps and bling: more flash attitude than anything else.

If you've watched MTV in the past couple years, you already know the plot: dope emcees party with juicy honeys up in the VIP, chocolate smearing and peach consumption ensue and everyone is satisfied ... that is, if you aren't the one hearing the results. This kind of club jam is better left to other parties. Mix II's overbearing synth sullies the suggestive mood of Prince Po, Jemini and Nell's saucy interplay, coming off like the 5-0 breaking up a midnight truck-stop rendezvous.

Hopefully the long-player will fare better, with production from the likes of Jel and MF Doom. But until we discover how Prince Po figures in the grand scheme of the label, the verdict on Lex is still out. As much as they orient themselves in an exciting new direction -- grafting raps and beats onto otherwise foreign sounds -- they dabble in the mundane from time to time. At their best, they are capable of something profound, cultivating artists whose jagged corners don't fall into the ready-made mold of prescribed genres. At worst they are just another hip-hop imprint congesting an already saturated market.

See Aaron Rietz's companion review of Home Video's That You Might ten-inch on Warp Records.

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