Babu / Various Artists
Mix tapes and compilation albums have always been hip-hop fixtures, but in recent years, adventurous producers have elevated these art forms. On the Handsome Boy Modeling School project, for example, Prince Paul and Dan the Automator strung together stylistically diverse offerings with uncanny continuity. And the Soundbombing series, an underground phenomenon, introduced up-and-coming MCs such as Eminem and Mos Def while showcasing the skills of established DJs. Building on these lessons, Babu, one of the mixmasters behind Soundbombing II, enters the world of vanity comps with Duck Season, Volume 1.
Downplaying the technical twists of his DJ collective Beat Junkies and the rote repetition of his throwback crew Dilated Peoples, Babu assembles an impressive list of performers (De La Soul, Jurassic 5, Big Daddy Kane) and polishes their shining verses. Babu’s work with unheralded acts such as Bumpy Knuckles reveals his range; he uses driving beats to make introductory rhymes compelling.
Rawkus has released a new Soundbombing set just in time to remind fans where Babu got his education. But this time, the student takes the institution to school. Though Cipha Sounds and Mr. Choc do a capable job of mixing this edition, Volume III doesn’t bubble with the same intense energy that drove its predecessors. With Q-Tip, Missy Elliot, Method Man and the Roots on hand, it seems as if the label that once built its rep by breaking underground artists now hangs its hat on moonlighting big-name talent. From the stars that record for Rawkus on a regular basis, the label gets quantity if not high quality: Talib Kweli appears on three tracks, and Mos Def mixes rap and rock on a wack joint that bodes poorly for his upcoming full-album attempt at making that marriage work. Lesser-known artists such as R.A. the Rugged Man and Cocoa Brovaz provide the only fresh sounds; the rest just bombs.