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The Ghetto Dai Lai Lama V. 777
Morphius Records

Rating: 9/10 ?

June 28, 2006
As a rule, seasoned underground rap veterans who never see the light of the mainstream usually feel comfortable below the radar. Labtekwon, the greatest MC you never heard of, is no exception to the rule and felt right at home in obscurity. What made Lab feel out of his element was his audience; like many indie rappers free of the constraints of 'bitches' and 'bling' he wandered into the realm of abstract thought and cosmic philosophy. Rather than connecting him with hip-hop's core, that route naturally attracted crowds of white suburban head-nodding college kids who couldn't dance. The disconnection between his Baltimore street days and his Abercrombie audience was the inspiration for V. 777. Street life, sex, M.C. trash talking, religion, and soul power subjugated his latest album. V. 777 is an extension of his first ever DVD, The Ghetto Dai Lai Lama, released last year, which contained low-production streetscape videos of his hometown covered in booty clapping females. (I must have missed that on my last trip to B-more). The DVD was a slip-up but DON'T BE FOOLED - Labtekwon's jump into urban mainstream and cheesy videos does not diminish the greatness of V. 777.

As far as cookie-cutter analysis goes, there really is no point of breaking down the tracks, because each one is unique to the others. Clocking in at around 72 minutes, the album serves up radio friendly club music, classic boob-bap, cosmic water drops, and groovy baselines. V. 777 is empirical evidence that Labtekwon could be the most diversified MC in the game, a man who can switch cadence and speed so effortlessly will have his listeners checking the liner notes to confirm he acted alone. Whether in native tongue, abstract, or narrative, Lab handles his flow as easyily as a conversation. If you subtract his ten years experience and under twenty albums, he is raw talent.

At an absurd 23 tracks in length, V. 777 has some filler songs and throws a few lame hooks, but those bits of chump change are quite deceiving. Songs like "Nile Chils Revenge" and "Uhnnn Hunnn" were dismissed as immediate track turners but somehow wound up stuck in my head for days. V. 777 is one of those albums that gets better with every rotation.

Labtekwon's jump into the urban mainstream market was not so much a move to detach himself from his audience as it was a larger statement of identity for the deep-rooted Baltimore more rap scene. Even with those honest intentions, I can imagine why many alternative hip-hop fans will be quick to discount V. 777 as an appeal to mass ghetto culture - it does have all the markings of a cash grab. Regardless, I am confident the true hip-hop prospector will find the originality, sincerity, and talent of Labtekwon without having to sound like Dr. Octagon on acid. V. 777 will serve as the portal through which B-More hip-hop fully emerged and as a symbol of what it means to be a true MC.

Reviewed by Ted Nixon
A contributing writer based in Oakland, California, Ted Nixon covers hip-hop releases for LAS.

See other reviews by Ted Nixon



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