Who is Rise?  Who is The Avid Record Collector?  I don’t know.  There’s remarkably little out there on the internets about either character.  But I do know this: All fans of real hip hop should know more about them.  Here’s what I do know: DJ/Producer The Avid Record Collector, who in his nearly 20 years in the business has worked with great underground rappers like J-Love and Born Talent, cohosts The 54 Side Radio Show on www.radiohiphop.com (with Born Talent), and is a New York based DJ on 91.9 WHUT.  Rise is one of those underground guys I’ve heard about from time to time, and I’ve seen him do guest spots, but I’ve never been able to learn much about him.

“Present Risen” is, I am assuming, their first collaboration.  It’s scheduled for release on March 3, on 54 Side Records, but several sites seem to be selling it already.  I have to admit that I got this through a back channel—a hip hop blogger who I communicate with sent me a copy, telling me I had to hear it as soon as possible and help push it for a strong release.  He was right.  Most of the lines belong to Rise, who shows both remarkable range of subject matter (from family issues to street life to freestyle braggadocio) and deft wordskills, and all of the beats and production are by Avid, with standout tracks including “New York” and “Daddy Left.”  Some fairly big names swing through to drop a few bars, like Masta Ace, J-Love, and Poison Pen (the DJ for the vastly underrated rapper Chino XL), and some lesser known N.Y. friends grab the mic, too, like Substantial, Wordsworth, Born Talent and Celph Titled.

I’m not going to review this track by track, you’ll have to trust me that each cut is fantastic.  But I want to write about two in particular.  First, “Julia’s Song” is a modern hip hop version of “Isn’t She Lovely,” a joyous and innocent ode to a baby, and all the things babies do, that manages to have bounce and substance, without being corny.  It’s always a shock when an artist can lay his heart out, be honest without posturing or macho bullsh-t, and Rise does just that here, eschewing gangsterism or cursing or even excessive street slang to make a funny, touching love song.

The other track that exemplifies the abilities of both performers is “I Remember.”  It’s a hip hop tradition to give props to the greats who came before, like Pac, B.I.G., Mobb Deep, etc., and “I Remember” could have been nothing more than that kind of a tribute, but the production of the beats match Rise’s vocals so perfectly that it (ahem) rises above the norm for songs like this, and feels not only heartfelt but fun.  It helps that the song samples many rap classics (they can’t possibly have gotten the rights to all of them, could they?), but even without such slick and cool production, the track would be a standout on an already outstanding album.

This gets my highest recommendation.  You can buy a hard copy here.

Or buy a digital version for just $2.70 here!  (This is a bargain you should be ashamed to miss.)

New York (w/Substantial)

Julia’s Song

NOTE:  This album is a candidate for the best albums of 2009.  It’s nearly March, and that’s when I start publishing a list of those albums that impressed me so much that I don’t want to forget considering them at the end of the year.  Check out the list here.

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