Every rap fan knows who Pete Rock is.  The man’s a legend.  He broke as one of the best 1990s major-label rappers, but he’s also produced about a dozen brilliant rap albums (including Common’s The Bitch In Yoo; Ghostface’s Be Easy; and B.I.G.’s first big hit, Juicy).

But how many know about Smif-N-Wessun?  They’ve also performed as Tek-N-Steele, Cocoa Brovaz, and as part of the Brooklyn rap group Boot Camp Clik (one of Brooklyn’s best collectives).   Yet they’ve never gotten their due as some of the rawest, grimiest street rappers out there.

I don’t know how much it will help, teaming up with Pete Rock on the indie-then-RIAA-now-indie-again label, Duck Down.  The cops had to break up the record release party in Manhattan, leading to brutality accusations from Pete Rock, who watched with horror as his wife and stepdaughter were punched by the NYPD as the boys in blue, who were summoned by the club itself, arrested five attendees (all of whom were later released without charges being filed).  Who knows what really happened—probably doesn’t matter if you just wanna know if the album is good?  Makes for an interesting story, though.

So how is the album?

Pete Rock is as good as ever, and Tek and Steele still know how to pull unusual rhyme choices out teir bag of tricks, making street rhymes that sound fresh and new (instead of the stale rehash we hear so often from newer artists).

There’s also some solid guests here: Fellow Boot Campers Sean Price, Rock (also of Heltah Skeltah) and Buckshot, as well as veterans like Bun B, Raekwon, Pharoahe Monch, Styles P, Freeway, and Memphis Bleek.    I actually found myself wishing there was less “look who I can bring to the show” and more Smif-N-Wessun: This should be their showcase, not a gangbang.

Smif and Wessun are two of underground rap’s pioneers—they’ve got a rapport forged over the course of a decade together, and it shows.  The problem is, if you’re  a long-time fan, you’ve heard much of this before.  You won’t hear their best work here, but it’s a great introduction to the duo, particularly because there are so many guest spots.  It feels more like a mixtape hosted by Smif-N-Wessun and produced by one of the greatest of all time.  Pick it up if you’ve never heard them before, or if you’re hungry to hear them again.

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Roses (feat. Freeway)

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