Over the last few years, New York producer Ray West has quietly had his hands in some of the best hip hop music around. West’s jazzy, sample-based production and preference to work with 1990s holdovers like AG, Roc Marciano, and Party Arty gives his music a throwback feel, but not in a cliché trying-to-recapture-the-golden-age type of way. His one-on-one album with Diggin’ in the Crates (DITC) legend AG Everything’s Berri exceeded all expectations and showed that it was possible for rappers to revive dormant careers with the proper focus and the right producer in tow. West and his Red Apples Forty-Five record label have slowly been raising their profile, and Luv NY is a true statement of arrival. The album’s New York focus is clear, specifically honing in on the feeling that 90’s New York hip hop gave its listeners and participants, even if the beats themselves and the rhymes on display feel more evolved than typical mid 90s NY hip hop. AG is joined on the album by Thought on Tracks favorite Roc Marciano, his DITC cohort O.C., and NY underground legend Kool Keith.
Not surprisingly AG, Roc Marci, and O.C. all sound comfortable over West’s trademark dusty-but-smooth grooves composed of understated drum samples and seamless, atmospheric loops. The surprise would have to be Kool Keith and his album stealing verses. Keith has always been one of the smartest, most original hip hop artists around, but his rapping had gotten more and more sporadic in recent years and most of his material that has surfaced has been hard to listen to for various reasons (mainly the beats). On Luv NY, Kool Keith sounds invigorated, contributing a standout solo track in “Remember U” and stealing the show on both “Extreme Status” with AG and “Pressure Up” with Roc Marci. The bouncy “Remember U” sees Keith riffing on the present and the future, and the nature of posing and perception in the modern flavor-of-the-moment climate. On the hilarious second verse, Keith describes himself as “a critic of a critic” and makes you wonder why he doesn’t work with producers like Ray West more often. “Pressure Up” is also a highlight, with Keith’s visual stylings contrasting perfectly with Marci’s awesome coming of age in the city tale. It’s a combo that looks strange on paper, but works flawlessly here.
Similar to Kool Keith, AG has sounded invigorated since he first started working with Ray West a couple of years ago. His conversational, witty verses are the glue that holds this album together and reveal an artist that has truly changed his style for the better in recent years, and in many ways has outgrown his legendary past. AG’s verse on “Egyptology” comes off like a mission statement and is a perfect example of how adept he has become at expressing himself, starting with “I ain’t the sickest with the sales, my intuition is rebel”, before breaking down his spiritual perspective. The spooky beat on “Random” and AG’s ode to the past through his stream of consciousness flow is a great closer, while his collaboration with Roc Marci “The Blues Got Ya” may be the most representative track of the albums overarching 90’s nostalgic feel, a fond look back at growing up in the middle of New York’s vibrant culture. AG’s DITC brother O.C. usually flies solo and it’s no different on Luv NY, as his contributions are limited to two solo tracks. “Legacy” sets the table perfectly for the album’s historical tone and West’s stuttering, minimalist beat for “Acid” is the perfect canvas for O.C.’s cooled out musings. While O.C. hasn’t really updated his style in the manner that AG has, he’s still a more than capable MC, as his solid album Trophies from earlier this year and his appearances here show.
There are a few other guests, most notably frequent MF DOOM collaborator Kurious who contributes the impressive ‘for the kids’ cut “Shorties Watching”, but the bulk of the rhymes are handled by the core group of AG, O.C., Roc Marci, & Kool Keith. Similar to The Alchemist’s Russian Roulette, Luv NY is not your typical producer album. Ray West chose the rappers for Luv NY carefully, whose appearances are a great example of the type of suction he’s gaining in a certain demographic of legendary NY MC’s. While it only contains one true instrumental track in “The Ritual”, that one perfectly placed hypnotic track is enough to prove that West’s music is effective with or without an MC. It’s hard to compare this album to some of the stellar, personal solo albums that have been released this year, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time. If you grew up listening to artists like DITC, Kool Keith, and Pete Rock there’s no reason you shouldn’t love this album, even if you’ve moved on from the boom bap sound that mid 90’s New York hip hop is associated with. It has an accessible feel, and is a quick, addicting listen. Download the album via iTunes or grab the CD from FatBeats.
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Written by John Bugbee