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One A.M.
Chocolate Industries/Warp Records

So, here's the good news: Diverse is a capable, forward-thinking MC whose debut has dope production. His flow strangles beats, demanding attention in the face of funk mashups and rock trickery courtesy of RJD2. And RJ, hip-hop's quietest, most cunning producer, offers nothing but the best for five tracks on Diverse's long-awaited debut, One A.M. Diverse is also from Chicago (a rapidly burgeoning scene for hip-hop with the arrival of MC/super-producer Kanye West and a breakthrough for the Road Runner-rapping Twista).

Now the inevitable bad news: Despite all that good stuff, this album still has received little attention and appears to be slipping through the suddenly expanding crevices of underground hip-hop. Said genre is blowing up and out in a big way. What was once covertly occupied by the Rawkus roster and a few Kool Keith alter egos is now traipsing its craggy personas all over MTV2 and Urb Magazine. One A.M. may very well fade away with little fanfare even though it may be indy-hop's most consistent album in months.

The album kicks off with two straight bangers, both produced by RJD2, the guitar-tinged "Certified" and the slinkier, Hammond organ-laced "Uprock." RJD2 can be a commanding solo artist, scorching beats with authority on his Def Jux debut Deadringer. But as with Soul Position (his side-project with rapper Blueprint) he also knows how to step back and let his MCs dominate.

After a sample that declares "We want to capture your minds right now, take you a little higher, with a little black rock," the blitzkrieg is unleashed. Over a rolling keyboard stab and reverbed guitar sample, Diverse lets loose with battling rhymes. There's no semblance of order in his rhyming. Breath control is an afterthought, considering he just spits, spins and slides through verses, non-stop. The not-quite-frantic flow creates a chilled frenzy, a conscious stream of wordplay. Unlike say, Busta Rhymes or fellow Chicagoan the aforementioned Twista, though, Diverse's lyrics are comprehensible and sensible.

Electrofunk/hip-hop/beatbreaking genius Prefuse 73 shows up to provide a few tracks, too. On "Just Biz," Diverse gives us an idea of his financial outlook. "It's only logical, we searching for that pot of gold, designer clothes, finer things the higher society afforded, but that surface chase of base is in every MC's recording." Over a Rhodes piano and vibes he mellows into a chorus of "Diggin' my music is more than just biz."

The album's best song, "Ain't Right," is produced by hip-hop wunderkind Madlib. A jazzy sample lends Diverse a counterpoint to his rapid-fire flow, highlighting this story song about untimely death. Madlib again digs deep into his crates for an obscure vocal slice that hums, "I know for certain, everything ain't right."

With production from Madlib, Prefuse 73 and RJD2, One A.M. seems like a slam dunk. With that coupled with Diverse's wholly original flow and dicey lyrical acrobatics, it's hard to believe the dude can't get any shine. Still, I wouldn't be shocked if this review is the first time you've heard his name. Here's hopin' it's not the last.

by Sean Fennessey

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