Aobaonkyo / Various Aoon

Japanese label Aobaonkyo Recordings connects with a bunch of left-field, underground MCs from the U.S. and provides them with production, resulting in this little compilation of dark, experimental, sample-based music firmly rooted in hip-hop yet unafraid to explore other areas of electronic music and jazz. Half of the tracks are instrumental, and the most interesting of these comes only three songs in when the Frictionals take a dreamy hip-hop beat and add creepy saxophone, chimes and accompanying angelic vocals that get used as an instrument. Zero Charisma ably switch gears to dance floor electro with an ode to computers called "Me and My Micro,” followed by Hato, who keeps things upbeat with his flute-heavy hip-hop on "Protocol's Dead.” Oddly enough, the most creative production comes from Timmo, who contributes his evil, alien invading, plodding-drum productions for four vocal tracks. They’re perfect for innovative rappers like K-The-I??? ("The Gatekeeper”) and V8 ("Tapered Pipe Bombs”). The other two songs are self-contained and the closest things to traditional hip-hop on this compilation: Nomar Slevik morphs through a few styles over a comparatively simple beat on "Drastic Jackets” and then joins Wormhole, BC Skotty, the Shaman, Sapience and Phorx as Onmyoji for the solid but typical posse cut "My sticism.” Aoon is a cool collection of songs with enough in common to create a cohesive package but still with plenty of variation to keep things interesting. (Aobaonkyo/Paramanu)