Black Sheep From the Black Pool of Genius

If your only exposure to Black Sheep was through a recent car commercial populated by hamsters rhyming their classic 1991 single "The Choice Is Yours," it's time to refocus your attention. While it's undeniable that the track is clearly the highlight of anything the group ever released, it's also just as true that Dres (the lead MC and sole remaining original member of the group) hasn't lost any of his oratorical gifts. On strong outing From the Black Pool of Genius, Dres retains the distinctive nasal voice and laidback delivery that made him stand out in the first place. Peppering his lyrics with references to Gmail and iPods lets us know he's been paying attention to the cultural shifts of the last decade, but truth be told, Dres doesn't spend a whole lot of time trying to keep up with the kids. Comfortable with his place in '90s hip-hop lore, the MC plays to his strengths, enlisting the production talents of Showbiz and Psycho Les (Beatnuts), while bringing together Q-Tip, Dave (De La Soul) and Mike Gee (the Jungle Brothers) for a partial Native Tongues reunion on "Birds of A Feather," not to mention actress Rosie Perez for the hook of "Muy Bueno." The soulful, low-key production dominating the album allows Dres to impart his seasoned flow and insight, noticeably bereft of the frat boy humour that accompanied his early work. Even head nodder "Party Tonight," with the honey-voiced Jean Grae, is nowhere near as raucous as the title implies. If you can get with this, Dres is focused on community, introspection and righteousness without being too didactic. (Bum Rush)