C-Rayz Walz Ravipops

C-Rayz Walz, 2001 Rocksteady Anniversary MC Battle champ, is an underground star on the rise thanks to his skills as a punch line rapper. With Ravipops, Walz has joined Cannibal Ox, Aesop Rock, Murs and El-P on New York’s gritty, experimental Definitive Jux label, arguably the underground’s most respected independent hip-hop label. As expected, there’s plenty of witty, thought-provoking punch lines that make you smile moments before smacking that same smile right off your face. This technique works best when the beats are up-tempo with a lot of bump, like "Thug Melody” and "The Essence” — both produced by Belief — and "Floe” from Malik Allah. Unfortunately, even with so many producers contributing, Walz rarely seems capable of picking interesting beats. It’s even more embarrassing when he mellows it out to get personal and express emotions, as he does with the well-intentioned "Protect My Family.” It’s just too bad C-Rayz Walz didn’t take advantage of some of the skilled (and successful) producers within the Def Jux camp, especially El-P. And perhaps that’s the album’s greatest downfall. However, the talent gathered for epic posse cut "The Line Up” — Wordsworth, J-Treds, Thirstin Howl III, Vast Aire, Breezly Brewin and MF Doom — is formidable and makes for one of the album’s highlights. It’s also one of two tracks with frequent collaborator and Toronto resident 4th Pyramid (aka the Preacher), who produced "The Line Up” as well as presenting guest vocals on "Seal Killa.” Ravipops contains some strong moments but falls short of what his Def Jux debut should have been. (Definitive Jux)