Checkmate & Concise Love & War

Vancouver rappers Checkmate and Concise are back with another album, but they've dropped Defenders of the Faith in favour of their names. Aside from that, it's business as usual. The beats are the highlights, featuring a nice variety of sounds, from trap ("Space Odyssey") and dubstep ("Cosmic Luv") to funky, banging hip-hop beats ("Big Time") and downtempo rap ballads ("Congratulations"). Lyrically, Love & War remains true to the title — a mix of positive and negative. For "love," "Congratulations" celebrates success, as well as the family and friends whose support was integral to reaching it, while "Space Odyssey" and "Cosmic Luv" are sex raps that sound like they should actually be cool sci-fi songs. "War" includes the dark, aggressive "Grand Alliance," with Evil Ebenezer, as well as the g-raps of "Big Time," with Royce Da 5'9," and "100 Grand," with Realm Reality. Evil and Royce steal the show with their appearances, but the tracks that stand out are the aforementioned "Congratulations," thanks to a rare positive message that has nothing to do with sex, guest singer Mia Moth's beautiful bluesy voice on the hook for "Dream World" and the interesting combination of cuts (from guest DJ K-Rec) and singing on "So Fresh," a chilling mid-album interlude that is really just an extended chorus. Checkmate & Concise aren't breaking new ground, but fans of their previous work will definitely dig this. (Defenders)