Manu Malik Hooks and Bars

Hooks and Bars (the debut release from Ottawa, ON MC Manu Malik) may not be a slam-dunk work of genius, but there is something rather likeable about it. On Hooks, Malik makes no attempt to hide the fact that he is heavily influenced by the hip-hop of the early to mid-'90s. Everything ― from Malik's flow to the overwhelmingly positive, conscious lyrical themes to the beats ― gives a strong nod to that era. In fact, the beats are all made by a producer from that time, L.A. Luv, best known for his work with Dream Warriors and Michie Mee. Malik isn't perfect. His delivery, while usually crisp, sometimes gets a little stumbly and his choice of topics can stray into cliché conscious rap territory: lamenting the state of hip-hop, warnings to wayward youth, etc. However, his solid performance, coupled with way-above average production, makes Hooks and Bars an album worth listening to. (Independent)