Mark B & Blade The Unknown

You're going to buy Mark B & Blade's The Unknown album for the beats. Producer Mark B has a knack for creating funky, head-nodding beats that are a constant reminder of New York in its heyday, but definitely with a feel of his own. The beats are usually layered with some unusual sounds (crickets and woodpeckers on "Building a Rep" and web-slinging effects on "Ya Don't See the Signs,"), but for Mark B, like Marley Marl before him, it's got to be funky. The obviously impressive cuts by three of the top Brit DJs - Mr Thing, Primecuts and Plus One - add to the older hip-hop feel. Thematically, The Unknown is mostly about paying dues and braggadocia, which MC Blade proves he's more than competent at handling. When he tries out other subject matter, things get more interesting, like on the simply titled "Bad Day." Blade also keeps it interesting by mixing some fresh concepts into his tales of dues paid, flexing his skills with some extremely extended metaphors on "Hostile Takeover" and "One Shark One Piranha." The only problem is that when Blade slows down his flow and starts spacing things out, something goes wrong. It's not the beat, the lyrics or the flow; perhaps Blade touches on it in "Ya Don't Feel the Signs," when he says, "It's not cuz we ain't good, it's cuz we're from London," which has me thinking, could it be the accent? However, he sounds good when he rhymes faster, and guest rhymes from fellow Englishmen Rodney P, Lewis Parker and Skinnyman don't have such an adverse effect. Al Tariq (of Beatnuts and Missin Linx fame) also makes a guest appearance as the only American. I'm not saying you won't enjoy the vocals, but you will want to buy The Unknown for the beats. (MawLaw)