Mission: One

Formed at Boston's Berklee School of Music, this Oakland, CA, collective, made up of two MCs and a live band, lay down butter smooth, jazzy hip-hop. They've clearly studied the manuals of what makes good hip-hop, even dropping in "Homework" interludes to school listeners on pioneering artists in hip-hop. However, MCs Raashan Ahmad and Moe Pope avoid being redundant by not only rapping about wack MCs or yearning for a golden era but by keeping things interesting with their entertaining concepts. "Transit" describes commuting around Boston and "Last Night" features the clever retelling of a dream/nightmare that sounds an awful lot like sobering reality. Throughout, the MCs and the band play off each other, maintaining an accomplished balance, and the instrumental chops of Mission: come to the fore with eerie, ear-catching arrangements ("Now I Shine") and classical flair ("It's The..."). Added to the lo-fi production and the dedication of this promising outfit and the sound becomes even more appealing. (Insidious Urban)