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Kidz In The Hall School Was My Hustle Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

In a genre saturated by pointless guestspots, some quality collaboration would elevate...

Alex Forster 2007

‘Work the angle, sharp and precise’, informs Dilated Peoples' MC Iriscience. A lesson Ivy school graduates MC Naledge and producer Double O - Kidz In The Hall - have taken to heart. Nas has his street-dwelling prophet flex, Lupe Fiasco the muslim “Chi-town Guevera” and Flavor Flav owns copyright on the crack-addled court jester. KITH have theirs, and boy do they work it.

If you didn’t pick it up from the moniker, album title or CD cover (its got, like, pencils on it) then over the course of a twelve track drumming, you get with the program. KITH are alumni, that’s ILLumni, for the rap literate. College kids get down too y’know, ask Kanye West.

Comparisons with West, though lazy, are notable. The man that made it OK to be middle-class and rap shouldn’t be quaking in his Gucci loafers by fellow Chicago-native Naledge’s assertions that ‘the revolution is here’ (“Wassup Jo”). Evoking a sound that recalls early 90’s Pete Rock in equal measures to People Under The Stairs, this is, however, a solid debut. Tribe-esque story telling (“Ms Juanita”) articulate confessionals (“Hypocrite”) and cocksure braggadocio (“Ritalin”) abound, all underpinned by Double O’s soulful - heavily DJ Premier influenced - production.

The undeniably talented Naledge (published author at age 15) positions himself as an everyman performer ‘I rock for the thugs, rock for the hipsters, rock for them backpack n----s holdin' they fists up’ (“Wassup Jo”) If trite labels must be used, KITH fit into the latter; young, black and educated with one eye to the streets.

A deft wordsmith on the majority of cuts, “Move On Up” sees Naledge paint a picture of a post-9/11 police state ‘We got the right to remain silent, they got the right to remain violent’. The album falters in places on a slight preoccupation with credibility, over originality. A pedestrian re-working of the Souls Of Mischief classic “93 Till Infinity” (“Wheels Fall Off ’06 Til”), only cements this. As does “Don’t Stop”, which could be any Just Blaze-produced Jay-Z track.

Whether Naledge has the lyrical chops to carry a whole album on his own – like Nas with debut Illmatic – is uncertain. On upbeat tracks like “Cruise Control”, he sounds out of step with the mix in places. In a genre saturated by pointless guestspots, some quality collaboration would elevate this record.

What cannot be denied is that Rawkus Records - one-time independent and bastion of that ‘real’ hip hop that 50 Cent baiters will bore you to death about - has sunken under the radar in recent years. The late 1990s saw the label discover/develop heavyweight talent such as Mos Def, Pharoah Monch and Talib Kweli. On the strength of School Was My Hustle, a second coming may be on the horizon.

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