As mainstream hip hop becomes increasingly predictable, the underground continues pushing the genre in creative directions. Intended as a teaser of what listeners can expect from Om Hip Hop's old and upcoming offerings, this 15-song collection is at times reminiscent of the free-flowing, experimental fusion last seen during the acid-jazz era of the early '90s. Om Hip Hop Volume One
holds together as an album, yet it's a bit of a hodgepodge stylistically, falling somewhere in between funk, punk, and crunk. Were it not on Om, it might be easy to dismiss this as just another alt-hoppish, backpacker-friendly outing, but the S.F.-based label's background in electronic music crosses over to the beats and rhymes genre, resulting in a clubby, dubby, jazzy aesthetic that offers plenty of delectable lyrical morsels to chew on.
The kickoff track, Zion-I & the Grouch's "Hit 'Em" (featuring Mistah F.A.B.), is a lively introduction to the mood on display throughout this album. Strange Fruit Project's "Get Live," Ladybug Mecca's "Dogg Starr," the One's "Pistol Whipped," and Zeph & Azeem's "Play the Drum" resonate with a playfulness missing from comparable above-ground offerings. Not everything is light and breezy, though: Deuce Eclipse is clearly not joking around on "Que Pasa," where he opines on the hot-button issue of immigration over a Latin-tinged J. Boogie beat, proving that topical relevancy and dance floor swing-ability aren't mutually exclusive terms. Eric K. Arnold