Another Fugees effort. Large Professor's album. The Dungeon Family LP. Certain things, it seems, are just never meant to be. The chimeras mentioned above have been dangled in the collective countenance of fans for ages. The running gags of the hip-hop industry, they're forever doomed to be prefaced with the phrase "Whatever happened to?" Permanently sentenced to the "Coming Soon" section of release date charts. They've been hinted at, speculated over, and pined after to the point they could never meet expectations, and then, like so much vapor, they simply go "poof." Dreams forever deferred. Yet, by the grace of God (and the clout coming from 'Stankonia' going 5x platinum) the DF album has taken corporeal form at last. Though no longer a myth, it remains the stuff of legend.
One of the most talented crews in hip-hop. Period. Only Wu-Tang and the loosely knit Soulquarian family (D'Angelo, Black Star, et. al) can claim similar depth. A potent coterie of superior emcees, singers, and producers (certain members are all three), there isn't much the Dungeon can't do. They don't play soul, they bleed it, in a way only Southerners can. As seen in the unhinged funk of "Crooked Booty" (a novel jig which threatens to depose the Harlem Shake as silly-dance-de rigueur). the DF isn't afraid to obliterate limits, combining horns, distorted keys, and off kilter drum programming in an exhibition of organizing noise. "Rollin", a plodding procession along an Atlanta dirt road, is a warning shot, preparing us for Andre Benjamin's next evolution: blues man. For the purists, there's the sublime "On & On & On", a sequel of sorts to OutKast's "Wheelz of Steel," in so far that its an up tempo scratching symphony, where the DJ manages to completely steal the show. And if the word highlight can be used on such a consistent album, it must be applied to "Follow The Light", which is just...perfect. Really.
There aren't many missteps, but most notable is "Forever Pimpin (Never Slippin)." Of all the members who deserved a track to themselves. Cool Breeze? Then again, more solo turns are necessary for the DF, because this album leaves you a tad frustrated. Its great, but somehow not enough, and not because of unfair expectations. Unlike Wu-Tang who've given us sundry solo albums, or the Soulquarians, with whom we'll be thoroughly acquainted before we ever see that album, we don't know the Dungeon Family-even after this album. We know OutKast (we think), we know Goodie Mob, but no individual members of the DF, save Cool Breeze, Witchdoctor and Backbone, have released solo LPs to show us what they're about. At album's end, you sense they wanted to say much more. Next year, they'll get the chance, as several of Goodie Mob's ranks, including Cee-Lo, release solo debuts, and OutKast unleashes a double album showcasing each member (Dre and Big Boi are each doing a disc).
I suspect appreciation for "Even In Darkness" will increase after a formal introduction to more of the DF's individual links. For now, what was intended to provide the ultimate satisfaction to their fans ends up being a highly pleasurable tease.