Underground and Independent hip-hop is beautiful, baby! I first became aware of J. Rawls from 3582 "The Living Soul" EP, a side project of J. Rawls of Lone Catalysts and Fat Jon of Five Deez. The production was so incredible on the EP that I was very interested to hear The Lone Catalysts. Their debut album "Hip Hop" had gotten the respect of underground and indie fans worldwide. Since then, they have been putting out 12 inches and tracks on compilations. "The Catalysts Files" is a compilation of these tracks. This is the first time most of these tracks have been in CD format.
Every song (apart from one) is produced by J. Raw;s and the production is practically flawless. All the rhythms are complex and have a nice variety in styles while remaining true to the essence of hip hop. It's obvious that J. Rawls put not only much thought but much time into every track. Most tracks have a mellow or mid-tempo feel and use jazzy loops.
"Unity" opens the album with an upbeat anthem-like track that uses a very uplifting vocal sample along with handclaps in its rhythms. J-Live, the newest crown prince of the underground, is the guest on 2 songs in a row. "Won't Stop (remix)," (produced by Geology) features J-Live and Grap Luva. J-Live stole the show but he used a very odd rhyme style and pattern. All Natural pays a visit on the amazing "Renaissance" which uses a very tight jazz piano sample that sounds good and clear enough to almost be live. Capital D of All Natural kicks the song off by painting a very vivid picture of how he relaxes and writes using water and nature for inspiration.
There are a couple of socially-conscience tracks on the album too. "New Recruits" explores the absurdity of how the hip-hop world glamorizes jail and the criminal lifestyle. "Politix (remix)" (featuring Asheru from Unspoken Word and O Sh!t) is a very cool track which enlightens the listener that politics truly affects each and every one of us. Sad yet informative, it makes the listener get involved and think.
The humorous, storytelling tracks are much more intelligent than the typical tales told in hip hop albums. "Two's Company & Three's A Crowd" has a very cool vibe loop. J. Sands tells a story about being the third person in love triangle. "Jimmy Hats" is more of a filler track about the triumphs of safe sex. Even though the song sticks out due to the cool beat and J. Sands' fun and tight rhymes, it is not as good as most of the other tracks.
There is also an ambient vibe to some tracks. "So Clear" uses a very mellow vocal sample for the hook. While some may dismiss this as a filler track, J. Sands kicks some very astute verses that are also inspiring. "Food For Thought" featuring Makeba Mooncycle is a very cool and mellow song with light keyboards that remind me of walking into a nature store in a shopping mall. Once again, this is a feel-good song with a strong jazz-poetry vibe and rhymes about uplifting the mind. This duet glides with grace due to the poetic, soft and soulful voice of Makeba Mooncycle. Together, Mooncycle and J. Sands chant the hook but it's really her song.
The only filler tracks are "Heirs", "Still Chasin' (Paper Chase Revisited)" and "Ways Of The World". Even though they can be considered filler tracks, the production and rhymes are still decent. The songs just do not shine as bright as the other tracks on the compilation.
Overall, the compilation flows well due to the diversity in themes and the guest emcees. Like a Gang Starr album, the beats have the producer's signature style on each song. In this case, J. Rawls places his signature on every track. Even the Geology produced "Won't Stop" is a remix of a J. Rawls produced song. As an emcee, J. Sands truly does a good job of riding each beat while sticking to themes and maintaining a positive energy. J. Sands and J. Rawls have a chemistry that has not been felt since Guru and Premier or Pete Rock & CL Smooth. They truly have the potential of being hip hop's next most respected groups.