When Stones Throw opened a reissues-oriented subsidiary called Now Again, the move almost seemed redundant, as few rap labels remain as intimately in touch with black music's storied past as the label that brought the world Lootpack, Quasimoto, and Yesterday's New Quintet. Stones Throw releases regularly blur the line separating new and old, and that's especially true of Big Shots, the long-awaited lost album from Stones Throw founder, DJ, and producer Peanut Butter Wolf and rapper Charizma. Charizma was barely 20 when he died in 1993, and consequently, his one-off classic with Wolf comes with a tricky psychological undercurrent: To love Big Shots is to mourn Charizma, a rapper who showed every sign of becoming one of hip-hop's all-time greats. The album contains a surplus of pure joy, but it's linked to the sadness that accompanies the loss of a life and partnership bursting with possibilities. It's virtually impossible not to love Charizma's boyish energy, his exuberant storytelling, and his LL Cool J-like playboy bluster. But while Big Shots is one of those charmed debuts where nearly every song sounds like a terrific single, it wouldn't be without Wolf, whose gorgeously constructed tracks, flawless ear for melody, and extensive sonic quotations anticipate Madlib. Sonically, Big Shots hearkens back to an era before Biz Markie's sampling woes permanently narrowed the hip-hop production palette. Listening to the life-affirming enthusiasm of "Soon To Be Large," where a reggae-inflected hook pays testament to a bright future for Charizma and Peanut Butter Wolf, it's affecting to realize that the rapper so clearly intoxicated with life soon wouldn't be living at all, large or otherwise.

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