DJ Evil Dee first rose to prominence as a member and lead producer of Black Moon, whose blend of jazzy, sophisticated production and thugged-out rhymes suggested what A Tribe Called Quest or De La Soul might sound like if they were fronted by rowdy lyrical hooligans. Black Moon MCs Buckshot and 5 Ft. Accelerator monomaniacally focused their rhymes on their desire to rob and bitch-smack the world before telling it to fuck off, but Dee's production was too nimble and assured for even the most gangsta-phobic purist to ignore. Riding high from the success of Black Moon's 1993 debut, Enta Da Stage, Dee and brother Mr. Walt brought fellow New York producers Chocolate Ty, Rich Black, and Baby Paul into the Beatminerz fold, and have since produced everyone from Mos Def to Ras Kass. The first solo release from the vaunted production team, Brace 4 Impak, straddles the line between gangsta misanthropy and underground quirkiness with an eclectic roster of crooners, thugs, and super-lyrical MCs. Spreading out production chores among Da Beatminerz' five producers, Brace 4 Impak continues the team's move toward a more stripped-down, aggressive sound far removed from the airy complexity of Dee's work on Enta Da Stage. Like labelmate Hi-Tek's masterful Hi-Teknology, the album produces highlights in unlikely places. In an act of surprisingly astute musical perversity, two of Impak's best songs (Diamond's "Best At That" and Pete Rock's "Open") feature Da Beatminerz' production peers rocking the mic, although "Open" derives its seductive power more from Caron Wheeler's gorgeous vocals than from Rock's simple but effective verse. Just as newcomers dominated Hi-Teknology, female up-and-comers What What and Apani B. Fly make the most striking impressions on Impak, sounding ready to make good on their boast to be "dirty as motherfuckers who actually fuck their mothers" on the rowdy, irreverent "Shut Da Fuck Up." But, like nearly all producer albums, Brace 4 Impak is inconsistent, weighted down by witless skits, occasional weak performances, and production that periodically blurs the line between minimalist and boring. Brace 4 Impak derives its modest charm as much from its generous spirit and old-school vibe as from its uneven but occasionally spellbinding content. But it stands out as more than just a vanity project, a rare feat among albums by hip-hop producers.

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