Juice Crew legend Masta Ace has successfully reinvented himself as a concept-album maestro and mentor to younger artists. The indie-rap super-group EMC pairs Ace with three of those protégés: Milwaukee's Strick and Lyricist Lounge cut-ups Punchline and Wordsworth. On the quartet's rock-solid debut effort, The Show, each of the group's members ably inhabits a clearly defined role. Masta Ace reigns as the older, wiser hip-hop elder statesman, Strick is his cocky sidekick, Wordsworth is the sensitive deep thinker, and Punchline lives up to his moniker with smartass battle rhymes.

The group members share a gift for casual storytelling, as well as a fondness for mellow, melodic beats and sturdy song concepts. "Winds Of Change" traces hip-hop's evolution from the golden age to the current aluminum era, and the gang gets all touchy-feely with album-closing tracks paying reverent homage to their mothers ("U Let Me Grow") and their children ("Feel It"). At 24 tracks, The Show can't exactly list brevity as one of its myriad virtues, but this is one of those rare hip-hop albums that goes on forever because its members have a lot to say and a charming way of saying it.