"This album has been built, robbed, destroyed, rebuilt, held up, postponed, canceled, shelved, bootlegged, analyzed, exploited, slept on, supported, patiently awaited, and appreciated, long before you got your hands on this slim little package," reads the prologue for J-Live's The Best Part, neatly encapsulating the long, strange journey the disc has traveled since its intended 1999 release date. One of the most buzzed-about and bootlegged hip-hop records of the past few years, The Best Part has only grown in stature since its aborted initial release. Thankfully, however, J-Live's legendarily long-overdue debut is finally available, so fans can officially remove the "lost" part of its lost-classic designation. A stunning debut by any standard, The Best Part was ready for release in 1999, but it wouldn't have felt out of place in 1989, alongside near-perfect debuts from A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and The Jungle Brothers. Combining the messianic energy of KRS-One, the casual perfectionism of De La Soul, and the Afrocentric idealism of Black Star, The Best Part conveys remarkable depth and ambition. A DJ, producer, elementary-school teacher, and top-flight MC, J-Live is serious about KRS-One's dictum to educate as well as entertain, but he's sophisticated enough to wrap his social and political commentary in elaborate metaphors, deft wordplay, and sublime beats. A production masterpiece and a galvanizing lyrical tour de force, The Best Part boasts premier underground producers like DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and Prince Paul, as well as the lesser-known but formidable 88 Keys, DJ Spinna, and Grap Luva. A student of hip-hop, J-Live makes his love of the art form apparent on every track, but he also possesses the wit to describe hip-hop as "the proverbial sad clown of music, exploited by many, understood by few." Fans who've waited since 1999 to hear The Best Part won't need to wait anywhere near as long for its follow-up: All Of The Above hit shelves not long after the release of J-Live's debut. Considering the drama surrounding Part's release, the rapper can be forgiven for losing some of the idealism that characterized that album. Sure enough, Above initially sounds like the work of someone embittered by his experiences. The disc's intro touches on J-Live's difficulties getting his debut released, while the compassionate and direct "Satisfied?" serves notice that the events of Sept. 11 haven't erased the fundamental inequities undermining American society. While Above begins on an uncharacteristically tough note, it soon becomes apparent that J-Live hasn't lost his faith in hip-hop or its ability to transform lives. Far from a retreat into bitterness and cynicism, Above is even more eclectic and hopeful than its predecessor. A tone of joyous artistic experimentation permeates the album, from "Like This Anna," which pays homageto the ethereal playfulness of A Tribe Called Quest's "Bonita Applebum," to "One For The Griot," which offers three separate trick endings to a sharply sketched narrative. "Stir Of Echoes" finds J-Live flexing a vintage Run DMC cadence, while "A Charmed Life" surveys his journey from a pint-sized Poindexter building models in the family basement through his days as a B-boy and college student and his current semi-fame. As assured and consistent as his debut, but far more ambitious in scope, All Of The Above marks an exciting new stage in J-Live's rapid evolution.