While bloated hip-hop crews like Wu-Tang Clan have diluted their strength through countless third-generation spin-offs, Oakland's Hieroglyphics has remained something of a closed shop. Ascension marks Pep Love's solo debut, but the rapper has long been a part of the Hieroglyphics dynasty, with credits dating back to early-'90s releases like Souls Of Mischief's 93 Til Infinity. Love has obviously waited a long time to make his presence felt, so it's not surprising that Ascension shows considerable ambition. As befits a man with the word "love" in his name, Pep Love is a bona fide hip-hop flower child, prone to hippie-dippy philosophizing and presumably cannabis-inspired lines like "Life is quite delightful," a typical sentiment from the album's terrific and thoroughly unironic second track, "Living Is Beautiful." Pep Love uses ten-dollar, polysyllabic words like other rappers use demeaning epithets, sprinkling his spacey raps with pseudo-scientific and metaphysical jargon that's annoying and endearing in equal measure. Like his Hieroglyphics brethren, Pep Love is always down for a lyrical battle, but when he's not battling wack MCs, he's about as threatening as Biz Markie in a bunny costume, whether he's paying homage to his coast ("Pacific Heights") or waxing romantic over his one true love ("T.A.M.I."). At his best, Love recalls the smart, vulnerable humanism of West Coast peers like Aceyalone and Blackalicious' Gift Of Gab. At his worst, Love imitates Del Tha Funkee Homosapien at his most self-indulgent, stringing together long chains of big words backed by low-budget production of the blandest kind. Desperately in need of some editing, Ascension in many ways recalls Del's underwhelming Both Sides Of The Brain, which similarly combined a handful of great songs with plenty of tedious, undisciplined filler. Pep Love is another Hieroglyphics original, even if his ambitious but flawed debut remains as notable for its unfulfilled promise as for its uneven execution.

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