The gruff delivery and roughneck charisma of J-Dilla protégé Guilty Simpson have made him a popular guest rapper in underground circles, but his cartoon aggression can wear a little thin over the course of an entire record. Simpson shared his 2010 album, O.J. Simpson, with the trippy instrumentals of producer (and fellow J-Dilla collaborator) Madlib. Simpson’s new supergroup, Random Axe, again finds him sharing the spotlight with collaborators who play to his limited strengths. The belligerent antics of Heltah Skeltah’s Sean Price take some of the weight off Simpson, but the project’s real MVP is Detroit producer Black Milk, who produces and raps.
Black Milk’s quietly assured production gives the album the diversity it lacks lyrically, whether he’s setting some of Simpson and Price’s most thoughtful lyrics to a spooky minimalist haunted-house beat on “Everybody Nobody Somebody,” or counteracting his lyricists’ abundant grit with sparkling, anthemic pianos on “Random Call.” The supergroup concept is an invitation to self-indulgence, but Random Axe burns through 15 tracks—some of them about 60 seconds long—in about 40 tight minutes, making the trio more than the sum of its considerable parts.