One of the frustrating things about Ego Trip's irreverent but affectionate Book Of Rap Lists is that many of the songs it lovingly commemorates never made the transition from vinyl to compact disc. To correct the oversight, the book's editors and Rawkus Records have teamed up for Ego Trip's The Big Playback. Compiling a dozen rare and obscure old-school treasures from the Reagan era, the result is hip-hop archeology at its joyful best. Compiling the historically important (Marley Marl's "Scratch"), early work from figures who rose to later prominence (Grand Puba, Diamond D, Craig Mack, Ski), and obscure response records ("Brooklyn Blew Up The Bridge"), Playback offers ample evidence that there's more to '80s hip-hop than you'll find on most old-school compilations. Perhaps the old school's greatest virtue was its artistic freedom: Unencumbered by convention, hip-hop's pioneers made up the rules as they went along, giving their music an unpredictable, exuberant, spontaneous quality that The Big Playback captures for posterity. Offering convincing proof that modern hip-hop can match the vitality of the old school, Hip Hop For Respect is a four-song EP masterminded by Black Star to raise money for the Hip Hop For Respect Anti-Police-Brutality Foundation, and to protest the shooting death of Amadou Diallo. In sharp contrast to the musically upbeat vibe of most message songs, the EP's Organized Noize-produced centerpiece, "One Four Love Pt. 1" (and its lesser but impressive counterpart, "One Four Love Pt. 2," which features different artists but the same beat), is dark, brutal, and eloquent, the work of artists who likely don't have to go off on wild flights of fancy to rhyme about police brutality. It's the rare all-star collaboration that's more than the sum of its impressive parts (Common, Black Star, and De La Soul's Posdnous are among the contributors), but it's more than matched by just about everything else here. "A Tree Never Grown" is a haunting, languid track highlighted by a gorgeous Mos Def-sung chorus, while "Police Custody" is a righteous, dark-humored vent session featuring Company Flow, Talib Kweli, John Forte, and many more. Mixing good politics and great music, it's just a shame Hip Hop For Respect isn't longer.

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