Brighton Beach

He's serving time for assault, but this isn't the dumbed-down thug-life rap that you might expect...

New Yorker Keith Murray is currently doing time for second-degree assault. Even in the violence-strewn world of rap, this comes as something of a surprise, for Murray avoids the usual posing that goes along with a penitentiary address. Sure, there's the odd clatter of automatic fire, judge-baiting chronic (ab)use and menaces of violence, but he's more concerned with taking the piss out of the "remedial rappers" of gangsta.

Growling like a bronchial Rottweiler, he's more than capable of doing all this, displaying an intricate, dense wordplay whether he's spinning out lyrics on the justice system, telling cautionary (but never gratuitously nasty) tales, boasting about his lyrical prowess, or, possibly in a new direction for US hip-hop, comparing himself to the Loch Ness Monster.

If the lyrics are invariably astute, they're matched by music that's frequently superb. Producer Erick Sermon has created sonic moods by turns slinky (the Randy Crawford-sampling 'Life On The Street'), humorous ('High As Hell'), belligerent (the self-explanatory 'Slap Somebody'), and broodingly tense ('Secret Indictment').

Keith Murray has made a furiously intelligent album. No wonder he's happy to use his own name.

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