NPR logo First Listen: Buff1 And DJ Rhettmatic, 'Crown Royale'

First Listen: Buff1 And DJ Rhettmatic, 'Crown Royale'

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Buff1 and DJ Rhettmatic are collectively known as Crown Royale. courtesy of the artist hide caption

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courtesy of the artist

Buff1 and DJ Rhettmatic are collectively known as Crown Royale.

courtesy of the artist


In the early days of hip-hop, a DJ and an MC needed each other; you almost couldn't have one without the other. Who knew that over the course of forty-some years, DJ/MC duos would become such rarities? But while venerable acts like Eric B & Rakim, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince and Gang Starr are now mere relics of hip-hop's "golden era," Buff1 and DJ Rhettmatic, collectively known as Crown Royale, favor a resurgence of what was once a mainstay with their new self-titled collaborative LP.

Buff1, an MC from Ann Arbor, Mich., has had a quiet but enormously lauded career up to now. His first two solo albums were extremely well-received by critics and fans, and he'd already established himself as leader of the rap crew known as the Athletic Mic League, which also served as the starting point for the career of retro-soul crooner Mayer Hawthorne. Buff1 consequently acquired the title Athletic Mic League King, and went on to collaborate with Black Milk, Elzhi (of Slum Village) and other Motor City heavyweights.

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A Los Angeles-based DJ/producer, DJ Rhettmatic began his career back in 1983 with the DJ crew Double Platinum, and later became a founding member of the respected underground DJ/production team World Famous Beat Junkies. The team has provided beats and cuts for work by Jurassic 5, Cypress Hill, Dilated Peoples and a slew of others.

Together, Buff1 and DJ Rhettmatic carry on in the tradition of their predecessors while each continues to work in his own unique style. Buff1's assertive yet smooth delivery and somewhat off rhyme scheme meshes nicely with Rhettmatic's dense beats, soulful sample loops and rapid-fire scratching.

Buff1 has developed a self-aggrandizing sensibility over the course of his career, as evidenced by the album title Crown Royale. "And the winner is, the undisputed champion of penmanship," Buff boasts over menacing horns in the intro of "Blitz," the record's triumphant opening track.

But while Buff1 displays a typical rapper's ego, he often proves that he's a student of the game in the same breath, as he name-drops the greats that came before him. "We been the kings since the OutKast logo / Theme song, Gang Starr, KCi & JoJo," he rhymes on the infectious title track.

While there's plenty of sweltering heat throughout Crown Royale, other standouts include the soulful, Dilla-esque "Thank You" and the vintage (circa '90s), Pete Rock-reminiscent "Testing." And, of course, the album wouldn't be complete without a bit of nostalgia, and "Say What" finds Buff1 reminiscing about his days as a teenager with ambitions of pursuing a rap career. The time for questioning hip-hop's vitality may be over, but Buff1 and DJ Rhettmatic know there's still a void to be filled, and Crown Royale is a fine way to fill it.

Crown Royale will stream here in its entirety until its release on Dec. 7. Please leave your thoughts on the album in the comments section below.