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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Seventeen years ago, two Bay Area rappers, Lateef the Truthspeaker, and Lyrics Born joined forces. They even combined their names to release the Latyrx album. Now, the duo is back with the efficiently titled "The Second Album." Critic Robert Christgau says it's well worth the wait.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBERT CHRISTGAU, BYLINE: Oakland-born Lateef Daumont is a Black Panther's son who raps as Lateef the Truthspeaker. Tokyo-born Tom Shimura, a banker's son, who raps as Lyrics Born. In 1996, they collaborated on the gorgeous and contemplative "The Latyrx Album." Then went their solo ways for almost two decades. Now, finally, they've brought forth what is hands-down the alt-rap album of the year.

Thumbing its nose at know-nothings who still believe that rapping isn't music, Latyrx's "The Second Album" is launched by two rabble-rousing speeches that are musical in themselves. Notice the drum beats, organ beds and quick internal runs of Lateef's climate.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAP)

LATEEF THE TRUTHSAYER: And that life will pave the way to a better tomorrow (unintelligible) today in this life, in this time, it's all charge for all rides. And seize the moment, collect (unintelligible) history is waiting for us all to open. We have arrived. We have arrived. We are here.

CHRISTGAU: The same two instrumental elements beef up the grander cadences of the more oratorical and even quicker lift, Lyrics Born.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAP)

LYRICS BORN: Let's talk about tomorrow, a sea change, a paradigm shift, we change. This is awesome time for those of us who felt marginalized, compartmentalized, or felt like we meant nothing (unintelligible) or even felt like a target at times. And where I once felt like an outsider, now I feel like I am in power. And it doesn't mean...

CHRISTGAU: The new album works to vary the rappers' contrasting flows, not just with basic beats, but with a wealth of melodic elements. These come mostly from the West Coast hip-hop underground. But two remarkable tracks were produced by tUneE-yArDs' Merrill Garbus; the liquid "Watershed Moment" evokes the elixir of life in more ways than one.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) (Unintelligible) dribbling (unintelligible) the little pebbles on the beach. Let me take a leak, let me squeeze a little baby's cheeks, tiny, little, (unintelligible) shivering like crystals in a stream, living simple will eventually drift into the sea. (Unintelligible)

CHRISTGAU: Latyrx's members aren't kids anymore and "The Second Album" is also what we inevitably call mature. But for Latyrx, maturity is an occasion for fresh invention, from a song where rumors about a lost cat kick off an anti-terrorism initiative to a gun control number in which patriots in powdered wigs load their muskets one bullet at a time.

And in the standout "Sometimes Why," each rapper looks back as he lays a Polaroid on the same girlfriend's grave.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Your hair was long and it tickled my face. That memory lives in (unintelligible) space. Your skin was glowing. Your shirt's hung over to let your shoulder show. The contrast (unintelligible) black bra strap. (Unintelligible) view. I got a shiver 'cause when your eyelashes make your eyes sparkle like a (unintelligible) in the river. I leave this Polaroid as a give on your headstone next to the one that someone else left. I can across you picture (unintelligible). It was still in good shape, but the corner was frayed.

CHRISTGAU: Lateef is the activist firebrand; Lyrics Born the one-step-at-a-time philosopher of moderation and what he calls entrepreneurial spirit. But both make it their business to look forward. And as the codas of the song I just played makes very clear, this album is life-affirming, with a force few artists in any genre can match.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAP)

TRUTHSAYER: Life, available for a limited time only. Limit on per person. Subject to change without notice.

CORNISH: The new release from Latyrx is called "The Second Album." Our reviewer is Robert Christgau.

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