Self: Volume 1

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The 108 Mountain Men is an ancient Chinese legend in which a band of honorable outlaws rises up against the corrupt government, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. In the late '90s, the nominal descendants of these mythical warriors can be found defending hip hop against the forces of wackness and taking hip hop to the next level.

Since winning Sprite's "Rhymes from the Mind" contest a few years back, the Mountain Brothers have steadily been gaining props, eventually signing a contract with Ruffhouse Records. However, things soured and the MBs left the label. Their self-released LP, Self: Volume I, finds them back and stronger than ever with a lyrically complex, no-sample production philosophy that stands out from the glut of cookie-cutter rappers. Emcee-producer Chops lays down the infectious beats and scratches, while Peril-L rhymes entire lines, instead of only one or two syllables, and Styles stands out for his freestyle skills and witty punchlines.

Minimal interludes on this 19-track release give each emcee sufficient opportunity to showcase his skills while dealing with a variety of issues such as racism, day jobs and, of course, sucker emcees. Although it was previously released on their self-titled, debut EP, the track "Paperchase" remains a standout cut. Declaring that they have "10 times the ends, but only half the real friends," the MBs chastise those who are as "seedy as pomegranates" and eloquently state the inherent conflict of trying to get paid while staying true to oneself. More of the same can be found throughout the album, as each song is heavily influenced by funk, jazz and blues, with plenty of ill lyrics that will have you pressing rewind every time.

Tracks such as "Oh-Oh-Oh," a Miami bass-sounding track of all things, may have you scratching your head, but with love croonings such as "if you were doo doo, then I'd be your stink," on "Love Poetry," you can't do anything but laugh. The MB's simply enjoy what they do. For more info, call 973-674-3465 or punch www.mountainbrothers.com.

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