Like the late, great J Dilla, Dutch beatmaker Nicolay is a big fan of neo-soul R&B as it relates to hip hop. But unlike Dilla, Nicolay isn't so much an experimentalist as he is a classicist, favoring languid, rounded beats and melodic sing-along choruses. The result is an album of gorgeously clean R&B beats over which regional American emcees like St. Louis' Black Spade don't so much spit as drool rhymes. That's not a put-down — for as epic and commanding a track as "I Am The Man" is, with its long, stately horn blasts, Spade's rapping seems to be in search of something a little more angst-filled to rhyme over; he can't quite get above the random boast-and-toast. Where, say, Common and D'Angelo found that delicate balance between hip hop and R&B on Dilla's "So Far To Go" from this year's The Shining, Nicolay's tracks are so simultaneously laid back but tight that his emcees don't have much room to flow. The strength of Here is in numbers, and the juxtaposition of the twisting, melodic segue "Let It Shine for Me" into "The End Is Near," where Black Spade finally finds some lyrical heft to match the ominous, hypnotic beat. It's one track that shows Nicolay balancing R&B beauty with hip-hop brawn convincingly.

Hobey Echlin writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to