Thursday, January 13, 2005

Review - The Untouchables, Vol. 1

Artist: Various Artists

Posted on Thu, Jan 13, 2005 at 4:00 AM

On the surface, Orlando-based Renaissance Records looks like any of the thousands of struggling rap labels that exist in every American city, trafficking in cliché and overfinanced imagery. Looks can be deceiving. Despite the veneer of rough swagger that sells records and accounts for the presence of a rapper like Big $pender on the label, Renaissance employs two things that make it an exceptional enterprise. The first is a willingness not to be tied down to any particular sound. The second is an amazing sense of quality control. The proof? Untouchables.

Conceived and MC'd by Renaissance main man Rocwell, Untouchables is not a bold new concept: It's just a mix tape with a bunch of Renaissance compatriots (mostly from Orlando) putting their best rhymes forward. But again, looks can be deceiving. Rocwell may get his face in front of crowds as a lyric-spitter – he shows himself to be a decent one on his cuts here – but his real gift is as a producer and track-creator.

For a mix tape,Untouchables doesn't go deep into backpack obscurantism or copyright-challenging with its selection of samples, but as a result, it's nowhere near as sloppy as so many mixes are these days. With a clear-toned but hard-hitting density to his production, Rocwell crafted a 31-track-deep collection of wildly varying styles – any mix that can hold up under the weight of Swamburger's tongue-twisting, the soulful sway of vocalist Haley ("Locked Up") and the streetwise thump of Champaign's verses on "Hit 'Em Up" is a sturdy mix indeed.

Ultimately, Untouchables is a holistic and highly polished mix that functions perfectly as a résumé for Rocwell and for the Orlando hip-hop scene at large. It can be somewhat disorienting to hear "Pine Hills represent!" atop tracks that sound so professional and forward-looking, but it looks as if this is one scene that hasn't forgotten that you can be creative AND commercial.



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