Various Artists
Fashion Expo Volume 1

Hip hop on parade, that’s what this is. A fashion exposition, where the threads and accessories consist of loops, breakdowns, beats, samples, flows, scratches, patter and effects.

One after another, emcees, DJs, turntablists and auxillary officers of hip hop offer scripturally-inspired and holy words wrapped up a variety of externals. It’s a heady experience and even those starved for brand new material will scarcely be able to take the entire 36 tracks (2 discs’ worth) in one sitting.

Fashion Expo Volume 1 CDThe compilation was masterminded by the humble Syntax Records honchos who double as artists on the label (Sackcloth Fashion, see review). Needless to say, that gives these execs. an advantage, as their production, mixing, recording and mastering skills come authentic.

And we have to agree with the brief press notes that accompany the project: there indeed was a strong ‘no chaff’ policy in effect for this endeavor — a separation of the wheat from the chaff, the phat from the wack.

The result? An avoidance of the twin plagues of compilation CDs (uneven production, weak tracks mixed in with strong ones).

The consistency in production lends a vibe of continuity, with a tendency towards to orchestral loops and thick, sometimes booming tracks. But a compilation is a compilation, and it would be near impossible to remove versatility, especially on one like this, which has over 30 artists on board.

It’s just that this time you’ll hear some of these artists in a different production context than you've heard before. Click here for the complete lineup.

Hip hop veteran Peace586 finds his place on the project with “Runnin’”. What a track, with catchy hook and simple, profound flow sermonics. Part of GritsFellow journeymen, E-Roc, Playdough and GRITS also handle respective tracks, tackling a variety of themes.

Corey Red impresses every time out, and he continues that trend here. Featuring Precise, “No Gray Lines” is a song that grabs with his hyper monotone patter that’s manipulated to give a apocalyptic feel. “There’s no more gray line, either you with Jesus or you're not, either your soul’s headed for heaven or hell is where you’ll rot”.

Refreshingly, the female emcee voice has a say on Fashion Expo. And you’d be dead wrong if you’re assuming that this is tokenism. On par with the best of the rest, you find Diz Organ’s west coast parlance on “Under Man” to be lyrically hard hitting, beat flowing, and true. She also pops up with vocals on the multiple artist collab, “Quality Junk”, as the opening track on disc 2.

Here’s some other select cuts that generated deep appreciation, based on innovation, head bob-ability, memory stickiness and how severely the urge ran to press that ‘track repeat’ button.

  • “Matthew” by Dirt: compassionate song with a story, nice bass, bouncy with a serious hook.
  • “Who Am I?” by Illustrate featuring Joe Bereal: nicely flowing testimony track with a bump.
  • “Game Over” by Fros’T: creative vocal patterns showcase nice similes with the drawn out chords of the loop making it work. Lyrics exhort that life is not a game but that we’re to ‘travel on the straight and narrow’.
  • “Tight With Lasso” by Absolute, Mr. Tru, Ill Harmonics: plucky guitar loops fling the hispanic flava’d rhymes and samples with frequent mic exchanges (favorite phrase: “up and coming has-beens”).
  • “Jurny” by Jurny: from the respected LPG somes Jurny on a solo trip, reflecting on his rap experiences.
  • “The New Song” by D.O.P.E. Statikk: a palette of instruments (electric guitar, piano, tables and more) set off this crew's poetic honor of hip hop cultured street ministry
Essential to your knowledge of what this holy hip hop is all about, it’s some serious understatement to say that Fashion Expo Volume 1 make the grade.

More like, it’s the teacher.

Producer: Sackcloth Fashion
album release date: October 31, 2000
Syntax Records

— reviewed by Stan North —

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