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Night Owls 4: A Shot In The Dark
Artist: Various
Label: Syntax Records
Length: 20 Tracks / 69:57

This is what compilation records should be.

For somewhere closing in on a decade now, Syntax Records has made a name for themselves by becoming synonymous with positive, quality underground hiphop. The Night Owls series of compilations is in many ways their showcase piece: collections of tracks recorded specifically for these compilation by members of Syntax's label roster as well as other significant members of the underground hiphop community.

_Night Owls 4_, the fourth (surprise!) in the series, consists of twenty songs, only one of which might be called an "interlude", and it's a very excellent DJ cut. Thirty (plus) emcees, showcasing most of Syntax Records' roster (ie. Braille, Kaboose, RedCloud, Man of War), but also a handful of other non-Syntax talent such as Manchild from Mars Ill, Listener from Deepspace 5, and CookBook & UNO Mas of L.A. Symphony. Top it off with a handful of DJ's and producers and you have a recipe for greatness.

Reviewing compilation records such as this one is difficult for one primary reason: the variety. There's no one emcee rapping on every track, nor is there one producer behind the boards, nor one DJ scratching up a storm. Rather, you have a multiplicity of all of the above.

So first, some generalizations about the entire album:

The recipe works - Night Owls 4 is excellent. Every track on the album is exclusive to it and you won't see them anywhere else. This is not a collection of songs from albums you might already own, nor is it a bunch of second rate b-sides or demos. This is a collection of rap songs from some of the positive underground hiphop community's best, many of whom are at the top of their game right this moment. Additionall, Night Owls 4 boasts a variety of producers on the record, which ensures a wide variety of sounds. Consistently, regardless of style, the beats are on point. 

So, now that I've told you that the compilation is great, here are some of my more pointed thoughts:

Some of the tracks are quite a bit better than others. My own preferences are listed below. 

  • It's great to see the return of old-school supercrew "thePride" (Recon and Sintaxtheterrific from Deepspace 5, and Manchild from Mars ILL). I don't think they've done a new track since 2001's On Def Ears). They absolutely nail their track. 
  • I've never been much of a RedCloud fan, but his track "21 Jump Street" converted me all by itself. 
  • Listener's track "Older Than I Was Before" features some of the best socio/religio-political commentary I've heard in a rap song in quite some time. 
  • The choir samples on Cookbook & UnoMas' track "Always Shine" win for best-in-album and makes for an incredible beat. 
Standout Tracks: For You, Always Shine, We Will Not Stop, Knuckle Up, Older Than I Was Before, Test Market, 21 Jump Street.

Jerry Bolton
January 19, 2008



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