Freestyle Fellowship emerged on the L.A. rap scene during the early '90s. Given the chance to hone its skills at a health-food store's open-mic nights, the group quickly earned the attention and respect of the city's hip-hop underground. Their second album, 1993's Inner City Griots
, is the only completely collaborative album released during the group's career. Surprisingly, each MC (Mikah Nine
, Jupiter, Peace, and Aceyalone) seems fully matured at this early stage. On Inner City Griots
, the production is improved to match the group's vibrant, dexterous wordplay. Swapping rhymes with agility and grace, the Fellowship is a rap tag team par excellence. At times, the lyrics are so dense and the delivery so quick that the words are practically indecipherable. Yet the rappers are just as adept at slowing down the pace without losing a bit of their lyrical energy or creativity.
Unrestricted by tired rap themes, the Fellowship strikes at a range of subjects. The abrasive opening one-two of "Blood" and "Bullies of the Block" might throw listeners off guard but as "Everything's Everything" opens, they provide assurances that "It's all right y'all." The guns are dropped and microphones prevail. Inner City Griots
(a griot is an African storyteller) takes on Aceyalone's twisted nursery rhyme "Cornbread," the positive vibes of "Inner City Boundaries," the locker-room machismo of "Shammy's" (an inevitable ode to the ladies), and "Way Cool," a tale of serial killing horror. On "Park Bench People," the Freestyle Fellowship even asks whether rap music is big enough to take in a sung rumination on homelessness. With live instrumentation provided by the Underground Railroad (whose members appear throughout the album), the song stretches into a section reminiscent of '70s Stevie Wonder
. Like all great groups that preceded it, the Fellowship was simply testing the limits of hip-hop and its own capabilities on this multifaceted collection.