Smoke & Mirrors

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Old-school alum O.C. has long been a hip-hop staple, if not one of the most ill-promoted emcees in history. Originally signed by MC Serch in 1991, O.C. had a string of hits, and at least one classic album in 1994’s Word...Life. He hit near-immortal status through his affiliation with the Bronx-based Diggin’ in the Crates crew. But these days, the rapper (aka Omar Credle) isn’t afraid to try his hand at some West Coast ingenuity.

This record finds the rap vet freshly signed to California’s Hiero Imperium, the homegrown label launched by the Hieroglyphics, and his sound is admittedly different. Smoke & Mirrors is, essentially, a concept album that chronicles the emcee’s 15 years inside the music biz. What’s impressive is that he takes an ice-cold look at hypocrisy and contradictions within hip hop, often pointing the finger at himself. Songs like “Shorty” call out rappers with a proclivity for underage girls, and “You Made Me” pulls the skirt up on a bevy of rap imposters. And it’s clear that O.C. has little patience for those who crow on wax about their drug deals (“They got a special task force that listens to this rap shit, you idiots”).

These days, O.C. is a decade older than his aggressive verses that blew away fans on Word...Life, but 2005 finds the ripened O.C. notably subdued, maybe even formulaic. But it’s lazy to assume that O.C. has lost his ability to spit searing lines; after a few listens, it’s apparent that Mr. Credle has finally figured out a way to cookie-cut the shit and keep it real. —

Jonathan Cunningham writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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