After sitting back and watching rap degenerate into materialistic bombast, the underground finally strikes back. Sure, MCs such as Common, O.C., and the Roots have done their share of Versace dissing. But on the much-

ballyhooed compilation Lyricist Lounge, some of hiphop’s premier underground denizens combine forces to uphold rap’s street value. Subterranean lords KRS-One, Q-Tip, De La Soul, and Kool Keith join Bahamadia, Common, and anonymous prospects like Absolute and the Last Emperor for a megastrike strong enough to wither the bourgeoisie. But the album follows a nasty trend in rap music—releasing double albums; if Tupac ever did anything that hurt rap, it was to popularize this wretched practice. Like most hiphop double albums (perhaps with the exception of Wu-Tang Forever), Lyricist Lounge should be one CD, because for every gem, it coughs out at least as many pebbles. The album’s production is average and often uneven, but a few headbangers like “Lyrics,” “Holy Water,” and the first single, “Body Rock,” shine through. Among the exceptional MCs, newcomers like the Last Emperor offer complex rhyme schemes and snappy one-liners. Lyricist’s Lounge is not the ultimate underground compilation; with its New York-centric approach, it almost certainly can’t be. It’s capable, but overhyped.

—Ta-Nehisi Coates