Philly rapper Lushlife steps out of the underground and into the arena with his mesmerizing third record, which should have hip-hop heads snapping to attention. The cerebral MC collaborates with production team CSLSX to take his indie aesthetic to another level, exploring pulsing ambient textures, psychedelic rock, and orchestral music, while never losing sight of classic head-bobbing beats. Relying more on associations and allusions than linear narrative, Lushlife employs an intricate stream of consciousness approach, providing tour de force moments abundant with literary citations (Murakami, Atticus Finch) and pop culture references (Isabella Rossellini, Vangelis). “Toynbee Suite,” a 10-minute centerpiece nodding to the multi-city conceptual-art project Toynbee Tiles, is a shape-shifting meditation on the connection between language, environment, and philosophy. An overly ambitious “The Waking World” attempts to weave the personal with hip-hop history while reflecting on Mark David Chapman, and never comes into focus. That’s an anomaly, though; otherwise, Lushlife’s on sure ground throughout, abetted by guests such as Ariel Pink (noirish “Hong Kong Lady of Love”) and the always insistent Killer Mike.
ESSENTIAL “Toynbee Suite”Ken Capobianco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.