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Artist: Azarel
Album: Azarel
Label: Ocean Records
Production: MASS Productions, DJ JB, Techniq, Funky Daddy, Big Squeeze, Funo, Duane "Prest'to" Perera, Miztah Zelle, Jeff Taylor, Daddy Leon and James Smith
Guests: Cott, UWS, Wojack, Don P, Ill Will, L-Dog, D/S Nis, Waxcen, Drekno, Chill of Deuce Click, The Riddla and Yamiyn Yisrael
Stats: 2001, 14 Tracks at 56mins13secs
Reviewed by: Eitan Prince aka Supafly

Coming straight outta Lakewood, Washington, in the US's Pacific Northwest region is Azarel - an independent-minded MC who clearly aspires to and is inspired by rap music's underground aesthetic.

However, this self-titled debut album on indie label Ocean Records is anything but typically 'underground', as it eschews a lot of its trite qualities and allows Azarel to present himself as an artist who speaks openly and honestly about his aspirations and his insecurities.

AZ illustrates throughout the album's 14 tracks that he will not bow to mainstream pressures. But instead of telling what you won't hear on this album - ghetto glorification, gun-toting and ho-bashing lyrics - let me tell you what dude has to offer.

'Use Ya Mind' gets things started, with Az waxing lyrical about self elevation and breaking out of a ghetto state of mind over a funky, string-driven backing track. The album hits a bit of a bump on the battling artist's tale of woe, 'Strugglin'. We've heard this before by everyone from Joe Smoke making tracks in his bedroom to pape-stacking Eminem, and we don't need to hear it again.

But Azarel quickly redeems himself on 'Hebru', where he - yes, you guessed it - pays homage to his Hebrew roots and culture while breaking down some of the myths pertaining to them. On 'Searching', he explores similar territory, taking the listener through his personal exploration of religion. Of course, AZ also knows how to kick freestyle skills, as he shows on the collaborative cuts 'Usual Suspects', with its infectious Kwaito-like bassline, and 'NW Funk'.

This album offers lots of different sounds that allow Azarel to employ various flows - most notably the chaotic percussion of 'Smile A Little' - but he generally freaks a style that's closer to Cali kingpin Aceyalone, although sans the overwhelming mic charisma. My biggest beef with this album is really the beats. There are too many cooks and that sort of spoils the broth, preventing the album from being a cohesive piece of work instead of complementing Azarel's message rhymes. [6/10]

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