It’s one of the biggest what-ifs in underground hip-hop: What if Charizma, the young, slick MC with the command and bravado of prime LL, hadn’t been murdered a week before Christmas ’93? Would his production partner, Peanut Butter Wolf, have become a go-to beatmaker for the rap underground instead of redirecting his attention to a curatorial mode and founding Stones Throw? Would they have become cult favorites akin to their West Coast alt-rap peers the Pharcyde?
The questions crop up more urgently now that their body of work has been compiled into a definitive collection, Circa 1990-1993. Much of it is a reintroduction to material that the faithful might’ve heard before, and could benefit from hearing again — like the compact, jaw-jacking boom-bap of first-ever Stones Throw release “My World Premiere,” and the blunted brilliance of the decade-after-the-fact debut Big Shots and its accompanying rare vinyl-only bonus EP. (Check “Methods” and “Bless You” for the strutting-on-air production and title-bout intensity rhyming.) But there’s a ton of unearthed gems here, too, from a gloriously dank-sounding 1987 demo as “M-Town” to a handful of radio and TV ciphers to unheard cuts like girl-trouble gripe “Raquel” and the GangStarr-gone-Cali “It’s Trendy.”