2006's Test Presses and Dub Plates is so much fun you don't realize you're getting schooled on the genre's history — like getting a math lesson while you're playing kickball. This is not hip-hop with a pair of capital H's, and it's not just for those who think rap died in the early ’90s. Heads-come-lately who are simply looking for nod-ya-head gangsta goodness will find hooks big enough to drive DJ Premier's ego through. (Premier himself shows up to give the album's intro, in fact.) Eight years in the making, it's Crucial's solo debut, and features underground legend after underground legend.
Venerable Gotham emcee MF Grimm appears on “Gingerbread Man,” explaining his addiction to murdering people over a track that sounds like it could emanate from an ice cream truck operated by psychopaths. A little later, Grimm's former collaborator MF Doom lends his gravelly koans to a sample from the Animals'”House of the Rising Sun” on “Ghost Whirl.” Joining Doom on the track is Christian Scientist skateboarder (and rabid Star Trek fan) Jonathan Toth from Hoth.
If anyone is a rap uniter, it's Crucial, whose west coast love letter “Life I Chose” — starring L.A.'s hard-hitting MC Eiht — could have been a lost track from The Chronic. In interview, the Compton's Most Wanted emcee recalls how he strode into Crucial's recording studio (fashioned in his closet) and laid down the song in one take. “I just wanted to write a song looking at [Crucial's] vinyl and his respect for DJing and all that,” Eiht told AllHipHop.com.
Test Presses also features “Midwest,” which came together after Crucial coaxed a then-shy Slug to record a song with him in 1998. The track was one of the Atmosphere luminary's first collaborations, and it's quintessential Slug — back before anybody knew what “quintessential Slug” sounded like. Other stand-out Midwestern emcees on the album include Serengeti and Juice, both of Chicago and the latter known for besting Eminem at Scribble Jam in 1997.
Not a bad eight years'work for Crucial. The album's transitions are so seamless and its beats so delectable, when it's over you will hardly realize that you just listened to something that was good for you.