All Aboard

For more proof that high-quality hip-hop is thriving, look no further than the full-length debut from Masterminds, a New York trio (Kimani, Oracle and Epod), who firmly establish their place in the overflowing underground scene. They've already dropped several 12-inches and a critically acclaimed EP, Live at Area 51, and continue to impress both on the mic and behind the boards.

Several guest MCs appear on the album, including Khaliyl from Da Bush Babees, who rhymes on the mix-tape favorite/destined-to-be-classic "Bring It Back" (RealAudio excerpt). Kimani cooks up a super-infectious instrumental, with bouncy clavinet-style keys topping crisp and contagious beats, while the three MCs spit rhymes mixing B-boy bravado with hip-hop pride.

"2025" (RealAudio excerpt) is a conceptual jam exploring what the world would be like without MCs and DJs. Subdued beats, tentative strings, and a well-manipulated James Bond sample back fresh flows from Kimani and Oracle. Great storytelling lyrics about how they need to go back in time to 2005 to save hip-hop before it goes extinct top Epod's hot production, which includes vivid imagery and a futuristic vibe.

While some tunes are distinctly playful, Masterminds also come with some deep social commentary. "Day One" (RealAudio excerpt) is a thought-provoking story of America's history of racism, with first-person verses about getting lynched and having crosses burned on the lawn. The chorus says it all: "From day one/ You see they try to take us under/ Police with guns/ And Klans hanging us from lumber/ The shit don't change/ No matter the time/ No matter the place/ No matter the space/ It all stays the same."

Other standouts include "Memories," an autobiographical track with beautiful piano-based production, and "Seven," a rowdy posse cut featuring subterranean stars El-P, J-Live, J-Treds, Shabaam Sahdeeq and Mr. Complex.

The Masterminds have delivered a solid piece of work that has all the elements of a summer classic. With the perfect mix of beats and rhymes, deep joints and party jams, and tight guest appearances, The Underground Railroad is a ride you don't want to miss.