Oh, The Irony

Following a brief stint in the limelight after the release of DJ Shadow's Entroducing, and the discovery by a broader audience of labels such as Ninja Tune and MoWax, instrumental hip-hop has slipped back into semi-obscurity. What's more, by all indications the genre's purveyors have run low on new ideas; a number of its key figures have released second or third albums that have failed to expand on their original concepts.

The Runaways UK — a duo whose stabs at creating transatlantic hip-hop have stayed closer to the American blueprint than that of their native country — could have used a creative booster shot on their sophomore effort, which is ironically titled Progress.

The problem? Although inventiveness has always been a prerequisite for memorable hip-hop — especially on tracks that don't feature an MC — the production on Progress is too conventional and safe to pique the interest of the jaded beatfreak.

Not surprisingly then, the most successful numbers are those which host guest lyricists. Masta Ace makes a rare appearance on "Express Delivery" (RealAudio excerpt), getting by on the weight of his charisma instead of a quick tongue. J-Zone drops a humorous ode to unemployment on "You Don't Understand" (RealAudio excerpt). "Paid dues for too long to put on a tie/ I'll punch my boss dead in his eye before I punch that clock/ A job in itself, just gettin' on the map/ So f--k runnin' errands or wearing a chicken on my hat."

Iriscience of Dilated Peoples is featured on "Pounds 4 Dollars" (RealAudio excerpt), while Sylvia Powell (a sort of new-school blues singer) and Tye Phoenix round out the other vocal contributions. As for the instrumentals, their blandness will ensure limited exposure on mixtapes and college radio shows.

The Runaways UK should follow the lead of Progress' cover artist, Chris Ofili, whose paintings using elephant dung earned the outrage of New York's Mayor Giuliani. A little risk and disregard for convention go a long way toward making art that lasts.