Bringing Back The Speed ...

Released independently, 2000 Fold is another sign that hip-hop's underground continues to innovate while the commercial world continues to duplicate.

Hip-hop is slow nowadays -- real slow. In fact, since the early '90s, hip-hop's overall tempo has gradually slowed to R&B speed. How to explain this? It's probably due to the collapse of R&B and rap music on commercial radio as well as to the fact that hip-hop has moved away from the party atmosphere of the late '80s.

Among Styles of Beyond's other strengths (and they have many) is their willingness to drag hip-hop back into the 100 beats-per-minute range. This might seem rather trivial, but consider that hip-hop derives its power not through the word, but through the verve. Without some intense sonic forces, hip-hop is nothing more than OK poetry.

Styles of Beyond -- the two-man crew of MCs Ryu and Takbir -- have been called one of the best new hip-hop groups to come out of Los Angeles, and the hype is legit. While each MC has his own verbal stylistics, both are brilliant at the mic, releasing clever, smart and well-composed lyrics at a rapid-fire pace.

Beats are handled by a variety of folks, but mostly by Vin Skully, who is single-handedly restoring respect to uptempo hip-hop. And it's not as if he's engineering party beats -- he simply likes to program faster beats. Prime examples include the Latin-tinged hyperactivity of "Survival Tactics" and the breakneck feel of "Spies Like Us." Takbir's older brother represents the family talent with "Muuvon," the most chopped-up version of Chic's "Good Times" you'll ever hear, and the album's sole explicit dance track.

That doesn't mean all of 2000 Fold is on some speed-ball trip. Winners in a slower groove include the ultra-funky "Winnetka Exit" and especially the eerie and addictive title track. And DJ Revolution, who is quickly becoming the DJ to hire, turns in both scratching tricks and beats for "Many Styles," in which he runs through more deadly turntable venoms than a kung-fu grandmaster.

Still, it's in the realm of high-powered tracks that Styles of Beyond come off the best. Divine Styler -- perhaps the original king of esoteric and abstracted hip-hop -- puts in work on two of the album's strongest cuts, "Killer Instinct," where he rhymes, and "Style Warz," which is his production contribution. As a member of the L.A. "new school" (now considered old), Divine Styler taps into some old, fuzzed-out funk beats with "Style Warz," dropping in thunderous drums and an ill piano loop.

Released independently, 2000 Fold is another sign that hip-hop's underground continues to innovate while the commercial world continues to duplicate.