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With Stereotype, veteran southern Cali mic rockers Strong Arm Steady join forces with up and coming Massachusetts producer Statik Selektah and a guestlist eclectic enough to shatter any preconceived notions about coastal tendencies and the confines of underground hip-hop. Driven by Selektah’s soulfully inspired board work, and some of the MCs’ most focused verses, the project succeeds in re-affirming the universality of hip-hop’s core elements, but ultimately lacks the extra bit of innovation and flair needed to truly transcend the underground tropes.

Stereotype opens dramatically with “Truth of Truth,” an exhibition of chilly braggadocio atop a synth-heavy track that vacillates between menacing and mournful. While the cut succeeds in establishing the prowess and chemistry of all parties, the true essence of the album lies in the more soulful, reflective selections that come towards the middle. “L.A. Blues” delivers exactly what the title suggests, combining slinky G-Funk synths with a down-home bass guitar for a track that would be equally at home bumping out of the trunk of an Impala or a Deville. It’s the perfect canvas for SAS, Tri-State, and an inspired Planet Asia to paint vivid verbal still lifes of their home town. “On My Job” is best described as intellectual trap music, with the MCs taking turns offering wary reflections on life on the grind atop futuristic keyboards.

Despite consistent quality and sonic variation, the album begins to bog down, ultimately for the same reason previous SAS projects have – namely the inability to consistently translate stellar emceeing, even over dope beats into full fledged songs. On “PREMIUM,” ferocious verses over a dizzying track are undermined by a tepidly generic hook. It’s a pattern that appears too often throughout the project, leading to songs that don’t quite live up to the sum of their parts–and an album that doesn’t quite live up to the sum of its songs.

Still, Stereotype succeeds in melding styles seamlessly, and delivering enough synergy to help each one of the acts involved broaden its audience. And, when the beats and lyrics meet equally polished song structure, like on the reflective pimpology of “Through the Motions,” the results will bump on any type of stereo.

-Jeff Harvey

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