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The Ringleader: Mixtape Volume III

  • reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jun
The Ringleader: Mixtape Volume III
Sounds like … a fresh, seamless Friday-night hip-hop and R&B radio extravaganza, featuring some of the most respected, as well as some independent, names in these genresAt a Glance … aggressive and party-vibey, this is easily Maj's most cohesive mixtape to date

The intro to DJ Maj's first mixtape for Gotee Records had the turntablist polling people on the streets and asking them the all-too-simple question, "do you know what a mixtape is?" To his chagrin, few people knew the answer, which prompted him to take it upon himself to educate the masses, at least those within the confines of Christian music, as to what the concept behind the mixtape was and its relation to hip-hop and R&B. Unfortunately, his first two outings failed to really catch on with urban music enthusiasts and were but a ripple in terms of recognition and sales, never quite reaching—as that same intro boldly proclaimed—"planet Earth and all surrounding galaxies in this here universe."

So what's a mixtape, really? It's basically a compilation of rap and R&B songs of similar bpm's (beats-per-minute) that get mixed into one continuous, extended-play mix. The advantage of creating this "long song" is to provide uninterrupted moments of fun, dance, and part-ay to those listening to the mix, thus avoiding the hassle of changing discs in order to blast the next hot track in the set list. Oftentimes the songs are also re-mixed and given a different treatment in order to provide a more danceable flavor to tracks that otherwise would've sounded not-too-hot on the dance floor.

In this fashion, DJ Maj serves up The Ringleader, a healthy combination of remixes, exclusive new tracks, and a couple of songs featuring unsigned and up-and-coming talent. Unlike his two other mixtapes—which I wouldn't consider too fun or danceable by any stretch of the imagination—this new collection, save for some minor missteps, is for the most part infectious and right on the money, and the party vibe permeating the songs is undeniable.

While the two spoken word intros aren't what I'd call the best opening to the album—and they're quite likely to be skipped after successive listens to the album—Maj decides to give appropriate props to the Father in the title track and lead-off single, performed by Lisa Kimmey of Out of Eden. This song is fairly uncomplicated R&B/pop fare that, more than sounding like an exclusive composition directly tailored for the mixtape, sounds like a simple This Is Your Life outtake and has nothing too interesting to offer lyrically or musically, except for some spatial samples that seem to come straight from The Jetsons.

"What You Want," by the always revered 4th Avenue Jones, is up next, and its operatic voice and chamber violin samples are perfectly counterbalanced by its almost live drum beat. This smooth progressive hip-hop track makes me even more impatient for their ever-so-slightly delayed No Plan B debut, slated to release (supposedly) late this summer. Speaking of delays, L.A. Symphony and DJ Maj don't allow the bpm's to slow down one bit on "Never Heard Before," a fun, quirky, synthed-up track that features a one-fingered toy piano sample with rhymes that can't get any sillier: "Breathe easy … the huffin' and puffin' make your flow sound sleazy." That's the mighty LAS for you.

In keeping with the rhythmic pattern of the previous song, the Awlboard remix of toby Mac's "J Train" follows, and I particularly find this version much more bearable and urban than the original, despite Maj's retention of Toby's annoying "wha-wha"s, which he could've cut out for a less irritable listening experience. Right after this, we're treated to a somewhat funny skit/interlude about, ahem, groupies and overly fanatical fans, which in reality isn't a necessary addition to the album and was most likely included to accommodate the pacing of the next song, which is a blazin' remix of "Ooh Ahh" by GRITS, this time boasting a body-shakin' dancehall reggae beat that is undoubtedly superior to the lackluster pop sheen of the original.

Other notable tracks are the contributions by Sev Statik (the brilliant "All for a Purpose"), which is virtually a verbatim replica of the version on his album Speak Life; the apologetic, in spots reggaeishly offbeat "God Music," featuring the equally lighthearted Pigeon John and John Reuben; the bouncy, slightly N.E.R.D.-y "Number 1 Contender" by independent cats Camp Quest; and the two soulful numbers "Under Pressure" and "A Friend," performed by crooners Antonio Phelon and Jason Eskridge, respectively, and both highly similar to something Blackstreet or Dru Hill would do.

Though some of the short interludes and "_______ Speaks" bits are ineffective and somewhat abundant, they don't detract from the overall value of this mixtape. Sure, if DJ Maj would've wanted to go all out and make it an exceptional, true-to-form mixtape, he could've interspersed a couple of freestyles to add to the hotness of the material already presented here. But with Maj, the growth and progress shown in his mixtapes has been gradual and progressive, and, for this reason, The Ringleader is simply the natural next step for this Christian DJ in the upward echelon of turntablism.