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Jivin Scientists/Defacedproperty: Autumn (Strapped for Cash)

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If this album is any evidence, Tucson's hip-hop underground is thriving. These 16 tracks are the result of a collaboration by MC Runt (aka James Owens, of Jivin Scientists) and producer Defacedproperty.

Throughout, Autumn is a refreshing blend of influences from Wu-Tang to Gang Starr to Rakim. More often than not, Runt proves a master of the fresh couplet while building compelling narratives. His laid-back flow—sort of a cross between the styles of the late Guru and Blackalicious' Gift of Gab—is surprisingly arresting.

The title track is something of a manifesto on which he raps, "I'm so alone / so I share with you /congratulations, you're a member of the JS crew," during which he posits that at 25 years old, he's a "pessimistic man searching for an optimistic view."

Runt's proclamation "Mo' money, mo' problems, my ass," on the third track, "Rock Bottom" (featuring Brad B.), is an indication that he's not ashamed to wrestle with mundane themes endured by "a regular dude." For Runt, life is not about bling and bitches; he laments bank overdraft charges and scrounges for $1.50 for a cup of coffee on "Money in the Bank."

This MC's touching and non-sexist attitude toward romance is in evidence on the smooth, soulful "Love and Affection," which describes the perfect date; the flip side is "Not Tonight," the diary of a booty call that implies we're all adults here.

To accompany the versatile rhymes, Defacedproperty assembles sophisticated tracks from window-rattling bass thumps and unusual samples, such as swooping string sections, drawing-room piano riffs, female folk singers and delicately plucked jazz guitars.

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