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  • Shortly following his full-length collaboration with Detroit-born MC Denmark Vessey, Texas-based producer Gensu Dean released R.A.W. (Refined Alkaline Water), a solo album featuring appearances by a dozen guest vocalists. Dean may be unknown to most, but he's been active since the '90s -- he co-produced the sole album by David Banner's early group Crooked Lettaz in 1999, and he's worked with Large Professor, CL Smooth, and Guilty Simpson, to name a few. Initially sticking to the standard SP1200 sampler, he's expanded his equipment setup to include other analog gear, but he still keeps true to the golden age method of crate-digging and sample-based construction. His beats are put together smoothly, but they still have a rough, crackly sound to them, and occasionally there are some abstract sounds or offbeat samples flickering throughout. All of the MCs and singers have different personalities and styles, so the tracks vary from raw hustler rap to cheery, shuffling neo-soul, but Dean's sharp production ties them all together into a cohesive listen. Tracks like "Opponents" (with J-Live) and "Blocked by Fears" (featuring Substantial) are good examples of how Dean's production style is detailed and tense yet still relaxed. Georgia Anne Muldrow provides smooth crooning and fast-paced rapping on the lush, tender "Floral Walking," and "Where Is the Love" achieves a similar effect with rapper Homebody Sandman and singer Jeanette Berry backed up by easygoing samba guitar and a goofy horn sample. Gensu Dean constructs paranoid yet optimistic tracks and makes it all sound easy. ~ Paul Simpson
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