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Hip-hop is such a studio-oriented genre that in a live setting it's often reduced to a parade of programmed beats and synchronized arm waving. Mojoe, a local hip-hop/R&B group fronted by MCs Easy Lee and T.R.E., faces the opposite challenge. With its live band instrumental backing and the soulful singing chops of both frontmen, Mojoe is a scintillating live act. The question raised by its debut CD, Classic Ghetto Soul, is whether the group can translate that chemistry to disc.

In a way, Classic dodges the issue, because much of its music was tracked by Mingo Fishtrap's Roger Blevins, before Easy Lee and T.R.E. assembled their current band lineup. Even so, Blevins manages to create a formidable one-man soul groove to rival Mojoe's current live sound. In "True Jewels," the two MCs lay down their manifesto, expressing their desire to reach for the heights of R&B's immortals. In doing so, they separate themselves from peers who are going after short-term rewards: "While you shine/I grind/and that's fine/cuz 20 years from now they bumping mine."

Classic Ghetto Soul
(available at Ingram Mall's Sam Goody, and at
With the group's laid-back Southern soul licks, blue-collar neighborhood snapshots, tales of family solidarity, and indelible chorus hooks, Mojoe often comes off as an artier Nappy Roots. Easy Lee and T.R.E. are such assured singers that if Mojoe decided to concentrate on pure R&B, they could easily pull it off. On the downside, their rhymes occasionally lapse into cliché and the record's flow is broken by some unnecessary interludes (such as "Diva Dedication," which feels compelled to explain what the following, self-explanatory song is all about). But in-the-pocket gems like "Gumbo Groove," "Gold Tooth Diva," and "Voodoo Coochie" suggest that when Easy Lee declares, "I wanna be remembered as a music hero," he might be onto something. •



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