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SMOD: SMOD 

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While he was producing Amadou & Mariam's brilliant Dimanche à Bamakoem> (2005), Manu Chao got to meet Sam, the son of the legendary Malian couple. He was part of an up-and-coming hip-hop quartet named after the members' initials (Sam, Mouzy, Ousco, and Donsky). After Mouzy left for France in 2001, the band retained its name and now, under Chao's guidance, has released a solid debut that mixes folk, rap, West African guitar styles, and Chao's trademark reggae bass lines. Yes, the band sounds like a Chao record, but it is also true that Chao owes much of his own sound to Africa. The matching is perfect, and SMOD's power goes beyond that of a simply enjoyable album — the trio should be mandatory listening for the hordes of new rappers who keep on rhyming about bullshit. This is an intelligent, politically charged album with one-note melodies that avoid monotony and always find surprising turns. "We had been listening to … Snoop Dogg, Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., but although we loved the flow we didn't get the context," Ousco told England's The Telegraph. "We thought we'd speak for African people instead." You don't speak French? No problem. This album will hook you regardless.

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