Four or five years back, the Definitive Jux label was to underground hip-hop as Dischord Records was to post-punk throughout much of the 1990s: it couldn't release a bad album to save its life. Now, with Year of the Beast, the second full-length from newly hyped emcee C-Rayz Walz, Def Jux seems to have finally stopped drifting. Energetic, hugely intense, lyrically creative and literally gurgling with heavy beats you can feel deep in your gut, Beast is everything an album from a proper Jukie should be: completely original, occasionally furious and intellectually sharp.
Which isn't to say that Walz can quite compete with legendary label mates like Cannibal Ox, or even label owner El-P, who helps transform the lyrically tongue-twisting "First Words Worse" into one of the album's sickest tracks. But as a recent addition to one of underground hip-hop's bravest and most challenging line-ups, Walz easily fits like a round peg in a round hole. Recommended.