The Return of Jack Splash
Record label: Counterflow Recordings
Format: 2xLP/CD
Vinyl release date: 9 Novemeber 2004
CD release date: 23 November 2004

Not like it's a trend or anything, but there are a number of figures in hip-hop that are prone to turn on a dime and come out with some other ish altogether. Most notable would probably be André 3000 with The Love Below and two solo efforts from Rev. Cee-Lo Green. And you can't rule out Mos Def whenever he rocks out with Black Jack Johnson. Such is the case with Panda One, a hip-hop producer responsible for some impressive efforts quietly released on the small but mighty Counterflow Recordings label. Plant Life shows off a different side of him, teaming up with the velvet falsetto of vocalist Jack Splash to create some past/present/future pop music. Seventies funk and soul largely comprise the musical makeup of the tunes, but a hip-hop swagger somewhere between a b-boy stance and a baller are never far behind. Check the freaky G-Funk playa soundtrack that is "We Can Get High" (although the drug isn't what you would expect) or "Two Beautiful Souls in a Crazy World..." The pace quickly changes, however: shades of Jamiroquai infiltrate the disco stomp of "Stardancer" while "Precious Heart" is reminiscent of early '80s Prince. Plant Life is just as comfortable putting their spin on a slow jam ("If I Wuz Ur Man") as they are crafting intergalactic dance beats for the new millennium ("Underwaterluvboogie (Deep Blue)").

As diverse and likeable as Plant Life is, those that have voted thumbs down usually mention something about Jack Splash's voice. I won't lie: his vocals are an acquired taste. Much like Macy Gray, the voice will either intrigue you or repel you. For those that choose to stick around, the payoff is well worth it, especially with such strong material like "Bottle of Hope (Save the World)," "Why'd U Call Me? (3am)," and "Luv 4 the World (Why They Gotta Hate?)." Still, the blueprint for the perfect past/present/future pop song is found in "When She Smiles She Lights the Sky," three minutes of psychedelic soul more vibrant than the Aurora Borealis. This group hasn't been dubbed "the underground Outkast" for nothing. Whatever you do, don't sleep on Plant Life.

{chloe knuckles}

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