20 years later, Us3 still got it
Us3⎪The Third Way (Hand on the Torch, Vol. II)⎪Us3.com ⎪⎪ US Release Date: October 14, 2013
Of latest album The Third Way, Us3 co-founder and bandleader Geoff Wilkinson calls it “the follow up album I never made at the time [of Hand on the Torch]. Throughout The Third Way, Us3 keep the hooks simple and the grooves infectious. The formula is patterned after the band’s platinum-certified debut, once more drawing jazz classics as it’s basis (interpolations). The results? A fine jazz-rap sequel to the original, arriving 20 years after the first. KCB, Tukka, and Akil Dasan rule the rhyming roost here, definitely doing the game justice.
“Never Go Back” (featuring KCB & Tukka) opens The Third Way exceptionally, lifting from Dizzy Gillespie’s classic “Manteca” as its backdrop. Old-school but incredibly hip, “Never Go Back” takes you back to Us3’s “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” days, sigh. Solid production and a fantastic, simplistic hook make the opener a winner. The dusty-sounding beat anchors the rhythmic pianist hits perfectly on “Be Bop Thing”. The rhymes are agile and continue to embrace that ‘throwback’ vibe. Why should the enjoyable, swinging “Be Bop” have it any other way? “Gotta Get My Hustle On” definitely ‘gets its shine on’, with its infectious Latin groove and Tukka’s reggae-rhymed contributions. Akil Dasan’s none too shabby here himself, providing a welcome contrast to his colleague.
On “I Want One Of Those” (featuring Akil Dasan), the prominence of a the walking bass line truly shapes the overall production. That’s not the sole highlight mind you; Akil Dasan continues to allure lyrically. “Keep Your Head Right (Keep Your Fist Tight)” is undeniably delicious, thanks to its ‘funkifized’ soul-jazz groove while “The Out Crowd” is really ‘in’ considering it just happens to sample notable jazz cut “The In Crowd” (Ramsey Lewis). “Wha’ G’wan” allows for Tukka to flex his reggae muscles once more, painting his rhymes over replayed elements of Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder”. Pretty awesome if you ask me.
“Beautiful” is certainly more chivalrous than most rap of 2013, eschewing the overindulgent sexual references that characterize the more hardcore extreme of the genre. Old school is well at work here, though the synthesized bass line is very much relevant for 2013. “Dance With Me” gives the effort another Latin-jazz based number, incredibly suited given the title and theme of the number. “What Would You Do?” definitely stands out not only because of the superb, thoughtful production, but also because of how superbly the MC’s deliver their respective verses. KCB, Tukka, and Akil Dasan are truly electrifying here, perhaps more so than other performances from The Third Way.
Horace Silver provides the perfect inspiration on “Are You Nuts” with elements of his classic “Nutville” working full force. Maybe KCB speaks of aloofness (“you’re out of touch / what are you nuts?”), but there’s nothing “nuts” here, just excellence. “If You’ve Got It Flaunt It” is a bit less satisfying in my eyes. It’s interesting, but I’m not sure that the Duke Ellington lifting cut (“It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”) is as consistent as the rest. The nonsensical portions from the original may just be slightly too corny. “I’m Goin’ (Come Along)” is certainly an interesting penultimate cut, certainly feeling much more modern in sound than the majority. It still has its ‘foot in the door’, but it also has ‘swag’. “You’ll Never Come Close” (featuring KCB) closes The Third Way on a ‘high note’ – or rather a head-nodding groove and some sick-sounding horns.
Ultimately, The Third Way is an album that should definitely be receiving more attention. Sure once more attaining the success of that an experimental effort from the 1990s attained is a tall task (and highly unlikely), but what isn’t too tall or unattainable is critical praise and success. Personally, I find Us3’s jazz-rap endeavors to still be incredible captivating, 20 years later.