Aceyalone seems to work best with a collaborator. His best album to date as a solo artist is 1998's A Book of Human Language, a jazz-like excursion with L.A. producer Mumbles. Magnificent City, a new album made in tandem with acclaimed sound auteur RJD2 (who released the indie hip-hop hit Deadringer in 2002), is his most consistent work since that previous artistic peak.
Most hip-hop fans aren't aware of who Aceyalone is. As a member of Freestyle Fellowship in the '90s, the Los Angeles MC helped create many of the rapid-fire linguistic idioms that Bone Thugs-N-Harmony arguably adopted and, subsequently, filtered through much of early Southern rap. His solo output has been inspired but inconsistent; like many underground artists, he often sounds torn between making head-nodding beats that will increase his fan base and scoring thematically complex art with little regard for commercial appeal.
RJD2's presence ensures an audience for Magnificent City. Still, it isn't until midway through the album that Aceyalone settles into a groove. The first half finds him cranking out freestyle boasts: "My technique speaks heat like no other," he raps on "Fire" over a bubbly disco beat. The second half is more interesting, as the topics expand to include grizzled OGs ("Solomon Jones"), "Heaven," and metaphysical mind expansion ("A Beautiful Mine"). Amid Aceyalone's winding and long elocutions, RJD2 provides a steady hand.