Self-Titled – Ill Mondo / Neal Rames

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As saturated as the hip-hop music scene has become, it’s always reassuring when a crew can show up and make heads take notice based solely on the verbal spit and production grit.

Bubbling up from beneath the surface, Bay Area 51 invades the landscape again with the certified dope: production duo Ill Mondo and MC Neal Rames. Their debut release takes no prisoners right from “The Jump Off,” the album’s opener. It’s an amalgamation of deep crates, dusty fingers, and confident wordplay that may stun you upon first listen. Guest appearances are minimal, allowing the main attraction to show and prove that they can carry a full-length.

Neal Rames holds his own flawlessly alongside microphone rippers Percee P, Prince Po, and Sean Price; clearly he’s been honing his craft for more than a minute. Ill Mondo’s backing track for “Natalie Moore” could pass for an outtake from a blaxploitation soundtrack, an ideal setting for Neal to drop tragic tales of urban decay. The halftime stutter step of “Gold Rush” makes great use of jazzy undertones that adorn an infectious bounce. Also take note of “Pops Past,” a poignant search for identity in the wake of a father’s passing. There’s always one album each year that completely catches you off-guard and ends up being one of your favorites. Ill Mondo and Neal Rames could claim that distinction for 2009.