A product of the Dame Dash-helmed Manhattan DD172 scene, Ski Beatz’ 24 Hour Karate School is, at this point, long overdue. The idea was once a simple one: a compilation with all of the artists that frequent the downtown New York City spot (Curren$y, Jay Electronica, Mos Def, Jean Grae, Stalley, and others), making it a sort of independent Detox. And like Dr. Dre’s oft-delayed project, 24HKS suffered its share of delays and push-backs.
All of which is to say that when it finally hit stores, fans had the right to expect a completed, polished product. Which they didn’t get. One of the LP’s supposed-to-be stars, the aforementioned Mos Def (who had two solo songs and a separate verse originally planned) is completely missing, with his cuts tagged on at the end, stripped nude to their instrumental frames. And, doubly unfortunate, is the fact that the album simply couldn’t afford to lose two full songs; it sat at 12 songs and just under 40 minutes to begin with.
But let’s not waste any more ink on opportunities missed, because, even in its stripped-down state, 24 Hour Karate School succeeds in ways many producer-controlled albums don’t. Somehow, Ski resisted the urge to string a line of posse cuts together, and the result is a comfortable listen and a slew of songs featuring artists under ideal circumstances. He positions Curren$y—once with Smoke DZA, and once with Wiz Khalifa—over the same types of fluttery, laid-back production he filled Spitta’s Pilot Talk with; on “Do It Big,” The Cool Kids rock out with Stalley above a minimal, drum-heavy beat not unlike those found on any and every one of the duo’s mixtapes; and on “Prowler 2” , in-your-face heat spitters Jean Grae, Joell Ortiz and Jay Electronica are given a Rock-driven, guitar-sampling soundscape to deliver their hard-hitting punchlines over (with Mos’ anchor verse removed, Jay Elect sounds unusually tiny next to monstrous appearances from Jean and Joell). Jim Jones also makes an expected appearance—alongside the aforementioned and seemingly-omnipresent Curren$y—sounding completely at ease rapping about fighting and cash and chicks and weed and the like.
Yet Ski’s even better as a producer than he is an executive producer, and finding the talent to match his goods isn’t always painless. He samples The Black Keys on “I Got Mines”, but of the guests—Tabi Bonney, Ras Kass and Stalley—only the second of the three brings the energy needed to keep up with the background noise. Elsewhere, the album’s production—layers of guitars and horns and synths that are seemingly handcrafted for whomever is rapping on them—holds up great, at times even taking to the forefront and showing up whichever emcee is present at the wrong moment.
So, top-notch EP or under-developed LP? Maybe both, but there’s at least something enjoyable here for fans who’ve been waiting impatiently for this project to drop. And in the Internet Age, a few mouse clicks can help listeners find the last two tracks—“Cream Of The Planet” and “Taxi” —in their Mos Def-filled glory, at which point iTunes tracklists may be adjusted accordingly. But if it does nothing else, 24 Hour Karate School takes a solid roster of artists and dispenses them through 10 songs that sinuously flow one after the next. Maybe the lesson here is that simplicity and brevity are the keys to putting together a well-anticipated, feature-filled album and getting it into the ears of the masses. Someone get Dre on the line.