Some say Motown Records, one of the most important soul labels in music history, may have overstepped its boundaries by entering the rugged world of hip hop. They argue that making ol’ school R&B is one thing, but getting a rap song played on “106 & Park” is something totally different. But Berry Gordy‘s baby is giving it a go. The Detroit-based imprint shot a blank with Queen Pen last year, but has more than made up for with Anthony Cruz, an underrated but still confident veteran MC from Brooklyn.

Unfairly lost in the shadows of more renowned Rotten Apple skyscrapers like Nas, Cam’ron and Noreaga, AZ has never seen his commercial acclaim match his critical fame. And that’s just unbelievable. Dude’s flow is smoother than Barry Bonds‘ swing. His machismo is matched only by Hov‘s. And the production on his is albums is usually more sizzle than fizzle.

So why all of the hate then? Studio inconsistency has always been a problem for AZ–even on last year’s 9 Lives. His latest, Aziatic, while loaded with enough R&B samples to make Tom Joyner jealous, is a tad shaky. “Essence,” a ridiculously groovy track featuring Nas, and “Hands In The Air,” a fun, free-flowing party joint, can only be experienced after first enduring the annoying “Take It Off.” Another busy cut is “Take Care Of Me.” But, again, it’s backed by two marvelous tracks– “Hustler” and the bangin’ nod to the 70’s, “I’m Back.” While you’ll undoubtedly enjoy this slick journey back to the times of Curtis Mayfield and Pam Grier, you may not be able to shake the fact that AZ occasionally goes MTV with a few poppy songs. That’s all small change though because this album is pretty hot. That the legendary Motown may have fixed its problem with finding good hip hop, defying most industry predictions, is even hotter.