Listen hard! The message isn't spoken

Asheru and Blue Black of Unspoken Heard

 48 Months (7Heads Recordings)

From 1996 to 2000 was an interesting time for hip-hop music. Commercially the art form was beginning to reach a new high. Sean "Puffy" Combs had almost single-handedly reinvented the marketing game. A supposed hip-hop war between east coast and west coast artists was fueled by the media. In the middle of it all, two of the most revered MC's, Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace (Notorious B.I.G.), were violently murdered.

While controversy and violence dominated the mainstream hip-hop press, the hip-hop underground was steadily growing. Charlottesville had its own scene brewing around the same time, and at the forefront were UVA students Asheru and Blue Black of the Unspoken Heard.

In 2001, the duo released the album Soon Come... to critical acclaim. For many fans, the group was a necessary throwback to a period in hip hop where fun and social consciousness were the focus. They were, in fact, representative of a large collective of MC's and producers whose influences come from the jazzier, relaxed side of hip hop popularized in the early '90s by Native Tongues, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, and Digable Planets.

You can hear bits and pieces of all of the above on Asheru and Blue Black's latest release, 48 Months. The title refers to the four-year span from 1996 to 2000 leading up to their Soon Come... debut. The album includes tracks previously released only on 12" vinyl, as well as a few remixes and select tracks from Soon Come... .

All in all, the album is an enjoyable listen. It truly represents the spirit of a hip-hop community. The music is inviting and the lyrics are positive and insightful. This is the kind of hip hop a parent would not be opposed to buying for a child.

"Setting Sun" and "Dream Birth" both got multiple listens from me. "The Music" and "Black Moses," a cut from Asheru's upcoming solo album, also grabbed my attention. I felt myself drifting back in time as I listened to the songs again and again. At the same time, I felt a sense of moving forward. Although many of the songs are older, they still feel fresh.

Every now and again I run into Blue Black on the Corner (he graduated and now works for UVA). He no longer tours with Asheru , but in his heart he is all hip hop. He believes the music is bigger than the drugs, guns, sex, and money played on TV. There's something deeper being said in the music... something unspoken, but definitely heard.