Stones Throw - 2003 - 48 minutes

Stones Throw have become one of hip-hop's few quality marques, with a roster of top-notch talent operating in the soulful, leftfield end of the genre. As the man behind Lootpack, Quasimoto and his own excellent solo projects, Madlib is one of Stones Throw's leading lights. 'Champion Sound' sees him team up with Jay Dee (or J Dilla) another production star of similar stature. This duo take turns providing the music on alternate tracks and they also share microphone duties throughout.

Although the styles might differ, the core is the same - jazzy vibes with an eccentric sensibility. The freakiness kicks in with slowed-down voices and sci-fi FX of intro track 'LA to Detroit', and doesn't let up for the rest of the album.

Madlib provides the first highpoint on the title track, where an unpromising drum loop is soon joined by incredibly weird vocal sample. The effect is not unlike RZA's histrionic spaghetti western tributes on the 'Kill Bill' soundtrack.

Jay Dee counters immediately with the stupendous 'The Red', a piano-driven beat so naggingly insistent that it'll be playing in your brain for weeks on end. 'Raw S**t' has a vocal appearance from the superb Talib Kweli, providing welcome relief from the stoned ramblings of the producers, who rarely manage an impressive flow or a memorable turn of phrase.

No, 'Champion Sound' is all about the quality beats, with Bollywood insanity on 'Survival Test', helium-fuelled vocal snippets floating through 'Starz' and 'React' and inescapably funky drum patterns all over. Some tracks might rely too heavily on one idea, but this is still a superior collection of blunted hip-hop.

Luke McManus

Tracklisting: LA to Detroit - McNasty Filth - Nowadayz - Champion Sound - The Red - Heavy - Raw S**T - The Official - The Heist - The Mission - React - Strapped - Strip Club - The Exclusive - Survival Test - Starz - No Games