Nicolay & Kay: Time:Line 

As the 1990s post-grunge era was usurped by boy bands and Britney, it seemed for a while that hip-hop might be music's only hope. Evidently, the hip-hop bubble has burst. From 2005 to 2006, hip-hop/rap sales collapsed an alarming 21 percent. In fact, no hip-hop/rap album was among the top 10 sellers of the year for the first time in 12 years.

In a commercially-woven "rap-estry" fixated on bejeweled, Bentley-driving blingsters with more money than sense, the genre has—in large part—become more a celebration of bombastic cliche than a collective of sublime creativity. Where NWA and Public Enemy painted groundbreaking pictures of an urban reality as yet unseen, today's pseudo-poets do little more than glamorize it for personal gain or product spin-offs. Whew. I could use a Vitamin Water.

But perhaps not all hope is lost. There is a largely unreported, parallel universe in hip-hop that does occasionally render a glimmer of hope. Living in this altered state are Dutch producer Nicolay and Houston-based MC Kay Jackson. Their collaboration Time:Line charts a semi-autobiographical character arch from life, to death and there-after.

Demonstrating a deft—if not sometimes heavy—hand for blending samples with live instruments, Nicolay lays a rich, musical foundation for Kay's lyrical rhymes. Kay's tone and cadence are at once fluid and assertive without being abrasive; his lyrics are personal and vivid, but not above humor and self-deprecation. They aren't necessarily breaking any new ground with Time:Line, but what they have assembled is a competent, heartfelt collection that flows easily from start to finish. Some of the usual references to urban violence, racial profiling and an affinity for the female species are evident, but none of it plays as gratuitous or bawdy and is buoyantly buoyed by Nicolay's eclectic layers of organic and borrowed beats.

In the end, Time:Line probably won't save music. It does, however, add a voice to those in the genre aspiring to creativity rather than Cristal.

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