Eyedea & Abilities, By the Throat (Rhymesayers)

Tipping the balance while racing ahead
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Five years ago, Minnesota-based MC and DJ duo Eyedea & Abilities showed off the full potential of their equally prodigious battle skills on E&A. Lifting off from a foundation in hip-hop's golden age, the pair balanced its combustible tendencies by playing with ricochets between Eyedea's fiercely rhythmic rhymes and Abilities' impressive turntablist tactics.

But the intervening half-decade seems to have brought both to a darker place. Eyedea & Abilities' return, By the Throat, finds their sound tipped heavily toward Eyedea's side of the pair's complex equation. It's still an extremely impressive effort built around complex wordplay and heavier, guitar-draped beats. But this time out, Abilities' contributions seem more static. He helmed the creation of fitting backdrops for his partner's forcefully dark lyrics, but his presence on the disc is far less immediate.

It's the exact opposite for Eyedea. On cuts such as opener "Hay Fever" and "Sky Diver," he opens up on himself with the same lack of mercy he shows targets in tracks such as "Time Flies When You Have a Gun." And his vocal arrangements are as varied as the drum tracks backing him. Few MCs can match Eyedea's fire and knack for making unexpected verbal arrangements fit just so, and Abilities is no less adventurous in his production. These two are still leaps ahead of the hip-hop pack, but it doesn't quite sound like they're in perfect step with each other anymore. [3.5 out of 5 stars]