Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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***1/2

THE HARLEM EXPERIMENT
Ropeadope

Philly label plays tribute to Harlem's roots with funk, hip-hop, jazz project

At first, the Harlem Experiment sounds like yet another noble cross-cultural experiment marooned on the shoals of its good intentions. Even session cats as irreverent as Ropeadope asked to sum up Harlem's musical history--one-time Bowie guitarist Carlos Alomar, high-end salseros Eddy Martinez and Ruben Rodriguez, Sex Mob leader Steven Bernstein--can only take the funk-lite-con-cha-cha-cha of the mostly instrumental first half so far. Soon, however, other voices intrude. One cha-cha is a Cab Calloway reefer song with guest vocal by Taj Mahal, and Don Byron insinuates klezmer clarinet into the swinging Andrews Sisters tune "Bei Mir Bist du Schoen." After a trumpet-pumped Malcolm X speech, the project gives way to DJ Mums' poetry slam about a frustrated rapper named Lil' Bit, Queen Esther's superfunk cover of Aretha Franklin's "Think" and the typically well-observed Olu Dara recitation "Walking Through Harlem." As if by magic, the funk-lite reprise of "A Rose in Spanish Harlem" fits right in.

Rolling Stone, Dec. 13, 2007