Height: Baltimore Highlands (Height With Friends)
Baltimore rapper Dan "Height" Keech's three previous solo albums weren't totally devoid of collaborations, but his latest, Baltimore Highlands, is the first to be credited to "Height With Friends." That subtle difference in the billing shifts the focus to exactly who those friends are: the revolving production lineup is led by longtime partner in rhyme Mickey Free (formerly known as rapper Bow 'N Arrow), but also features more unexpected appearances, including local indie rock duo Wye Oak.
The varied supporting cast is key, because Height himself can be consistent to a fault. His always uncomplicated flow has become even more straightforward: on Baltimore Highlands, he spits out syllables in slow, forceful quarter notes, sometimes letting the last word of each line echo out, in a style that seems to owe more to Run-DMC than any contemporary MC. He also gets his Thoreau on with a myriad of nature- oriented lyrics, and it's a little disappointing to find nothing on the album as reflective and personal as "Hanging Out Late All Alone" from 2007's Winterize the Game. And yet, his verses sound custom made for each track, with unique cadences that dart in and out of the beat.
Like past Height albums, Baltimore Highlands clocks in at under a half hour, and each of its 12 tracks breeze by, briefly establishing an intriguing new sound before making way for a new one. PT Burnem's offbeat beatbox loop and guitar stabs make "The Woods" an immediate standout, while Mickey Free's giddy, glittering backdrop for "Code of Love" results in the album's biggest shock: a radio-friendly Height song.