Tasteful teamwork on 3rd Dimension's 'Merch' mixtape

The Madison hip-hop crew plays Friday at the Inferno.

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Madison crew 3rd Dimension, who play Friday's all-Wisconsin hip-hop show at the Inferno, released their third mixtape, 'Merch,' in January (free download via DatPiff). It's certainly the work of a younger act that's still working toward a voice of its own, but all in all it has a feeling of promise, thanks to the kinetic group dynamic among 3rd Dimension's four MCs. Like Sincere Life, who's also playing the Inferno show, 3rd Dimension makes a virtue of switching up moods and tempos easily, from the hard-work-big-dreams themes of opener "Most Of All" to the conflicted romance of "Not A Love Song." Skip to "The Coldest" for a good idea of how rappers Probz, Spaz, Rico, HalfBreed play off one another: The first verse (I'm new to the group so I'm not going to even pretend I know who does which verse) is tricky, fast, packed with little internal rhymes; the second slow and cocky; the third comfortably in-between; the fourth conversational and almost playful. (That last guy often raps with an upbeat, Souls of Mischief kind of style that at times offsets the other members in just the right way and at other times is a tad obtrusive.)

On other tracks, including "High Knees," the MCs match up their pacing and delivery a bit more, but in any case 3rd Dimension is accurately advertised as a group-focused effort. The mixtape has only a few guest verses from outside the group, and fifth crew member Burn$ampson produces all 14 tracks. And Burn$ampson's work keeps up admirably with the MCs' varying styles and influences. "I'm Good" (for which the group is working on a video) uses a disembodied, auto-tuned vocal sample to an effect that's somewhere between Clams Casino and "Yeezus"/"My Name Is My Name"-era Kanye. "I Love It" centers on a piano sample but really lets it breathe, keeping its melodic flow instead of taking the always tempting approach of chopping it up into staccato bursts. On "That Shit," the production is all mellow, hazy, glittery funk.

'Merch' has its weaker moments, like "Money In The Street" and "All I Know," which aren't even bad songs but just don't suit the group's eclectic, ambitious persona as well as some of the other tracks. Then again, even the lesser tracks feel energetic, and this wouldn't be the first mixtape to have its ups and downs. All in all, it's a likable, well-rounded effort, more like a proper album than a mixtape, and it suggests that 3rd Dimension is skilled and self-possessed enough to keep getting better in the future.

3rd Dimension is also scheduled to play the Madison Hip Hop Festival on March 28 at The Sett.