If you don't go to a lot of hiphop shows in Eugene, chances are good you've never heard of Animal Farm. If you do happen to frequent the college town's rap scene, though, you're probably very familiar with the quartet of emcees that bears that moniker. Rightly so. They've opened up for just about every major rap act to pass through the last two-plus years. Although the group is largely unknown to our fair city, their debut release, er... The Unknown, aims to bring them to the forefront of the Portland and larger Northwest scene.

Animal Farm is a collective of four emcees: Hanif WondiR (brother of Northwest favorite Karim of the Boom Bap Project), Fury, Gen.Erik, and KWils. The four generously share the mic with each other throughout the course of The Unknown and Gen.Erik himself handles the majority of the beat production. Although the emcees do their part to shine lyrically, the musical foundation Gen.Erik provides is one of the biggest highlights of the album. Sampling adeptly from many genres and sources, Gen.Erik, known in the Oregon hiphop community primarily for his punchline-laced rap verses, makes a name for himself here as one of the best producers from our state. The only fault you can really find is in the sheer diversity of the tracks he brings to the table on The Unknown. "Ragtime Gal" is a bouncy 1920s throwback, while two tracks later "War" would not raise any eyebrows were it to appear on the next Grayskul album. The track the crew is really pushing as the single is "Peace," a solid song featuring the legendary KRS-One.

Beats aside, Animal Farm is a group that is trying to establish itself as lyrically dominant. While I would call the poetic output on this release hit and miss, the majority of songs feature strong performances by all the emcees. Fury, formerly of the group SoundProof (a duo with fellow Animal Farmer Hanif), delivers the most memorable vocals of all with a slick voice and fiery cadence that fits his chosen name. Gen.Erik and KWils also serve well-constructed rhymes over the beat pastiche, particularly on the forceful album-opener, "We Came to Rock." With four emcees trading off so regularly on the flows it can sometimes become hard for the listener to distinguish one from another but, since all four are talented, it's not much of a bone of contention. That said, there are brief moments of disharmony on the album, notably on a few sing-songy hooks that fall a bit short of the melodic bar set by groups like the Chicharones.

All in all, The Unknown is a solid debut effort for this group from Eugene. Animal Farm is attempting to remind listeners of what it calls "true-school hiphop," a style that pays homage to the roots of the culture and mostly succeeds in so doing. With an effort like this out of the gate, it's a fair bet that these four emcees won't be unknown for long.