Psalm One

Except for Val Kilmer and his crafty misfit cronies in Real Genius, you've probably surmised by now that chemist types are socially awkward stiffs with strange laughs and even stranger diets. In her previous life, Chicago's Psalm One might have been tagged with this stereotype. But scientists-turned-hip-hop-MCs are a quizzical rarity, and it's a bonus if they're foulmouthed scrappers. Psalm One's flow is riddled with vicious insults on The Death of Frequent Flyer, and when she isn't expertly brandishing intolerance of female MCs with daggerlike precision on "Rapper Girls," she's shouting all over dry, clapping breaks alongside a welcome guest spot from Brother Ali on "Standby." Though the single "Rap Star" boasts Chi-Town producer Maker's dizzying stitchwork in a light Middle Eastern melody and room-rug-drum-circle beats, Psalm is at her most comfortable: cheeky and hyperactive, as if squirming through her science class, or bored witless at her science job.

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Dominic Umile