HIP HOP ROUNDUP
Words: Matt Smith
Phife Dawg, A Tribe Called Quest, 1970-2016.
Camp Lo brighten May’s first Bank Holiday for The Doctor’s Orders, and Jehst is at the same spot a week later with Cappo supporting. Just Blaze and Waka Flocka Flame headline The Jazz Cafe on the second Bank Holiday weekend. Jehst also has a 7” special up for grabs – ‘Reel It In’, with Lee Scott – and joins re-ups of ODB’s ‘Brooklyn Zoo’/’Shimmy Shimmy Ya’ and DOC’s ‘No One Can Do It Better’ as ones to hunt down in the melee of Record Store Day. If your credit limit still has some waggle room, Slum Village’s ‘Fantastic’ is now super deluxe, to the tune of four CDs and five 7”s plus extras. Whether you then turn your attention to Nas’ clothing range crossing over with the Ghostbusters franchise depends on your feelings on ectoplasm and Ray Parker Jr.
Back to Record Store Day splurging, Roots Manuva’s ‘Switching Sides’ EP exhibits the true Hilton Smythe style over bass doing dancefloor deals, some darker than others as part of his burgeoning, unique Cockney underworld. Sleazy F Baby gives it some large as ‘YNIF’ yells ‘bunnnnndle’; ungainly phatness in a hip-hop hullabaloo out of Manchester. The instrumental edition of ‘The Audition’ EP, kicked off with a chunk of The Animals, doesn’t fail Mr Brown, setting in motion fairground carousels and rounds of neck-pinching kick/snare pressure. The Otha Guys’ eponymous LP debuts a trio of mic relays between Wordsmiff FLIP and Spitfire, tag-teaming opposition out the game the old fashioned way. In other words sucka, there is no Otha.
Ash the Author hits you over the head with weighty volume, ‘One Step at a Time’/’Empty Pockets’ leathering beats from The Rubicon Don: both march into battle with game face galore. In one big exhalation, Trim & Nico Lindsay go for ‘Another One’ on cruise control – absolutely silky to the touch. Meanwhile somewhere in another dimension, DJ IQ opens a bubbling black hole so mic valiants Joker Starr, Ramson Badbonez, Sonnyjim and Kashmere can rattle through ‘Space’.
‘Think About April’, asks Greenspan; not an ode to all long-scheming, first of the month jokers, instead a Baltimore soul provider of deft relationship lyricism, repeating the pure focus on the bumping ‘Secret Life of Purp’. ‘Alwasta’ is a very necessary free download from Glastonbury-bound Oddisee, a seven-up of appealing soulful book-to-street smarts rationing – ‘Lifting Shadows’ in particular, deserves to be the new anchor of the Black CNN.
Hip-hop’s new eye of the tiger is J Manifesto, ‘So Live’ going for his over hurried strings and a surefire hook from Cindy Rose. The Beat Ventriloquists show who’s in charge with an utter headlock of a remix for E Reece’s hot ‘The Owner’ zoning in on industry small print. Over what can only be described as tropical trap, Sir Michael Rocks brings the streets to the luau on the peculiarly addictive ‘How Are You So Calm’, Akrobatik & M-Dot call shotgun and ‘Migrate’ to a tight schedule, and Phesto & Izrell keep their heads while all around are losing theirs: ‘Guillotine Music’ lets fly with half a dozen lashes.
Resurrected almost as a forensic operation, J Dilla’s ‘The Diary’ is brought back from a Detroit heyday. A lost LP from 2002, the signature clip-clop of puckered funk never goes missing, featuring previous single ‘Fuck the Police’, and an all-star guestlist on the mic and boards that just know. In places it’s short of his best work (namely, a remix of Gary Numan’s ‘Cars’ called…’Trucks’), but tell that to the legion of Dilla completists and disciples. Also, it’s another Record Store Day one to watch.
Offwhyte impressively fights his corner with his West Coast ‘Dialogue’, a scrapper rolling with a willing ally in producer Open i. It’s all about delivery: what you see is what you get, squeezing the life out of a mic as if it’s nothing, and never caught lagging (actually there’s no time to given the half hour running time). On all counts of beats, rhymes and vibe, ‘Dialogue’ deserves being shouted about.
Never one to miss the target and giving fewer fucks than ever before, J-Zone’s latest swipe at the industry is the funny fact-telling of ‘Fish n Grits’. Dripping in home truths from his home-schooled funk soapbox, disillusionment with hip-hop and its cultural hangers-on (there’ll always be something that’ll get his goat) has never been more entertaining. Give the man an empty room and he’ll make it funky while humiliating it. One of J-Zone’s leading Old Maid hitmen, Al-Shid, drops his ‘Best Of’ that’s always on the offensive. A parade of clear-cut punchlines and putdowns over a range of chopstick, spring-loaded funk, the 19-strong comp’s wicked sense of humour shoots the place up and turns asses to Swiss cheese.
Classic Goodfellas sampling puts the evergreen Constant Deviants straight on the front foot. MI and DJ Cutt’s ‘Omerta’ rocks a fedora and a full clip, steady mobbin’ – “I’m a star, you’re just a muthafuckin’ asterisk” – and making you offers you can’t refuse. Everyone still claims they gangsta, but the Deviants sound good in old Mafioso garb; methods aren’t meticulously planned, it’s a case of go in, do damage and get out, all business-like.
Strictly for when the mics are cut, those wandering the arid plains of intriguing boom-bap nuggets to grow into should follow D-Rock Beats’ ‘The No-No Beat Tape’ and Hashfinger’s lost reinstallation ‘Over and Out’, and then back to the comforting bosom of Black Milk & Nat Turner’s ‘Rebellion Sessions’, created in seven days and jamming smokily until it’s last chin stroker standing. Catch the funk for yourself at London’s Brooklyn Bowl next month. Playing up to the crowd are the Eclectic Maybe Band, funk rapscallions who’ve got band beats with the best of ‘em when bidding for ‘Fair Trade’.
A slim set of creaky, moth-eaten breaks made to swing sumptuously from LIKE of Pac Div, tweaks soul/jazz DNA and mines ‘Emeralds’, going round with a platter of posh instrumental nosey-picks like chocolates at the Ambassador’s reception. Putting soundsystems in dinner jackets, it’s for the more urbane hip-hop head fiending for a post-coital ciggie. Another addition to this month’s instrumental arsenal, ‘Left Coast Conference’ rounds up and keeps matters nice and simple, a freebie of 17 dust kickers and settlers out of California with enough change-ups to get rewinds (as it’s part of a cassette set, you may need a biro to do so).
Ideally timed for the clocks going forward, Bambu de Asiatic’s ‘Family Matters’ shows the Atlanta emcee as an upstanding member of society and the real hip-hop union, with an LP of smooth strength teasing you into a race against the sun. Featuring a clutch of local compadres and ‘The Good Life’ being so good it features twice, this has as much heart as it has groove.
Mr Bigz reiterates his smooth operator status marking ‘MFUS2’. Not an out-and-out loverman job, with ‘Black Cream’ a stone cold Bond audition and ‘Such a Vibe’ flicking the Biggie hologram back on, he can still uncork bubbly, de-zip, shoulder-brush and handle the mic most nicely. Playing up to and respecting the 70s/80s R&B/soul-turned hip-hop favourites gives the project an extra go-faster stripe of charisma.
No chance of Royce da 5’9” giving himself a leisurely pre-album warm up. ‘Trust the Shooter’ sprays bars relentlessly without relinquishing personal and topical trains of thoughts, treating dead air as taboo. Letting him soar to king of the city are DJ Premier, Nottz, Mr Porter and Aarabmuzik. At the other end of the scale, ‘The Lyrics Born Variety Show Season 7’ says it all. Freestyles, exclusives, favourites, beat takeovers in 30 tracks…it’s a great dollop of flowing hip-hop entertainment with something for everyone, just as LB and his “voice like sandpaper dipped in maple syrup” has been doing for donkeys years.
Treat yo’self to Token’s gestures, Chance the Rapper on high, and the declarations of Cee-Major and Gatecrasherz.