MATT OLIVER’S ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP ROUNDUP
A new album from A Tribe Called Quest! Slick Rick back touring the UK! Eric B & Rakim reuniting! Ultramagnetic MCs in London in February! Ice Cube producing a remake of Oliver Twist! Shia LeBoeuf and Shaquille O’Neal blessing the mic! In this month of all months, it’s hip-hop and Rapture & Verse to the rescue!
The finest gangsta trip on ‘Cunning Lyricists’ has MidaZ the Beast, Planet Asia and Murdoc working over vinyl spinning like a hypno-disc. Lewis Parker at his opulent, tuxedoed best on the boards has boom bap jazz hitting the spot to ‘Release the Stress’, backed by the similarly aristocratic ‘Mellow Blow’; caviar sophistication speckled with danger. Tanya Morgan makes seven track EP ‘Abandoned Theme Park’ a welcoming invite. Slick from all angles, Von Pea, Donwill and Che Grand, all soul and swagger, gloss and graft, get on a much heavier record than its finesse would have you presume – with instrumentals included, you’ll soon find out why.
Let’s hope there’s a recount that gets Lobsterdamus’ ‘Lobby Dom P for President’ into power. Smooth electro grooving and a bunch of promises that he may or may not keep, it’s all good. ‘Principles and Codes’ are held dear by Diamond D rocking no-nonsense, get-out-the-way Gensu Dean, and dirtying up a Jigga flow, ‘I Gotta Ask’ by Joe Budden makes ‘Hard Knock Life’ knock harder, with Araabmuzik keeping it theatrical.
So, to the surprise of a new A Tribe Called Quest album. Completed before the death of Phife, ‘We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service’ sounds sharp – sometimes a little too crisp truth be told, though the group move forward fluently and still pose moments evoking their peak. And while it’s good to hear all concerned back on the same record, with additional lyrics from Kendrick Lamar, Andre3000 and Busta Rhymes, it’s Q-Tip grabbing the lion’s share of mic time. A decent postscript, bringing to an end one of hip-hop’s finest careers.
A reliable pair of hands, Fliptrix examines ‘Patterns of Escapism’, consolidating his street poet role filling his bars with intricacy and layman’s, achievable science – a rare balance he holds true with that twang still sounding like it’s happy parked on the couch. Illinformed producing the album from top to bottom is another failsafe move, and with Kashmere, Life MC and associated High Focus comrades joining in, attempts at fleeing Flip’s sixth album will be futile. Hardcore hip-hop geometry when others are only using an Etch-a-Sketch.
The latest Czarface saga delivers more knockout blows. 7L, Esoteric and Inspectah Deck bring the pain to part three of their comic book-inspired series, ‘A Fistful of Peril’ continuing to avenge hip-hop honour with underground explosives. Like all good world-beaters they know that a knuckle sandwich ranks as highly as fireballs and laser beams, and they get the job done in 35 minutes flat, presumably called away to their next mission: rock hard and riveting.
Tall Black Guy has just the antidote to trying times: ‘Let’s Take a Trip’ is an instrumental ease back fusing neo-soul and Detroit vapours (so you’ve got a pretty good idea already as to how it sounds), quickly and unhurriedly nipping pressure situations in the bud. Not afraid to throw in the odd spiky emcee and familiar sample, it’s a classy joint to roam around in, equal parts simple and skilful.
Tapping into a rival, Twinkie-cream smoothness, Greek producer Funkonami soundtracks B-boy spa days, rubbing down funk and soul for the goodness of ‘Deep into the Forest’. Lotus position instrumentalism, bringing the uptown into a sheltered nook and taking care of the street-struck. It seems like the best way to tackle the storm is to remain calm, as per General Steele &Es-K’s ‘Building Bridges’. Breaking it down from hammocks and loosening bow ties by the bar, but decidedly not a kickback, street thoughts manifest when assisted by a cool breeze.
This little lot though are definitely not chill. As likely to wreck a polling booth as a mic booth, KXNG Crooked makes it patently clear what side he’s on with the ticking time bomb ‘Good Vs Evil’. Biting back at trap beats by strategizing how to beat the crooks at their own game by fair means or foul, the conversion of disbelief into very listenable retaliation blacklists casual listening. The pound-your-fist movement of La Coka Nostra returns to pledge ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’, the crew of Ill Bill, Slaine, Danny Boy and DJ Lethal heading a mob marching towards Amityville making throat-slitting gestures. Where the “blood in my vein is trained to be cold”, the canny supply of hooks the whole rabble can rally round, reinforces LCN’s theory that hip-hop is much more important than a matter of life and death. Similar guts and glory gun from Vinnie Paz’ ‘The Cornerstone of the Corner Store’. With wrath on tap to a soundtrack of rock & roll doom (you daren’t spin it backwards for fear of hidden messages), and with Ghostface, AG & OC and Ras Kass wading in, the precious-eared will be turned away by Paz as doorman to the gates of hell.
Washing mouths out with a flow that chews granite like its gum, FlowTecs goes full bull in a china shop and makes ‘The Concrete Doctrine’ one of the year’s most convincingly spat testaments. A gang of producers including Bad Company, Micall Parknsun and Huzzman form a ring of steel around 20 tracks worth of hard graft. ‘Old Man Rapper’ Verbal Skillz can still teach whippersnappers a thing or sixteen, his respect-my-mic flow level headedly navigating the hard yards out of Guildford, with DJ Stix and the coup of Apollo Brown adding their expertise. Oliver Sudden, you ain’t saying nuttin’ – it’s true, as ‘Coolant Levels’ takes over the drive time hour, shoves the mic in the glove box and smoothes out 10 instrumentals, cruising and looping to make you call shotgun.
Mickey Factz sprays rhymes around with a little street charisma going far on ‘The Achievement: Circa 82’. Produced and helped in no small part by Nottz getting rugged, it’ll nag you into going back. Underground def defier Prolyphic presents battling one man show ‘DNGRFLD’. Skilled in the cynical and the delivery of challenging narratives, the Rhode Island profiling may go about its business pretty coolly, but is all the more rewarding when knowledge is dropped like a cinderblock. There’s still a lot to be said for the multiple guest, handpicked producer album format, particularly when all are riding with the all-or-nothing Termanology. ‘More Politics’ is both ace negotiator and condemner through megaphone, soul controller and mic savage, with Joey Bada$$, Sheek Louch, Styles P, Bun B, Statik Selektah, and Just Blaze part of the entourage. Quick mention for Common’s ‘Black America Again’, that though eventually neutralised by some extra creamy slow jams, is well capable of coming on strong and speaking up.
With A Tribe Called Quest hot this month, a bunch of beat heads and savvy MPC users assembled by NineToFive pay homage to ‘Midnight Marauders’. Taking the samples the Tribe used for a fresh batch of instrumentals, ‘Beats & Remakes 01’ is well worth investigating, either as a compare and contrast, or as a faithful remix LP by itself.
The crazy world of Strange U, captured by DJ Psykhomantus on ‘The Strange Universe Mixtape’, welcomes you to sci-fi absurdity and highly flammable brainwaves bringing back untouchable levels of realness. One helluva phat phreakshow from King Kashmere and Dr Zygote. Picturesque this time of year, DJ Ivory’s ‘Winter in Notts’ is P Brothers heaviness to the fullest; funk coated in thick crate dust and super rough cuts of old skool wax that you shouldn’t wait on Saint Nick for.
In pictures: Zion I pose questions, Lessondary’s symphony, Scorzayzee ain’t loving it, and Corners get elemental.