ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVIEW: WORDS: MATT OLIVER
What a blockbuster month in hip-hop it’s been… Snoop setting the world’s biggest gin and juice record. Eminem and Nicki Minaj reportedly going steady. 50 Cent against Ja Rule, episode #89. Seven tracks being the new 18 tracks plus intro, outro and skits, plus bonus disc.
And there’s also been Pusha T versus Drake: ‘Daytona’ is a significant, title belt-claiming blow that’ll take some recovering from – the latter’s ‘Scorpion’ is imminent, with the additional angle of Martin Shkreli weighing in. Kanye’s ‘Ye’ poses more questions than answers, which is precisely what makes the man, while Nas & Kanye’s ‘Nasir’ has its moments, but falls short of what the dream team billing promises and certainly needs more room than the running length du jour. This is before we’ve even had time to take on Kid Cudi & Kanye’s ‘Kids See Ghosts’, or attempted to try and keep up with The Carters.
Dead Residents’ ‘Style Terrorist #1’ weighs an absolute ton, a clunky renegade barking like a sergeant major wearing influences as badges of honour. Heist vibes in full effect when Mr Brown sets a tripwire and infra red assault course and Confucius MC and Jehst come abseiling in through windows, all in the name of protecting ‘The Art-form part 2’, warning that “the ultimate high is the overdose”. One man’s lazy day on the river is another’s circled by sharks – Benofficial’s ‘Machine Gun Benny’ perfects the casual-smarting look. On the edge of grime and trap, VersesBang is sonically and sartorially sharp with seven tracker ‘Dressed to Kill…Myself’, well-paced so as to let listeners take a peek behind the big time persona (“I need to take control, like playing FIFA when it ain’t my go”).
After destroying airwaves with one of the freestyles of recent times, Black Thought rises above all of the aforementioned hullaballoo with the six track ‘Streams of Thought’. Augmented by 9th Wonder’s telepathy, soulfully shaded but a no-go zone for suckers, it’s an absolute lesson in politics, autobiography and pure battle-hardened craftsmanship that number one spots are reserved for. Parading the glamour life before denting it hard, Conway the Machine and Sonnyjim, with business-like savagery, cause ‘Death by Misadventure’, professional professors in the science of not flinching when stakes get high. To pianos that go left where ‘Still DRE’ went right, Blank Face and Tools Beastly ride the streets on ‘Gunslinger’, advising against feeling lucky. Trademark street cinema from Endemic Emerald joins with French generals 87 Escadron for the war report ‘Mercenaires’, army fatigue gruffness driving through the eye of the storm with Ruste Juxx and Tragedy resuming support. Add Apollo Brown carefully stirring emotions with boom bap going deep in thought, to Locksmith laying bare introspection, ideas and education, and the answer of ‘No Question’ is empathetic and quietly emphatic.
This year, Ramson Badbonez is ‘Jason Bonez’. That’s not Jason of the Bourne Identity, nor the Argonaut organiser or even the one-time Scott Robinson, but the mask-wearing blood and guts specialist who as with everything he does, doesn’t take his foot off the gas from the first unsheathing. Here to carve open nine swashbuckling tracks, wringing the house of horror hitman spiel out hard, there’s a new patron saint for whenever the 13th Friday of the month rolls around.
The restless sound of Rye Shabby is to ‘Die Shabby’. Worldly pressures that build up around him are absorbed by the protection of a dark, eerie glow, lyrically economical with energy but never the truth. With Verb T writing out prescriptions that enhance the dilapidated, empty experience, sling it on during the dead of night and find it how it envelopes the room, bringing silhouettes to life and an unspoken feel for consolation.
We may be a bit late on this one, but with new special editions launched and then swiped off shelves, Crimeapple and Big Ghost are the crime family with ‘nuff shots to share. ‘Aguardiente’ is a 100% proof of ferocious rhymes and slick stories making you believe everything spoken about every goon, scam and threat (the hook to ‘Five Chechnyans’ will make you laugh when it probably shouldn’t), to the tune of soul-infused onlookers and accomplices that either look the other way or are in too deep. Music to stash goods and tint windows by.
Neat and tidy true school enthusiasts who have the golden age running through them like a stick of rock, New York’s Penpals crew keep the underground on the level when penning ‘To Whom It May Concern’. Their zeal for technical perfection/pseudo-nerdery means rocking the boat extends to shouting out John Cleese, but the likes of ‘On the Roof’ are just what your garden party and fly school reunion needs. A few listens in and thou shalt not return to sender.
Time for some hip-hop corporal punishment to keep the next generation in line: Bumpy Knuckles is the elected elder statesman who won’t bend to socially mediated conventions. ‘Pop Duke’ is produced by Nottz knocking heads together, and has Chuck D, Kool G Rap and Biz Markie showing there’s no substitute for experience and a carefully sharpened stick in the mud that creditably, doesn’t ramble on.
In it to win it. Fake it til you make it. ‘Thieving as Long as I’m Breathing’. The world according to blasé boosters and old skool aestheticians Career Crooks, savvy Philly pair Zilla Rocca and Small Professor emptying a swag bag of doting remixes plus their own version of how to hold the hip-hop underground to ransom like gentlemen bandits. Do not be scared to check or scared to look. ‘Paranoid City’ by Isaac Roberts, previously known as Sleaze da Don, and Sonnyjim, is another to get repackaged by respectful well-wishers. Remixing new life into the pair’s doyens at the top table diary, Illinformed, Kelakovski, Smugii, Kosyne and the headliners themselves put up a very fine set of variations still keeping it tight knit.
Tom Caruana unveils volume six of his always exceptional ‘Rough Versions’ remix series with a collection of super funky Biggie revisions that elevate classics to new levels, made like the Son of Sam man was the real brains behind Bad Boy all along. The equally notorious David Begun is also at it again with a slice and dice job of Mobb Deep and Dr Octagon. Even if you think the format is tired (and there’s not much wrong when linking core QBC epitaphs to the ghoulish underground), the artwork alone to ‘Dr OctoMobb’ deserves a bony-fingered round of applause.
Bored of the World Cup? To finish, here’s the one man army that is Aesop Rock.