Our Daily Bread 518: Guillotine Crowns ‘Hills To Die On’

May 12, 2022

ALBUM REVIEW/MATT OLIVER

Guillotine Crowns ‘Hills to Die On’
(Uncommon Records)

Do not read between the lines: these crowns haven’t been made to sit comfortably atop underground sovereigns. Hills To Die On is an uprising as well as an upholding of 80s-made disaster, predicting a New York-Chicago futurism that’s actually right under your fingernails, dirt and all. In orators Uncommon Nasa, whose clipped bravado, capable of coiling ad infinitum until he’s constricting your windpipe, and Short Fuze, no less strident but a case of always having to watch the quieter ones in times of distraction, Guillotine Crowns fuck up the b-boy stance and the front rows they’re liable to jump into. Dystopia may be the easy catch-all term to apply to this album of margin-ignoring hip-hop, and these are no gilded garlands on display; but when added to its deeply rooted survivalist spirit, just being without ever seeking hero status, Hills To Die On becomes music to spray skyscrapers by.

As with the Monolith Cocktail-approved, 2019 Uncommon Nasa project City As School with Kount Fif, indie/leftfield hip-hop titans Company Flow and Cannibal Ox, both of whom are referenced in rhyme, are where yardstick parallels are drawn and which give the album a weird throwback status caught in forward thinking-retro fantasy-modern living crossfire. Throw this back to times of Anticon/Def Jux etc (in which Nasa earned his stripes) and you’re hopeful for the scene all over again, thrilled by the likes of ‘Horseman Armour’ and ‘Scope of the Guillotine’ spewing out abstract angles hiding as straight lines and taking no shortcuts in unseating speakers.  

The duo recognise the need to mobilise, but also the parameters of the friends/enemies axis. Whereas the resistance of ‘They Can’t Kill Us All’ is comparable to an all-for-one zombie outbreak, ‘The Product’ has Guillotine Crowns accepting the Sword of Damocles as both potential sealer of fate and a means of going for self amongst online/media minefields. Dense, dry and pretty unforgiving without being indecipherable, GC embark on “around-the-clock stakeouts to reset history” with enough ear catching references – Pelle Pelle sweatshirts, shouts to EPMD, Wu-Tang, DOOM and “Flava Flav with the 12Gauge” – to ease furrowed brows. The pertinence of their streams of consciousness will eventually emerge like a word balloon, forced into your eyeballs as a revision of the Clockwork Orange syllabus.

“My life is fast forward, while yours is a series of pauses” says the crushing headswim of ‘Rebel Crowns’, proposing the question of “do you want to be right, or do you want to be correct?” that through the wrong mic would just be look at me-level pretentious. And like any hip-hop act, underground or mainstream, the pair know the worth of a good hook that punters can take as gospel or make a tattoo of, acknowledging rap’s saviour-like status on the come up and pledging allegiance to the grind. The two leaders are joined on the mic by a bunch of street corner-dwelling savages slash town criers – Jyroscope, Duke01, Gajah, Tracy Jones, Skech185 a sometimes improbable cross-section of survivors and reinforcements to reroute the tide.

The sound of everyday anarchy is dominated by drum machines bullying backdrops like they’re about to cause the 80s music scene to splinter. Guitar chords are crowbarred if not sawn off, and holographic, peace-seeking synths become something more gothic and sinister, analogous to arcade machines becoming sentient. The programming of effects and percussion make tracks itch, irritating your inner ear. ‘Art Dealers’ sounds like ‘Brooklyn Zoo’ in a backpack. The scarily beautiful ‘Generosity’, with its damning hook sample, sounds jettisoned in space, while providing rhymes for the ages that measure the distance of returning to reality.

The dissonant ‘Bare Hands’ projects a robot uprising with the metropolis as its playground, whose hook of “I will destroy you with my bare hands…my power is limitless, you can’t come close to stopping me” both boosts and belies its Gotham-like setting, with ‘Hills’ providing a triumphant, comic book-coloured sci-fi fanfare and a chorus to leap headlong into for anyone needing a new manifesto. Rarely does the Hills… have time to check its pulse across 46 minutes; ‘Tape Deck’ tries to act dreamy, but can’t get no sleep. The industrial grind of ‘City Breathing’ is made for tank-as-low rider, and ‘Killer’, with Short Fuze calculating villainously, reaches the apex of the album’s claustrophobia living in a police state.

Hills To Die On is classic anti-socialism in the shock-of-the-new, ghettoblaster on full blast sense, though suffering the establishment, rather than just being anti-establishment, seems to be the Guillotine mindstate. All hail the Crown rulers setting standards from home to the Terrordome.

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