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.

 

Singles/EPs

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.




Albums

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.




Matt Oliver

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THE ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVIEW
WORDS: MATT OLIVER





Prodigy, Mobb Deep, 1974-2017




The clickbait-certified Rapture & Verse has been keeping its cool by ducking into reissues of old skool watersheds from Boogie Down Productions, Special Ed, Run DMC, Del tha Funkee Homosapien and Souls of Mischief, and noting Main Source are on their way to London for a 25th anniversary ‘Breakin Atoms’ tour. Everywhere else, the heat has been melting minds and addling brains, what with 90s legends found sporting socialite attire, the honourable Ugly God cornering a battle rap niche by slagging himself off, Chance the Rapper in a supposed trademark dispute with a pastry chain, and of course Jay-Z releasing a new album, belatedly working out what to do when life gives you lemons.

Singles/EPs

Confucius MC and Mr Brown are all about ‘The Artform’, a straight up seven track EP radiating heat from an undisclosed location. Rhymes retort with polar-level poise to beats turning the screw, and both send the temperature rising until it becomes an interrogation tactic. In ‘The Garden of Eden’, Benaddict stays true, a leisurely stroll allowing his thoughts to roam freely and find their target with finely detailed accuracy. ‘I Arrived Late’ announces Verb T, but you’ll forgive his tardiness when the chipper yet advisory rhymes and bubbly organ-pushed beats of Pitch 92 get you out your seat. Not quite a fascist regime and requiring little instruction, Too Many T’s’ ‘God Save the T’s’ bounces on through, mics attached to wrecking ball elastic.





To an itchy, tripped out beat from BBS, Lost Identity cuts through the haze on ‘Plaque’, spitting hard and unperturbed by the shadows inching up towards him. New York-Yorkshire monopoly Madison Washington show the power of non-conformity on the ‘Code Switchin’ EP, a half dozen shake up where Malik Ameer and thatmanmonkz keep their cool when mixing rolling funk and flows, and creating scenes with arch alchemy. Spectacular Diagnostics gets close to the edge, so don’t push him – ‘Rambo Bars’ a big boom bap deal thrashed out by Conway the Machine, Chris Crack and Nolan the Ninja. With Apollo Brown barely cueing a fusty, unsteady piano loop, Planet Asia and Willie the Kid reveal ‘Dalai Lama Slang’ to put the peace firmly in its place.





Four tracks from DJ Shadow, including his recent collaboration with Nas and a typically steamin’ performance from Danny Brown, bugged out electro boom bap and cinematic cyber engineering, make ‘The Mountain Has Fallen’ an EP with plenty of chameleon behaviour. Simultaneously spacious and claustrophobic, Grieves precedes a new LP by trying to hold back encroaching walls on the eerily gracious ‘RX’. Crowning the ‘Samurai Killa’, Big Bob reading up on how to create a dynasty involving nunchucks and ancient scriptures is enough for five hungry combatants to vie for the belt. John Reilly is a sure shot smoothly cocking back when ‘High Noon’ comes around: simple as.

 

Albums

Fresh from his fine Frankenstein project fusing Nas and Madlib, David Begun introduces Eminem and Pete Rock to his bootleg laboratory. Suffice to say it’s unsettling to hear the cartoon capers and savage psychosis of Slim Shady smoothed out by The Chocolate Boy Wonder, but that’s the essence of ‘Marshall and The Soul Brother’ for you. Fresh from redressing ‘The Symphony’, the posse cut’s posse cut now found wearing daisy chains, maverick soundsmith Will C sets out to ‘Bless the Beats & Children’ with his hip-hop hot take on The Carpenters. Tastefully calibrated instrumentalism is the pleasing result to get all cynics onside.





For the hardcore head nod faction, Tone Chop and Frost Gamble make a good case for the fact ‘Respect is Earned Not Given’. New York honour is defended through raspy chew ups and spit outs, unequivocal titles such as ‘Get Beat Down’, ‘Walk the Walk’ and Guillotine Chop’, and producer process that cools down and wades in once his vocalist finds his lane. Chop and Gamble land their punches as a safe bet. Though a different beast from his old man, the one and only Big Punisher, the ‘Delorean’-riding Chris Rivers is super lyrical, coming on hardcore while still leaving plenty of room for the clubs and the ladies. Although prey to the age old quandary of attempting to nail every modern hip-hop convention, Rivers’ photo is never found fading, a good quality, next generation endorsement of capital punishment.

A drop of ‘Dopp Hopp’ a day will keep the haters away, The Doppelgangaz keeping you on your toes despite placing their worth on the cusp of a spiralized trip. The lyrical NY jabs and way of thinking from beneath superhero/clergy robes will have this creep up on the button marked ‘repeat’ until it progresses to heavy rotation. By design or otherwise, everything feels summery, completed by the G-funk themes of ‘Roll Flee’ and ‘Beak Wet’.





A free download for a limited time celebrating 30 years of shutting ‘em down, Public Enemy’s ‘Nothing is Quick in the Desert’ keeps fire in its belly, can still shred an axe and dismissively fires off messages that still can’t be argued with (particularly with social media giving them a whole new profile to blast at). Street struck off some back alley black magic are LMNO and Twiz the Beatpro. Either riding the bull into the red rag as ‘Cohorts’ or found twitching under the influence of the illusionary, there’s an unseen pull making it an album that offers more than just tough-tipped, rough lipped beats and rhymes.





More smooth criminal masterminding from that man Giallo Point, this time with the sure and spiky Smoovth leading operations, makes ‘Medellin’ a mob merry-go-round reaching out to a varied cast (Sonny Jim, Vinnie Paz but two on call) of cold hearts applying heat. Actually quite a relaxed listen, transporting you to a world of mythological opulence while secretly measuring you for concrete shoes. Vince Staples’ negotiation of fresh house, garage and twists on trap veers between foot down force and playing suitably vacant for the club’s benefit. With the miscellany of ‘Big Fish Theory’, come for the rebel, stay for the rhythms.

 

Mixtapes

A daunting reconstruction of peace out of crumpled MPCs and repurposed trap, Clams Casino’s ‘4’ gets industrially scalded hip-hop beats to smash into post-dubstep introspection, stirring a beast raging inside abstract beauty, and making you nod into a complex but satisfying headspace. Though it’s long understood there are six million ways to die, Royce da 5’9” has got the next six million trademarked with the incredible show & prove of ‘The Bar Exam 4’, destroying vernacular establishment for 28 tracks and 90 minutes at a frankly preposterous level of breaking mics down to their very last compound.





Come and watch Datkid turn the world inside out, a face-off between Tyler and A$AP Rocky, and The Mouse Outfit’s latest uprising.











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