HIP-HOP REVUE
Words: Matt Oliver




The latest edition of Rapture & Verse has put itself forward for an ‘Old Town Road’ remix (#1 in the year 2056), but will not be writing any top 50 lists for fear of admonishment when omitting Morris Minor and the Majors. Some singles first: a whodunit tiptoe from Pitch 92 allows justice-serving Verb T and TrueMendous to catch a ‘Cold Case’, nimble, mean-streaked rhymes leaving no stone unturned. Four instrumentals from the mighty Chairman Maf are nice, summery and don’t ‘Muff’ their lines, cheeky samples warping the beats in the sun. DJ Shadow and De La Soul’s old skool autopilot guzzles ‘Rocket Fuel’, a simple, effective weapon held down by horn overtures moving overground: a nation of breakers, poppers and lockers can be found greasing their joints in anticipation. ‘It’s Not That Simple’ claim Pawz One and John Henry, when actually the opposite is true, giving the front row what they want across eight tracks like it’s a regular day at the office. Beats and rhymes for the win, getting straight into a gold-reflected groove. Celph Titled’s ‘Paragraphs of Murder’ is not a fuzzy wuzzy Hallmark card; fact. The more obvious answer is, head banging music in an invincibility cloak.

 

Albums

Anchored by the indomitable ‘Reeboks’, Baileys Brown stirs the pot so everything’s ‘Still Fresh’, in the name of accommodating a bunch of microphone herberts. Datkid, Axel Holy, Lee Scott, Dabbla and Hozay rise up to run their mouth and take advantage of BB’s background diligence, skimming the scummy but with buckets of fizz and a little soul stardust answering the title’s call, keeping the hottest point of the club within striking distance of a couch and headphones combo.





Live at the barbecue, Giallo Point and Juga-Naut make the grind look easy when heading ‘Back to the Grill Again’. For the most part GP is weighing up which yacht to rock rather than measuring you for concrete shoes, and Jugz’ designs on alt-opulence are ones listeners want to achieve themselves rather than being put off by claims bordering on the outlandish. Running through crews like a hot knife through butter, from now only order these cordon bleu beats and rhymes, a gangster gourmet with an all important UK garnish.





Apex’ twins Ash the Author, forcing the issue and leaving pauses for thought to leave you defenceless (“raps like Moe Syzslak, straight ugly”), and Ded Tebiase, a double bluffer on the beats seeking dusty sunrises through the blinds and spreading bad voodoo to make you jerk your head back. The pair haven’t got time to be messing about and have got you covered, in tune with the changeable British summertime. One for a shoulder-high ghettoblaster.





Taking the form of the staunch Chester P, The Nameless Project surveys the wreckage of the world, wrapped in yellow and black barricade tape. It reaches a conclusion of dislocated beats under extra terrestrial duress, and disdainful observations, hauled straight from the corner, that you better start believing quick. Uneasy listening where you daren’t touch that dial.

‘The Return’ of Sampa the Great is a mind, body and soul experience requiring complete immersion (clock watchers – this isn’t for you), the indigenous explorations and fearless art of performance making it more odyssey than album. Lead by that trickily playful, Bahamadian flow sounding like it’s chewing a ton of bubblegum ready to spew napalm, funk wrecking ball ‘Final Form’ becomes a bit of a one-off in a meandering, richly textured, provocative astro/political soul installation, able to slot in a rework of The Stylistics. A debut to have critics clamouring.

A new Kool Keith album, entirely produced by Psycho Les: ‘Keith’ is the album dreams are made of to some hopeless hip-hop romantics (Jeru the Damaja and B-Real pop in to propagate the fantasy). In the real world of 2019, it’s another day of the Spankmaster’s unmatched imagination running feral, throwing his “jockstrap to the critics” and in the direction of stocky Beatnuts fare that sides with the eerily vacant, and the sometimes peppy over the sleazy. ‘Holy Water’ doing Barry White is the headline treat, yet the album improbably goes about its business with minimum bother.





Superhero worship and hip-hop purism: birds of a feather, supremely executed across eight tracks by P.SO and 2 Hungry Bros on ‘American Anime’, detailing the vagaries of the respective scenes so both the nerds and the B-Boys can have their revenge. The mild-mannered everyman by day brings out the superpowers of beats, rhymes and managing the concept like its second nature, just like your favourite lycra clad centrefold.





Grieves’ ‘The Collections of Mr Nice Guy’ uncomplicatedly detangles affairs of the heart, including self assessment, before undermining the album’s title in a kindness-for-weakness dismissal. His switch in focus with no discernible change up, means eight softly bedded lullabies bite back and keep everyone interested and entertained, as well as being a perfect introduction to latecomers.

“A varied album documenting stressful trials, psychedelic endeavours, and copious inhalations of marijuana” – that’s the lowdown on YUNGMORPHEUS and Fumitake Tamura’s ‘Mazal’. Suffice to say, side effects may cause drowsiness, though in fairness the lyrics are as much as blunt as they are blunted, red mist over red eyes looking over an out-of speakers-experience that still manages a surprise sneak attack of Shadez of Brooklyn’s ‘Change’.

Ambitiously advertised as an EP, Black Milk continues to show he knows exactly how to work the sweet spot of soulful hip-hop with something to say on the album length ‘Dive’, never stooping low to conquer. A soundtrack for heat waves and cool for the eye of the storm, it’s that movement around and manipulation of sounds that sets him apart, not to mention his rhymes sitting between confident/authentic open mic night performer bringing with him a disarming bedside manner.

‘One Word No Space’ = no space for wasted words – standard procedure from Donwill, another expertly, effortlessly concentrated spectacle (35 minutes long brings the repeat button quickly into play). Soulful but with a kick (production from Tanya Morgan teammate Von Pea), laidback but with lessons to take from, it’s another backing track for a barbeque going long into the evening.





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Hip-Hop Revue:: Matt Oliver




Singles/EPs

Welcome to the April-into-May edition of Rapture & Verse, powering through to the end of the season and still searching for that goose that laid the golden Easter egg. Into the singles, suffice to say the remix of Nick Roberts’ ‘Phlegm’ drips harder when Ash the Author has cleared his throat and sent for the delicate jazz vibes while “sick like influenza”. Cobes’ sense of stonefaced ‘Deja Vu’ is to give the people something from the gutter, wielding a sawn off flow to hypnotically sludgy trap from Don Piper. Also looking to announce their arrival via hatchet through your front door, the faint but powerful eeriness of Ill Move Sporadic allows Strange Neighbour to apply a callous coup de grace as ‘Drug Slur’ slowly seizes your brain.





The resurrected renegades of funk Belles in Monica revisit their post millennium espionage with the ‘Natsukashii’ EP, the Glasgow crew sidewinding from the shadows with balaclava militancy mixed with the invoking of bad karma. CMPND’s ‘Whatuplayin@’ makes low-rider music that redefines the ghost whip, murky with a spectral edge where show and prove deals a scorpion sting. There are those that do and those that only observe, and Upfront makes that same distinction with cocky confidence on ‘Spectator’ before beckoning to ‘Look at This’, hocking all over airy jazz vibes.

Then there’s Milkavelli’s ‘Channel Surfing’, a ten minute stream of unglued, curiosity-eking lava lamp consciousness, playing like a late night talk show you won’t find in any TV listings. A friendly game of beats and rhymes is the ‘Word’ of Rob Cave and The Other Guys, seven tracks of sunshine in a record sleeve (perhaps it’s Cave’s Del-like tone), promising something for everyone.






Albums

On his worst behaviour when ‘Confessions of a Crud Lord’ writes red-top headlines, Datkid bullies the beats of Leaf Dog until he’s administering toilet swirlies. Audaciously, Westside Gun, Conway the Machine and Roc Marciano join in with the offense of a one-man gang whose flow is pretty darned irresistible (‘Grown Up’ shows a sharper-than-thought narrative game as well), toying with his Bristol compatriot’s heavy hitters that know exactly how to get the crud to rise to the top.

Datkid also leaves his mitts on Split Prophets’ ‘The Forecast’, joining Upfront, Flying Monk, Paro, Res One and Bil Next on a proper pass-the-mic session. Badhabitz on the boards runs a tight ship for the Westcountry crew go for theirs across eight tracks, equivalent to a knowing look being all the encouragement needed to rack up a bill for booth damages.

Another outcast for whom ASBOs were drafted for is Onoe Caponoe, his Thunderdome rollercoaster ‘Surf of Die’ fixed with two settings of maelstrom or meek. Druggy wall crawlers and wild trap booms raging with the brakes cut pressurise the album until it eventually blows out with exhaustion, but it’s the solemn pauses to look at the view below that make the 169er an even more unnerving object of fascination.





One more to add to this month’s bunch of pithy, snotty spitters is the succinct Sean Peng telling you about his ‘Trips to the Medicine Cabinet’. Heat turned up by Illinformed’s usual brand of head shots driven straight down the middle, Peng is not one to indulge in excess despite the title, leaving the mic shook with an efficiency akin to racing through a Rubik’s Cube like it’s nothing.

Resisting the urge to fart rainbows and spew glitter, Ill Bill and Stu Bangas’ ‘Cannibal Hulk’ goes plundering with a superhuman taste for flesh. Bill’s Non Phixion comrades Goretex and DJ Eclipse assist with the rock and roll hellraising, which despite being petite in length, yanks you onto its team with the sway of cult leadership.

California and Detroit is where ‘Child of the Jungle’ resides, the offspring of Guilty Simpson and MED keeping the underground on a low heat you can still feel on your neck. Spoilt with the production riches of Madlib, Nottz, Black Milk, MNDSGN, Karriem Riggins and Apollo Brown, the mood moves between urgent, soulful and dusted – not the sort of backdrop the mic warhorses are gonna miss out on, slotting in without airs as is customary. Pistol McFly’s chill ‘Road Trip’ is of a similar, middle lane hold from the West Coast, picking up fans on the strength of being roofless rather than ruthless, though the occasional need to speak up and detouring down darker lanes are welcome additions to the journey.

The definition of enterprising, Quelle Chris remains a singular underground voice, loading latest album ‘Guns’ with intelligent angles on a topic never far from the news, coming up with some hardcore head nodders and an educational bigger picture that’ll “make a rapper freeze up like I was Zack in Bayside”.  Rhymes to play on your mind.





A number of R&V favourites return. Chewing premium fat like it’s mere water cooler conversation, Your Old Droog proves ‘It Wasn’t Even Close’ to the sound of cop show themes on their last doughnut and your favourite rapper being moved into retirement by means of cloak and dagger cult. Supplemented by DOOM, Mach-Hommy, Wiki and Roc Marciano passing through on the low, Droog again doesn’t need to overstate the obvious that he’s dope, a slew of shrugging punchlines and forensic wordplay cracking smiles when it feels almost inappropriate to do so, and answering his own question of “whatever happened to lines that used to make you rewind?”





Witness the fitness when Nolan the Ninja, at his most ‘Sportee’, inflicts damage on a jumble of beats mainly being used as target practice rather than competitive equal. Still striving for mid-30s retirement and musing on how to “turn my passion into profit”, another influx of hurricane rhymes wind down in the album’s latter stages just like on the previous ‘Yen’, offering a wee glimpse of conserved style beyond his impressive enthusiasm.





You know what, Dope KNife was right: ‘Things Got Worse’, though not the impact of his front foot stomping continuing on from ‘NinteenEightyFour’. Holding a grudge until knuckles turn white, this has the feel of dismissive modern gangster rap/unofficial old skool with the necessary smarts, playing the position perfectly on the industry glutton ‘Famous’. “Don’t debate the beast, cos I don’t tolerate your weakness” is all the warning needed. El Camino’s warning of ‘Don’t Eat the Fruit’ follows the morality and mechanics of the modern G-code. Namely, funk and soul loops deconstructed as makeweights in drug deals and gunplay, a flow riddled with insomnia, obsession and a bout of the hiccups, and quick out the door so as to make room for the next scheme.

Alchemist’s fifth ‘Rapper’s Best Friend’ collection shares more premium instrumentals, painting pictures to the edge of panic and including two headliners claimed by Evidence. A Record Store Day special giving a clutch of 90s beats their vinyl debut, Pete Rock – poster boy for the MPC don’t forget – claims gold for the other side with ‘Return of the SP1200’. Perfectly sitting on the rugged/smooth axis, the golden timekeeping and honeyed snap, omnipresent from jazz lullabies to flexing outside, is like ice and a slice when you’re beating sweat back.

Wrapping up this month – woop woop, it’s the sound of Open Mike Eagle & DOOM.





ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVUE
WORDS: MATT OLIVER




Singles/EPs

As the seasons change and a slightly woollier wardrobe comes into view, Rapture & Verse notes that Danny Brown has got his trademark gap tooth grin fixed, Flavor Flav is reportedly suing Chuck D in a royalty dispute, and that one-off, zillion dollar Wu-Tang album is now an eBay listing (brand new with tags, one careful owner). Representing the sound of such events slowly going haywire, Bisk & Goosewater go bobbing for battery acid beats on ‘bsidegoosevol.1’ and ‘Cream Soda’: witch doctors looking at hip-hop through the rear view mirror in pursuit of the ultimate boom bap hangover. Pete Cannon’s Luna C instrumental issuing a ‘Reality Check’ chases Roots Manuva’s ‘Witness’ down a back alley while leading a marching band on the run from banditos. With a hook having a go because it knows it’s hard enough, VersesBang’s ‘What You Think’ brings Gutta along for a ride of grimy, ghoulish trap bending everything and everyone out of shape. Walking in a London wonderland, Ty’s ‘Brixton Baby’ represents his home postcode with a feathery eyewitness account.





‘Live from the Iron Curtain’, Apathy & OC have ways of making you speak as they turn the square red, the latter upstaging the former by a nose on a funky headhunter. In their roles of ‘Wounded Healer’ and ’Galvanometer’, Opio and Homeboy Sandman prize open ears with their own medicating methods and win out with a selection of alternatives. You can’t argue with someone whose “repertoire can unhinge a reservoir”. Sandman then reprises his critter-hop role alongside Aesop Rock as ‘Triple Fat Lice’: five tracks of entertaining, endlessly quotable, maverick termite surrealism. Go ‘head and let them lay eggs in your speakers.





Don’t look down when clipping begin to ripple, ‘The Deep’ dealing in the loneliness of the life aquatic but then quickening its stroke as it potently starts to smell blood from a mile away. Jeru the Damaja and The Beatnuts’ Psycho Les as the Funky Pandas are an odd couple task force getting the job done on the stunner snythed ‘Dope Dealer’. Tuck in your napkin for Dillon and Diamond D’s ‘Black Tie Affair’: five courses you’ll easily find room for, including moreish first person script flipper ‘Femme Fatale’.


Albums

The smooth sound of your last lava lamp bubble popping, rhyme regulator Bendaddict, soul chanteuse Ella Mae and closing time producer Slim explore the properties of ‘Teal’. More than just a neo-soul filing, the trio, with nods to Jehst and Erykah Badu, happen on a chemistry wrapping a collective arm around you that autumnal types will lap up.  Dying embers hip-hop, producing plenty of heat and warmth.

A duo playing the game their own way, The Jones Brothers’ ‘Roughs with the Smooth’ is Joker Starr and AnyWay Tha God catching themselves between suave crime-solving bonnet sliders, street teachers for the people, and old London town hatchet men you shouldn’t unlock your door to. El Ay’s funk and soul is the real linchpin, providing the album’s expensively suited drama while barely breaking sweat. The ‘Two Man Band’ of Ash the Author and Krang puts the mic in a full nelson and gives ears a lesson they won’t forget in a hurry. While ATA treats the first ten rows to eight tracks of full on phlegm throttle, Krang mixes up rockers and twinkles, as the pair’s styles play off one another in a time honoured beats-and-rhymes system. Anything but two-bob.





It’s a typical day in the office for Action Bronson when he starts stacking his new brand of ‘Blue Chips 7000’. Force of personality plays a comic book hero only normally found in fan fiction, wielding outrageous one liners, a Rick Ross collabo and yacht-shot funkiness that he’s either feeling or oblivious too. All of which equates to Bronson’s autopilot mode still yielding plenty of listener gains, putting hip-hop pedestrians in their place.

Handing around a helping of ‘Anchovies’, Planet Asia and Apollo Brown join forces to divide and conquer.  The former’s world-weathered flow is constantly jabbing, poking and irking you, prepared to argue whether night follows day. The latter gently rocks back and forth, unconcerned with arguing the toss upon inhaling old vinyl dust, asleep with one eye open so you never write him off. A soul go-slow with cat-like reflexes.

Next to alter the axis of those thinking they don’t like hip-hop is Grieves. Melodic and chart friendly without overdoing the softener, the Seattle emcee reaches into the realms of Mac Miller and Brother Ali on ‘Running Wild’ with lightness of flow that can still mean something to make him Rhymesayers through and through. Swedish producer Chords is in his corner, laying down sun-blushed synths and live funk using a most modern urban lounge filter.

Confused about ‘The World Today’? Wordsworth’s your man for a concise breakdown, articulating the everyday as a keynote speaker and bringing enough entertainment to steady the undiluted truths. Sam Brown on production clocks in with exactly what the emcee needs: chest beaters, daggers to the heart, and, as per Wordsworth’s flow carrying a spirited edge pledging “holy matrimony with the audience”, assurances that everything’s gonna be alright even when the chips are down.





Northern dramatists Ceiling Demons bring an interesting thespian element to the game on ‘Nil’, a folk-influenced performance quaffing from a psychedelic cauldron. Rhymes are recitals (but not your oik-ish street poet, think more Ed Scissor & Lamplighter educated by Blackadder), and beats paint pictures of royalty trying to resist the ravages of dread and paranoia, rather than just throwing the emcees a loop. Living and dying by their definition of the dark arts, this will greatly benefit your gramophone.

Wiki’s observation that there’re ‘No Mountains in Manhattan’ should land him a top 10 spot come the end of the year. An aggressive flow that the Ratking member fine tunes into a melodic, sometimes mindful set of skewers, has the keys to a fertile carnival of sound that’s a long way from the candy floss and celebration remit, plus spots from Ghostface and Your Old Droog. Sending out an S-O-S of licks, plucks, squalls and keys, live quartet Son of Sam have got the goods to get a bevy of celebrated underground heroes on board. The team assembled to ascend ‘Cinder Hill’ – J-Live, Masta Ace, Sadat X, Prince Po, Guilty Simpson,  Soundsci and more – keeps the hip-hop band template fresh, funky and nimble at every turn, though rather for the great outdoors, they build a fortress of solitude that’s all killer and “raw like Eddie in a leather suit”.





Another month, another heist involving Giallo Point, this time fronted by the plucky PhybaOptikz, a babyface assassin in a pair of Air Max charged with half inching the ‘Voynich Manuscript’. As ever the beats’ mob connections go all the way to the top, with Farma G and Sonnyjim accessories to the firm. Brandishing the jolliest of hockey sticks, noble B-boys Elemental and Dr Syntax are the voice of The Menagerie, a four man funtime team of English pleasantries going hunting for the ‘Odd Beast’. Crystal clear conversation set to super spiffy beats putting the awe in roaring 40s, only step to these toffs if you think you’ve got the teeth to tackle their upper crust.

Ready to smack the monocle off your boat, Legion of Goon’s ‘Project Goon’ plonks the truth out there with a smash and grab of double ‘ard bastard beats and rhymes that are “British like fish and chips” and certified to give you spine splints. Stig of the Dump and Stu the Don blaze up to leave you fearing the beard. Not quite on Stephen King’s coattails but not without steps into darkness, Blockhead’s ‘Funeral Balloons’ signify an instrumental set of trip hop distinctions creating a loop-clearing cross section to challenge any mic contraption.





Blinders to take a peek at this month, from Stylz & Wells, Verb T and Gift of Gab.












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