Hip-Hop Revue
Words: Matt Oliver





Singles

The summer into autumn changeover is upon us, so here’s Rapture & Verse packed with all new stationery for term time. The tang of Joey Paro’s ‘Victory Gin’, charming you with Illinformed’s sweeping strings before stout flavours are brought out, serves four shots of Bristol cream capable of dumping you on your backside when Eric the Red, Smellington Piff, Datkid and Res One chip in. An EP spraying like winner’s champagne. Four tracks of Rodney P, Ty and Blak Twang stamping their authority is ‘The KingDem’ reminding everyone of UK hip-hop’s rightful sovereignty; steered by presence most will never achieve (“man are OG, shoulda know me”), and with the ‘Kingstep’ switch into drum & bass guaranteeing a multiple carnival float pile-up. More elite elder statesman status from Blade continues to roar from strength to strength, ‘Dark Friends’ vanquishing enemies from the belltower and ‘Make It Connect’ staging a smooth and deadly old skool takedown. For an elbow sharpener, head to Denzel Himself’s ‘Birdie’, live and direct from London’s crucible with a blue touch paper hook.





DZ The Unknown bringing the ‘Thunder Slap’ with Celph Titled, M-Dot, Esoteric and Big Shug stands up for all crime rhyme Houdini Gs, rounding on C-Lance’s Gotham brass beating you into bloody pulp fiction. In contrast, Bishop Nehru and Brady Watt’s ‘The Real Book’ has got your back when coffee either eases you into the weekend or is your bargaining chip to extend the evening. Five smooth, strong aromas. Assuming things go well, J Lately’s ‘Run’ brings the cosmos into line when you’re blissfully between sound asleep and waking up.






Albums

Long owning one of UK hip-hop’s best poker faces, whether up, down or in between (“I just wanna smoke blunts, chillin’ in the bathtub”), Verb T posing ‘A Question of Time’ is his umpteenth delivery of lyrical intricacy with his feet up. The production of Pitch 92 – neo-soulful, sharply jazzed, occasionally exotic, always generously drummed – runs in parallel, the album’s calming influence matched by its best foot forward getting shit done. Grown man hip-hop in the business of casual downtime that just happens to see off those that can’t handle ‘Time’ on their hands.

Blackburn-repping bard Bill Shakes gets quizzical on ‘Eh?’, making convincing arguments on shaky ground, the down-at-heel with the dossers vibe making the bravado work harder – ‘Once Upon a Time in Blackburn’ does his best Slick Rick – and getting the strange realities, born out of the local day-to-day, to slap. One to listen to by the spark of a lighter.

Mikill Pane’s ‘The Night Elm on Mare Street’ is no video nasty, cutting through dry ice and keyboards of a certain dystopian/romantic vintage. Overfeeding punchlines like Gremlins after dark, the patent lyrical agility and care with words is entertainingly nostalgic, and dealing with a whole host of first worlders against banks of VHS-ready synth-pop pulses gives the album its distinction. Don’t sleep. As the ‘Heart Break Kid’, Rick Fury hits with prizefighter accuracy despite looking into wrestling federation glam and with the slouch of someone who’s downed tools. Working harder than the languid North East verbs appear, the soulful beats that Fury hangs his namedrops, home comforts and passive-aggressive coin flips on, sound carefully handpicked from a dusty VIP reserve, adding to the man and myth.

Expect party-hardy funk and frolics from Chali 2na and Krafty Kuts at your peril. When ‘Adventures of a Reluctant Superhero’ seems geared towards cartwheeling breaks and lyrical calisthenics, reinforced by ‘Guard the Fort’ and the sleeve/title, the dominant powers are a variety of tempos – KK releasing simple, neck-aware energies – and flows in thought (covert life coach ‘Feel the Power’) that make incisions: i.e., 2na doing what 2na does. Victory assured.





Two albums that are rough and rugged, but know the game enough to spruce up the raw. Elevating his status to ‘GITU (Greatest in the Universe)’, Chris Rivers doesn’t lose sight of the road ahead, and where the title and look-at-me connotations run deeper. The Big Pun bloodline has never run truer; capable of reading the room so lighter crossover moments share space with ripsnorters to rattle the place. Overall, a polished player with reach. Switch the accessible trap to boom-bap clean enough to eat off, and you have Joell Ortiz’ ‘Monday’ running alongside. Strong armed wistfulness (if that’s a thing), it’s a case of the rhyme animal finding a comfortable lane to put his priorities in order with open eyes, making one particularly good point on ‘Screens’ lamenting the tech-obsessed generation’s refusal to enjoy the fresh air.





Straight shooting from Rapsody earns a promotion to first lady on ‘Eve’, looking to emulate heroes and icons and wanting to be mentioned in the same breath. Making soft touches that much sharper, mixing up Phil Collins and Wu-Tang stashes as she goes, an unflinching belief system sees off the ill-equipped (“ain’t an emcee on this earth that make me feel afraid”), not so much striking a chord as demolishing it with style and sass. Queen Latifah joins the update of the ladies first manifesto from someone who comes “like Left Eye with the matches”.

The celebrated return of Little Brother – funky, soulful and with a killer side eye – is like they’ve never been away. Despite the absence of 9th Wonder, Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh’s proclamation of ‘May the Lord Watch You’ shines summery light over all. Effortless and erudite (“20-20 ain’t shit without foresight”), LB still have the remedy for when your last nerve has been worked over. Two essential elements Blu and Damu the Fudgemunk abide by are ‘Ground & Water’. You already know which other two they come through with, declaring at eight tracks once they’ve refreshed heads but also left in some necessary dirty backwash as well. Therefore, moving crowds, no mistakes allowed, and more than once, Damu giving up the goods to just step. A combination that was never in doubt re-ignites those in need of an enthusiasm boost.

Long a protestor of hip-hop being him against the world, Ras Kass’ ‘Soul on Ice 2’ is in the mood for a high score body count, maximising velocity on every single word as if it’s his last. Shattering myths and ciphers and perfect for two cents worth on the current state of the world, the backing of Diamond D, Snoop, Cee-Lo, JUSTICE League and Immortal Technique allows for valuable variation without dilution of the destruction.





A slimline serving of chintzy hors d’oeuvres and comfortable linens from Alchemist invites heavyweights such as Benny the Butcher, Meyhem Lauren, Boldy James and Action Bronson to scarf down the funk schmaltz and schmooze of ‘Yacht Rock 2’. Your entry aboard is non-refundable, though the imagery of rappers networking in floral shirts with snifter in hand while the band plays on is very believable.

Matt Oliver’s Essential Hip-Hop Review




So, it turns out that 50 Cent isn’t a bitcoin millionaire after all. And that Talib Kweli found about the Black Star album reunion on the internet, like the rest of us. So Rapture & Verse has had its fingers burnt while attempting to keep ‘em on the pulse. We’ve been consoling ourselves instead with the possibility of that zillion dollar Wu-Tang album being relisted on eBay – we’re more likely to bid on that than go for a Record Store day reissue of Cam’ron’s finest hour – and that a trip to Busta Rhymes Island (a legitimate map location, not a Flipmode Squad theme park) could be just the job to escape this frightful weather.






Singles/EPs

Del the Funky Homosapien and Amp Live – not in the roles of Nicky Campbell and Carol Smillie – wheel up the ‘Wheel of Fortune’, a banger that pleasingly doesn’t travel straight up and down as the club dictates. Music to fry by, ‘Fajita Effect’ is the Doppelgangaz letting loose another dollop of that ‘Dopp Hopp’, East-to-West funk that’ll make you guard your grill. MED and Guilty Simpson pledge ‘Loyalty’ with a set of easygoing back-and-forths nudging you to fling your windows wide open, save for ‘Face Down’ making you eat mat.





‘Donkey Punch!’ from Wundrop & Kemastry is here to make an ass of us all, an unsteady hallucination turned into actual fact. More Juga-Naut for you on ‘Found Objects’ means more East Midlands elitism, striking blows and a pose over half-inched favourites and rocking some of his own wares with a dissertation worth of references to chew over. The right honourable Harvs le Toad gives the airwaves some zing with ivory tinkler ‘Minty Fresh’, Vitamin G and Louis Loan tipping their hat to a beatsmith taking his jazz all the way to Walford.



Pragmatic in the face of joy, lo-fi curio ‘Plus One’ by Pan Amsterdam balances spring-has-sprung strings with a deadweight flow locked between Jonwayne and Count Bass D. Killer horns lift the firing Bishop Nehru up to the ‘Rooftops’, and ‘The Mood’ lifted by Smoke DZA featuring Joey Bada$$ would be relegated to just another trapper by numbers were it not saved by a lovely ice cream van riff wafting over the top. Back with a new set of scalpels, Dr OctagonKool Keith, Q-Bert and Dan the Automator – prescribe a one-way ticket to ‘Area 54’, full of that ‘cosmetic, kinetic, ultramagnetic” good stuff measuring you for a bodybag.




Albums

Calming yet still able to speak up, Ty’s ‘A Work of Heart’ almost feels like a magic carpet ride over the capital’s skyline, especially with singles ‘Brixton Baby’ and ‘Eyes Open’. Or the navigating of London backstreets like it’s a gambol though the countryside, despite there always being potholes en route. Or set adrift on memory bliss before stubbing its toe. You get the idea, so come and spread your arms if you really need a hug.

Apathy’s continued research into finding six million new ways for you to pop your clogs, means ‘The Widow’s Son’ is a fourteen round fight for your life (the title track calling in a favour from He-Man). Producers DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Buckwild, Nottz and Stu Bangas spread out in a bid to keep up with punchlines and wordplay battling into the fantastical. Remember, “while you rocking man-buns, I’m cocking handguns”. The second Prhyme instalment of Premier and Royce 5’9” continues their restoration job of hip-hop integrity. It still might not be enough for hardcore dream team assemblers, yet there are far worse concepts than an emcee extending his hot streak right from the off, and the producer richly rounding out the boom bap rat-a-tat, without either stuttering in stride.





Black Milk confidently advises you to catch his ‘Fever’, smooth neo-soul style that keeps your ear pressed hard to the speaker, and whose live band wisdom is velvety enough to give you a universally appealing education that cuts through the smoke. 2018 has another seat filled for best of reservations come Christmas.

It’s rare for an instrumental album/beat tape to sound so luxurious, but Calvin Valentine isn’t skimping when putting his feet up in the ‘Plush Seats’, 20, sub two minute silk cuts of soul and funk to have you glued to your pew. On the clunkier but no less funkier side, Exile’s excerpt in the ‘Baker’s Dozen’ series chops away to great effect, treating the MPC like a punch bag and still able to get smooth with it. ‘Sunlight Grace/O\Moonlight Vibes’ tells you all you need to know about Sai Wai, a pulse-steadying emcee keeping fires burning once jazz has closed shop for the day and has a date with a long hot bath in mind. Good for what ails you.





Still sounding like they’re working on Her Majesty’s Secret Service and still not giving the game away, The Herbaliser’s ‘Bring Out the Sound’ mixes lavish funk escapades with hip-hop involving peak-time Rodney P and beats styled as B-boy informants. Also eating away at hip-hop’s wider possibilities, Cut Chemist steps up to add songs and scope to his signature turntable torque. Edan, Mr Lif, Chali 2na, Myka 9 and Biz Markie fulfil mic duties as wings are spread into dusty, enquiring indie-dance and electronica that helps build an intriguing album that’s more a fluid soundclash than dazed collision.

Germany’s DJ Obsolete lays down jazzy failsafes in the field of pleasantly mature, springtime-in-the-90s boom bap, with features from Blabbermouf, Gee Bag, Warpath and Nomadic. ‘The Mandela Effect’ pays careful attention to expectations of the headnodders panel, and keeps it swift and to the point. Inviting you to wallow with them in sour times, the dejection of Dove Rock and Jackson Jones’ ‘A Pretty Way of Saying Ugly Things’ points loops downwards and posts spiritedly accepting lyrics peering over the fence, way too smart for being moored in the back of beyond. Gritty, windswept drama on a countdown to D-day, you shouldn’t expect anything else from the John Does also known as The Incredible Disappearing Man. On their eponymous album, grimly determined rhymes keep their head, buffeted and taunted by beats bound by the hands of fate.

For those up for some “unapologetic nerdcore boom bap schizophrenia”, Dngr Eyelnd open ‘A Lovely Room of DEATH’, a destination plastered in warning signs yet one where the madness is kept methodical, an intimidator honouring beats and rhymes protocol by arguing that “if this ain’t real hip-hop, then Taylor Swift is classic rock”. Make your reservation now. The tumultuously grungy Moodie Black and their symbol for ‘Lucas Acid’ fill the moshpit with feedback and threats, death rattles and loud, industrial spite; not a place for smiley faces. ‘Bulletproof Luh’ comes cultish – an at-odds flow from Mach Hommy stone-facedly seeks a ride or die chick, over far more adventurous, self-produced sampledelic beats.






Mixtapes

He’s been there, done that, got the T-shirt and now has the Presidential cap to match. DJ Yoda’s ‘Make Mixtapes Great Again’ is his usual long shot of heavyweight hip-hop, TV and pop nostalgia, declassified secret weapons and mischief closing the gaps in between. Expect Prodigy in combat with Bob Holness, KRS-One duetting with Bobby Brown, Paul Barman taking a sleigh ride, a 128K version of ‘Forgot about Dre’, Huey Lewis and The News, and so on and so on.

This month’s moving pictures: C.A.M. takes to the streets, Quelle Chris & Jean Grae take it to the arcade, 4orce and King Kashmere take a hike, and the late Craig Mack shows who’s boss.













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