The essential Hip-Hop Review/Words: Matt Oliver





With the eight LP Eric B and Rakim vinyl reissue under our arm and tickets for both the B-Boy Championships (October, Kentish Town) and DMC World DJ Championship Finals (October, Camden, with the reigning champion being a stupefying 12 years old) in the back pocket, Rapture & Verse has a spring in its step and something special for sunburnt ears. South London producer Charles Edison, whose ‘My Name Is’, ‘Bitstorm’ and ‘Waking Up’ EP have done the business in this column down the years, lets us in on a sneak preview EP of five instrumentals from his forthcoming upcoming full length. Seamless with the sampler and as inventive as his surname demands, this exclusive preview of ‘Beats from the Seventh Floor’ reads between the lines of relaxation and tension, delivering head nodding from on high.




Singles/EPs

We love nothing more than the smell of ‘Sulphur’ in the morning. Britcore pioneers Gunshot return to set the record straight with a dramatic re-entry seizing a widescreen tracking shot and provocatively resonant lyricism. ‘2 Feel So Good’ by Tha 4orce and Poynt Blak is to acknowledge a morose head nodder looking for the change in seasons, before coming one time ‘4 The Mind & Soul’ with something to roll out red carpet lino for.





A reissue of classic Def Jux between Mr Lif and El-P brings back robotics from the lab and for the tracksuit at 45RPM, announcing the ‘Return of the B-Boy’. On his own version of Beast Mode, Mick Jenkins goes ‘Bruce Banner’ on an absolutely stone cold four minutes, taking his time before clicking into gear over a nervous lullaby. How about some hardcore? DJ Premier slamming pianos is a red rag to the bull that is Casanova, ‘Wut U Said?’ a certified dome cracker coating speakers in saliva and the kickback of a ton of guns. The ivories are quieter on Reks’ ‘Planz’, but the tirade is just as fierce, launching into ‘Bread and Roses’ with Shortfyuz with a sustained appetite for destruction.

Making headway through woozy neo-soul and underground cool, Blu, MED and Lojii supply quick on the draw rhymes for the star-dusted Oscillations project, seven tracks split between producers Dizz1, Swarvy and Teebs. Following the ‘Signs’ marked ‘snug coffee shop corner in Autumn’, Ace Clark breaks bread with Talib Kweli and Joell Oritz over some of the mellowest jazz on the menu. You probably couldn’t ask for a more Atmosphere track than ‘Make It All Better Again’, their requisite, relatable, days of our lives bitter sweetness getting lighters up and devotees swaying across the land. If you’ve ever wondered what the greatest hits of Slick Rick and Audio Two would sound like in an episode of Peanuts, wonder no more – Will C’s ‘Don’t Break Down’ re-houses a couple of old skool classics with folk-B-Boy whimsy.






Albums

Filled with gastro quotable, Scran Cartel nominate themselves as ‘Blue Plaque Candidates’. Master chefs MNSR Frites and Benny Diction stack up and snack on salivary stimulation, joined at the table by Oliver Sudden, Chemo, Morriarchi, Downstroke and more. Primarily smooth with a piquant palette rising from under the tongue, it’s a great, belt-loosening spread grilling you with much more than just a bunch of culinary one-liners.





Behind ‘The Purple Door’ you’ll find boss hogs Juga-Naut and Sonnyjim, spreading their rule over the Midlands and beyond with celebratory funk and status elevation prepared to take it outside when desired. Their usual, indomitable personas on the mic never skimp on Michelin-starred quality – a buffet of rhymes to return to, if you will – and they still aren’t the ones to test if you think they’re pushing their luck.





If you need sharp, accurate, dark and clean UK hip-hop, give the secret knock and ask for ‘617 Black Label’, where you’ll be met by Heavy Links’ Habitat. Moving like a safecracker slipping detection, Kuartz, Evil Ed, El Tel, DJ Obsolete and Cappo all keep a watch out for a rhymer whose strength is all in the stealth, smooth enough to make sure bad boys stay silent. ‘Crowns and Camo’ is the coat of arms for UK grafter Reds, an unapologetic spitter with an East Anglian ear for rocking clubs to their core. The album doesn’t get more complicated than that, posing crossover questions without dilution or losing any firepower, and riding basslines to turn spines to jelly. For as long as the sun stays out, this one will pose a threat. Man-machine rhymes and boom bap vectors mean a straight ahead onset of the Plague. ‘Where’s the World Gone?’ is the question of Xeno and Secondson, rising phoenix-like to dominate the skyline with a dominant distaste. Powerful stuff.

Napoleon da Legend and Giallo Point cause a ‘Coup D’Etat’, casual gangsterisms unflinching when reporting the unspeakable and the opulent, and the latter’s signature of taking soap opera themes down dark alleys until they’re shook for the rest of their days. ‘Societal Pressure’ starring Micall Parknsun, is the album’s significant turn for the worse. We still need a ‘Resolution’, so Paten Locke engineers a seven-track remix of 2017’s Perceptionists reunion, with an added bonus original. Putting Akrobatik and Mr Lif in the fresh new light of ‘Low Resolution’ sometimes sounds unerringly familiar – there’s a feeling the three have been discussing what’s left on Def Jux’s post-millennium to-do list. Additional subtle switch-ups create a high quality cross referencing.





For those that like their hip-hop on the verge of sleepwalking, Kev Brown offers you his ‘Homework’, the low-key exertions of a distracted doodler. Smoke filled listening booths are the target for retrained funk, sometimes done brusquely, other times with kid gloves, to the tutelage of a scholarly-sleepy voice “looking at the credits: if it says Kev Brown – get it”. The restless soul of Jeremiah Jae under his Daffi guise – fractured, hazy, clammy, intense, and unaffected – sharpens razors as night time therapy. A mind illuminated at the same it can shift backwards, processes and destabilises folk, funk, beats and pieces to a happy medium where he’d “rather be underrated than over-hyped”. Both are given a rude awakening by Q-Unique’s lesson in roach-stomping street cinema: ‘The Mechanic’ is all dramatic strings, drums of death and Arsonist threats never to be taken lightly.




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THE ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVIEW
Words/Selection: Matt Oliver





Rapture & Verse has always considered itself worldly wise, but is always open to education, learning this month that if Ja Rule offers you a flyer, do not take it. Similarly, if Bow Wow promises you a trip in his flying machine, check the Ts and Cs first. If like Lil Yachty, you’re still rubbing real heads the wrong way, best believe Joe Budden will come for you. And on a happier note, that if you have faith in Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince reuniting and playing live again, it will happen. The touring Main Source, House of Pain and Kool G Rap might see a joyous flurry of dust from old cassettes kicked up as well.

Singles/EPs

A dream team delivered years late, DJ Shadow & Nas’ ‘Systematic’ is an effective treaty of ziggy, in-out loops and notable Queensbridge keenness. Forget what you know about breath control and syllable practice, ‘Freedom Form Flowing’ has Gift of Gab, AFRO and RA the Rugged Man trying to outdo one another in the art of the lung crumpling cipher, with only a honky tonk piano for company. While Stu Bangas chisels boom bap out of icicles that’ll take your eye out, Blacastan teams with Tragedy for the front foot stomp ‘War Crimes’. Old skool representation with a fitted to the fullest is to be found on new material from MC Eiht (‘Represent Like This’), Showbiz & AG (mini-album ‘Take It Back’) and Kool G Rap (‘Wise Guys’).



The anxiety attacks of Bisk’s ‘Yasuke’ EP offer sordid disaffection and some serious warnings pushing wigs in reverse, in a warped Lee Scott-produced wonderland that suddenly snaps into action. No case of mistaken identity when Eric the Red demands to know ‘Who’s That Kid’, splattering the mic across unruffled familiarity from Ilinformed on an ear-catching bout of good versus evil. Pop polish and personal plain English from Charles Edison makes ‘I Can’t Hear Them’ and the ‘Waking Up’ EP reflective and living in the real world with a strong shrug of South East attitude.





On Madison Washington’s distinctive ‘Code Switchin’, Malik Ameer is on wheat/chaff sorting duties with a gravelled larynx unafraid to put it on the Ritz, with thatmanmonkz planing down a double bass on the boards until it’s dagger sharp. The sound of smooth dejection comes from FYI – ‘These the Times (Don’t Judge)’ is up in arms with life, but slinks through the spot on its tiptoes. Ill Gordon’s ‘Super Gordo’ superpower is giving off a death stare vaporising all before him, watching the drama unfold poker faced while comic book fanfares rain down. Endemic Emerald, Skanks, Shabaam Sahdeeq and Kasim Allah promise ‘You Gone Learn’, using their own version of celestial enlightenment to spark you out the pulpit.

 

Albums

We always hoped these two kids would get back together: DJ Format & Abdominal re-rendezvous and do what they do best on ‘Still Hungry’. Stacked with their respective specialities of funk to beat down jumped up punks, and tongue lashings upon lashings of rhymes to buddy up with, the UK-Canada connect keep on flexing the knowhow as strong as a B-boy squad to the power of ten. Try sticking a fork in ‘em, and you’ll find that these boys are never done. Plus they’re taking merchandising to unprecedented, post-marigold levels.





It’s probably disingenuous to label Brother Ali as a gentle giant, but his aura continues to swell on ‘All the Beauty in This Whole Life’, dispensing prudence and political provocation, vulnerability and the ability to lay you out. To the tune of arm-linking assurances and music to light candles by from Atmosphere’s Ant with designated overground overtures, it’s not the all-singing-all-dancing festival of some of his peers that you might expect him to have evolved into, but a triumph of crowd gathering words to the wise meets devil’s advocacy, guaranteeing end of term honours.





Cynical old Rapture & Verse approached KRS-One’s ‘The World is Mind’ as one of those all-timer emcee projects trying to uphold a reputation threatening to eat itself (including one slip of the tongue from the Blastmaster, later rectified). Predictably getting a spectrum of boom bap from a host of willing, occasionally over eager producers (the project was mixed and recorded on Merseyside, obviously), when the going’s good, particularly when on a political footing, he can still send mic manufacturers fleeing.

The Petrelli Brothers’ ‘Ghost Diaries’, making noise that’s coming from inside the house, packs the lyrical bluntness of freshly bloodied weaponry, reeling in shadowy fate-sealing beats. Fans of Bristol’s Split Prophets won’t mind one little bit that Germany’s Samadee has remixed a clutch of the collective’s heaviest hitters, akin to an extra layer of lead pushing speakers over. Kyza’s second act of ‘Miverione’ comes with rolling free-flows, jarring wile’outs, emotional recollections and all round 100% blood sweat and tears. Not so much the bit between his teeth, Mr Sayso only deals in terabytes between his gnashers (wordy BS that the man himself would never indulge in).





In a bid to tease out some sunshine in amongst the valley of the shadows, try sending Kuartz’ ‘Shurikens’ into the atmosphere, a jazzy instrumental how-to of ill discipline with plentiful low end theory to hustle you out of a standstill. A dust-covered dozen of loops that are all boom-bapped out, Peace586’s collection of ‘Pine Tar’ offers brass tack treasures; travel-sized jazziness that you can roll on at your leisure, giving ears convenient first aid.

Aiming for made man status with a mixture of calculation and recklessness, Daniel Son’s ‘Remo Gaggi’ is made by Giallo Point’s beats left for dead in the middle of Italy – all arid strings and expensive twangs smothering the need for a kick drum. Toasting the high life and low lives, it’s gangster rap bearing honourable intentions; the second UK-Canada connect to keep an eye on this month. While Roc Marciano’s production looks over his shoulder as a gangsta sensei, Therman Munsin never rests on ‘Sabbath’, making offers you’re bluntly advised not to reject in a grudge match headlining the obituary pages. Charged by amplifier hum and creating a frattish moshpit, Cas One & Figure’s ‘So Our Egos Don’t Kill Us’ is switched on and trying to kick as much as dust as its digital enhancements allow. Not everyone will find the punk-ish bro-bap energy infectious, but if you’re planning a vengeance-dictated road trip from the outback to the big city, here’s your soundtrack.





Turkish Dcypha helps himself to the Stones Throw catalogue, flips it inside out, comes up with the cunningly titled ‘Throw Stones’, and creates a remix album tipping the scales at roughly a ton. He’s obviously done his homework, as the label’s premier lyricists – Guilty Simpson, Percee P, Charizma, MED – all sound most at home in their new surroundings appreciative of the label’s ethos. Bump it out your glass house right now. Proving that the mash-up album remains in reasonably good health, D Begun takes it upon himself to scale the length and breadth of Nas and Madlib’s back catalogues for the ‘Nasimoto’ project, an odd couple made good with supreme synching skills unearthing a kindred spiritedness worth getting to the bottom of. Boutique bootlegger Tom Caruana puts voodoo chilli back on the menu with a re-up of his Jimi Hendrix versus Wu-Tang Clan soundclash: ‘Black Gold’ skilfully sews both dynasties into a Shaolin sky-kisser with the utmost respect.





Mixtapes

On similar terms, an anniversary mix of Outkast from mix king of kings J Period is the cream of ATL now rubbing shoulders with Slick Rick, Redman, Coldcut, Booby Shmurda, Jay-Z and Goodie Mob. ‘Re:Fixed’ is an utterly wicked mix that has got absolutely everything, honouring the Southern players with skills fit for a Cadillac straight out the showroom.




Unable to kick the reviewing habit for what is now the best part of fifteen years, Matt Oliver has gone from messing around with music-related courseworks and DIY hip-hop sites to pass time in sixth form and university, to writing for/putting out of business a glut of magazine review sections and features pages in both the UK and the US. A minor hip-hop freak in junior school, he has interviewed some serious names in the fields of both hip-hop and dance music – from Grandmaster Flash to Iggy Azalea – and as part of what is now a glorified hobby (seriously, every magazine he used to turn up at bit the dust within weeks), can also be found penning those little bits of track info you find on Beatport and Soundcloud, or the notes that used to come with your promo CD in the post. Despite all that the Monolith Cocktail has welcomed him into its fold, and is now the official home of Oliver’s essential Hip-hop revue, Rapture & Verse.