Hip-Hop Roundup/Matt Oliver





Singles

A miniature singles round-up this month – blame it on the boogie – but a good pair of twofers all the same to kick off the latest referendum-ready Rapture & Verse. Ken Masters articulating like the clappers over a glitzy gala of a bossa nova loop is a very good thing indeed: hear now the sweet sound of ‘Fresh Air’. As part of the Badroaches team with Torb the Roach, he also sets sail on a mystic river as an ambassador of ‘Cosmic Viking Wizard Funk’, capable of administering bad juju. Open Mike Eagle continues to go from strength to strength, ‘What Happens When I Try to Relax’ a half dozen cracking open of his brick bodied skull that blasts arena-sized synths and shrunken beats equally projecting unique visions made gospel truth. Entertaining wordplay that’s as much about satisfying his own high standards in syllable practice. He then teams with Pan Amsterdam on the calmingly engrossing ‘No Snare’, a sharing and airing of respective kooks over a jazzy groove to be welcomed like a summer flashback.

 

Albums

Beneath the floorboards of ‘Mansion 38’, Jam Baxter orchestrates ‘Touching Scenes’, lo-fi gloom and scarred wit capable of exploding off the page. Appearances from Rag n Bone Man and Kate Tempest show the strength of Baxter’s blurred mind racing into HD – still no slouch when everything says otherwise – as he and Chemo on production ooze into every nook and cranny, handing you a surgeon’s blade to dissect the depth of their dark circles. A tightrope walk slumping against a pressure cooker.





Back in no time at all, Lee Scott continues to skewer the world, this time bringing the lung butter to the soiled surveillance camera sounds of Reklews as Hock Tu Down. Both exhibit punch-drunkardness on ‘Hock Tu 3’, like looking at the world through a spoon, yet are unputdownable: mind control by and for misfits and malevolent spirits – after all, “reality is what you make it, even if there’s no-one to corroborate it”. No need to read between the lines when CNT come to town, the Code Name Theory of Manage and Blitz insisting you cup an ear on ‘Sounds About Right!’ Beats and rhymes are soaked in honest Brit bitterness, mind’s eye doing double shifts on the beguiling ‘Need Guidance’, and the care with which they take their craft means their messages always carry in the right way.

‘The Post Apocalyptic Story Teller’ is a role where Chester P earns his golden handcuffs, casting end day tales and folk-angled parables fit for today’s diminishing civilisation. Long a master of vividly narrating from the no man’s land beyond the street corner, the mediaeval and the evil that men do will have you huddling round, but in full blast of a frosty Task Force reception. No slip-ups on D Tail’s ‘Happy Accident’, slick and swift grime-trained rhymes taking to hip-hop funk with impudence and asking some searching questions along the way. Toss a mic in his direction and he’ll always be ready to respond en masse: a final posse cut involving Ras Kass and Leaf Dog shows he’s got the goods. A compact cross section of instrumental despair and beats seeking emcees to bruise knuckles with, Nick Roberts dips into ‘False Consciousness’, with Dizzy Dustin, Pudgee tha Phat Bastard, Ash the Author and Cyrus Malachi taking advantage of when the producer isn’t longingly working the MPC with a wistful glint. No false moves made by anyone here.

Rugged but always smooth, Apollo Brown painting pictures with Joell Ortiz on ‘Mona Lisa’ is a great, late end of year candidate that’s reflective with a forked tongue and makes the stoop sofa-soft. Able to turn nasty on a sixpence (‘Cocaine Fingertips’ is as sharp as a Kruger manicure), there’s a lot of comfort to be taken from the union of two opposing authority figures exercising supreme quality control, transfixing you like you’re intimately eyeballing the pair’s much ogled muse.





Many parallels can be drawn from Masta Ace and Marco Polo’s ‘A Breukelen Story’, which save for tired skits piping up, is a similar exertion of concentrated strength. An immovable flow that has never let the former down, inimitably representin’, knowing the ‘ledge or reeling off what might have been, takes over production capitalising on a previous hook-up and taking in plenty of fresh, buzzing for autumn air, content on letting the words take the spotlight (even if Pharoahe Monch threatens to upstage everyone on final track ‘The Fight Song’).





The moreish ‘Pieces of a Man’ is Mick Jenkins knowing how to work a crowd. Powered by the woozy, a retreat nudging over into the club with keys constantly paddling, just when you think he’s coasting with the heat off, the Chicagoan plucks it out of the fire with a turn of phrase, concept, or one-liner more damaging than the casual ear can locate. “I be on my show and prove, not my show and tell” – persevere with it and the layers will reveal themselves. A mix of reluctant popstar, drifter hip-hop and traditional Midwest spin, deM atlaS tells the crowd to get lighters up in anticipation of jumping into them. Produced by Ant of Atmosphere, ‘Bad Actress’ is all showman, taming himself after exuberant opening exchanges. The wearing of multiple hats won’t be for everyone: the vulnerability, rap/rockstar/R&B whims, heart-to-hearts, including a remake of Mobb Deep’s ‘Where Your Heart At’, and development of a spectacle, could unlock a lot of new ears.

This month’s Ronseal album: ‘Grimey Life’ by Big Twins, a 15 track upkeep of realness delivered in shredded ghetto baritone. All the street consumption you could possibly ask for, flooded with blood, sweat and tears. Meanwhile in mid-apocalypse Ontario, Lee Reed’s ‘Before & Aftermath’ announces itself as a timebomb, an anti-establishment front row provocateur refusing to accept easy answers. Drums and funk kick down doors like the crooked figures in Reed’s crosshairs, with a twang dragging Your Old Droog and Vast Aire into the fire. Cherried by the all inclusive ‘Fuck Em’, you can’t spell renegade without the name Reed: burn speakers burn.





‘The Beat Tape Co-Op’ 10th anniversary compilation from 77 Rise rounds up 30 instrumental cameos and bite-sized boom bap bops, laced with soul slipping down the hourglass. The likes of Kuartz, Dr Drumah, Ben Boogz, Klim Beats and Profound79 put in the neck work and make their presence felt on a selection where it’s okay to touch that dial. ‘Dressed for CCTV’ by Aver avoids being a Hard-Fi tribute and gets knee-deep in instrumental murk glistening with a sharp film, dredging for drums and coming up with intriguing droplets of gold to create an atmosphere where emcees fear to tread, save for Cappo manning up on ‘Something from Nothing’. A classy retread of trip hop’s noir-ish particulars.





The spectre of the late Alias looms large on ‘Less is Orchestra’, enabling the supervillain flow of Doseone’s effusive battery acid gargles – scarier when he reaches dog whistle levels – with a cavernous, chrome-finished bunker of wires, pulses and logical mechanoid scurries. A game of good cap bad cop launching the Anticon equivalent of the bat signal.





Taking the street into the club and vice versa, Swizz Beatz’ strong ‘Poison’ brings the fuel, Lil Wayne, Giggs, Kendrick Lamar, 2 Chainz and Young Thug add the fire. It was never gonna be an album of modest contemplation (though quieter storms reserved for Nas and Pusha T don’t disrupt the sequence), but it’s still a pretty good, well condensed elbow sharpener with everyone on their game.

 

Look out for the Monolith Cocktail end of year album roundup coming soon, chock full of Rapture & Verse’s favourites from over the last 12 months.

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MATT OLIVER’S ESSENTIAL MONTHLY HIP-HOP ROUNDUP





Singles/EPs

With Rapture & Verse writing letters to Santa asking for Record Store Day specials from Prodigy, Dilla, Three6Mafia, Latyrx and a not-safe-for-turntables Christmas ice breaker from Kool Keith, the long held preconception that bad boys move in silence proves to be nothing but fake news. To the tune of stink-eye jazz, a warning shot causing whiplash is Ocean Wisdom maintaining ‘Eye Contact’, flowing comfortably before reaching his trademark warp speed without loss of clarity. Fresh hell from Onoe Caponoe unsheathes a similar typhoon tongue, taking the form of ‘Pennywize’ to a trap hammer horror thrown under the bus with the kitchen sink. Res One’s clinical and dangerous ‘Preach Nothing’ ensures you’ll burn in hell, Vicious Creep producing a funeral hymn remembering a Wild West shoot out. Beads jangling, consider the bird well and truly flipped when Dabbla goes ‘Flying’ – only first class, of course. Even the proper Professor Elemental is sent into a tailspin when James Flamestar turns ‘Knock Knock’ into a sub-EDM battering ram.





Bring your bludgeoned ears to the house of Handbook, who’ll look after you (and many an emcee) with the soulfully strong instrumentals ‘Holding You’/’Nightlife’. MrE simmers down and lights up with ‘Fairy Tale’, a well executed storyteller twisting bedtime favourites and fables into a pointed Bronx lullaby. But if you’re sitting comfortably to Beatnick Dee & Allen Poe’s ‘Composure’ EP, the LA-Kentucky match-up will pull the seat from under you, soulful for body and brain, with a conscience prepared to do double shifts. Fearing the worst when a club track called ‘Opulence’ with a poolside sleeve is cued, K Gaines leads the flashy set a merry dance with funk and flow setting and nailing simple targets.

One of Sage Francis’ signature fact-finding devastations gets a re-up, ‘Hoofprints in the Sand’ remixed by SonOfKarl as homely calm tries to keep the wolves from the door. Coating bar after bar in blood, KXNG Crooked & Royce 5’9” dispense ‘Truth’, ruthlessly bursting the bubble of bleary trap whose race sounds run. One of DJ Premier’s back pocket boom bappers gets A$AP Ferg to reclaim ‘Our Streets’, a nice beats and rhymes combination operating at about 75% and still eliminating imitators and New York naysayers in their droves. Another DOOM special team – metal-faced sagging meeting the street-carbonated Westside Gunn – comes more underground than a mole’s metro system, on the picture disc payday ‘Gorilla Monsoon’/‘2 Stings’.






Albums

Cappo, Juga-Naut and Vandal Savage power up again as valued vehicle of vengeance VVV, using the pointed end of the dunce cap to gut opposition on ‘Bozo Boyz’. Wearing Nottingham swagbasco like its rockstar cologne, the trio take apart prowling club beats powered by the high beams of an 80s sportscar, a wink and a nod helping slice through lingering gunsmoke.





Reading last rites on ‘2000BD’, Babylon Dead are the governing body of Illinformed, in bedevilled form on the boards, and Jman, riding dirty with ragga rawness on the mic. An uncompromising last days scorch that can you make jump and shout as much as sending you cowering to the corner. The ever bloodshot Bisk and his supply of dropped out hip-hop continues unabated, the typically fitful ‘Fly Sh!t’ and his affiliation of anything but tranquil tranquilizers, Morriarchi, Lee Scott, Sam Zircon and Drae da Skimask, dealing in lo-fi at extreme pressure. Back for seconds, DJ Format and Abdominal adjust the napkin for ‘Still Hungry: The Remixes’, eight extra courses of funkiness that you don’t even have to tip the dynamic duo for.





We’ve all thought it – Armand van Helden and Jan Hammer would make a toothpaste-selling dream team. For now, it’s Armand Hammer leaving Chelsea smiles, New York duo Elucid and Billy Woods heading to ‘Rome’ as underground gladiators whose coat of arms reads “I’m the solution, I’m the condition, I’m a symptom”. Dense, sprawling heat, headed by Messiah Musik and August Fanon on some press-record-and-go business, ‘Rome’ becomes a coliseum-sized battle when reality and ill illusions converge.

The dapper delights of L’Orange’s ‘The Ordinary Man’, instrumental top hat and tails with the creases kept in, create an evocative performance capturing in black and white a concerto producer forming his own magic circle. Right hand men drop in on the mic – Blu, Elzhi, Del, Oddisee – to flank a fantastic sample archive wearing a slightly world-weary pose, from a producer whose trick-from-sleeve ratio remains visionary.





Bringing bangers from the Balkans to Boston, Mr Lif runs with Brass Menažeri for an album of oompah-pa power. ‘Resilient’ sees Lif’s customary nose for a cautionary tale and willingness to occupy outside space, woven to a backdrop of massive horns and cosmopolitan live musicianship let off the leash. Hearty but no novelty, the odd couple/fantasy lineup raises smiles and earns respect.

D4rksid3’s ‘The Dark Tape’ is an envoy of gloom, but slick with it, nestling in hip-hop’s recesses but keeping it moving and able to scoop victory from the jaws of defeat. What starts as groggy gangsterism sparks into life when Meyhem Lauren & DJ Muggs strike gold in uncovering ‘Gems from the Equinox’, a shady, honour-shattering set that with Roc Marciano Action Bronson, Conway, and Mr MFN eXquire in tow, gets into the groove of steam rollering suckers stoopid. Music to out-train Rocky to, Stoneface’s ‘The Stone Age’ runs strictly on rugged terrain on his way to affirmation, quiet storms dive-bombing off clifftops. Do not listen if you’re not up for the fight.



“Boom bap be the music of choice, baritone be the range of the voice”: on an album called ‘Back to the Basics (The Boom Bap)’, the demands of LS Camp are pretty plain. Defenders of the faith who sail smoothly through beats and rhymes, without viewing the world through rose (or golden) tinted glasses. Talking of smooth, Blu & Exile’s ‘In The Beginning: Before the Heavens’ is a prequel talking a lot of sense as it sits atop its predecessor like California cream on top of flavourful pie.

 

Mixtapes

Accomplished enough to be an album in its own right, Sampa the Great’s ‘Birds and The Bee9’ brings to mind the best of Bahamadia. As much as a relaxant as a pricker of ears, global vibes and soulful, gossamer licks consistently dropping shamanic B-girl jewels, confirm one-to-watch status. Chris Read reruns the fun of The Pharcyde’s ‘Bizarre Ride II…’ with a 25th anniversary mix giving you 48 minutes of all the band’s celebrated, accelerated funk and foibles, plus the finger food in between.



On this week’s Gogglebox: Chester P’s premonitions, Rye Shabby’s hometown tour, and Rapsody’s ascension.










Look out for Rapture & Verse’s picks of the year in Monolith Cocktail’s comprehensive 2017 round up, coming soon.


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