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.











HIP-HOP REVIEW
WORDS/SELECTIONS: MATT OLIVER





So, where’d you place your X this month? Rapture & Verse voted for that bloke dressed as a fish finger, mainly because we’ve always been down with Captain Birdseye, but was interested in how emcees were able to draw out the youthful/apathetic when it came to getting involved in the polling process. Here’s an example of hip-hop that rocked the vote: Si Phili leads the canvas, with Si Spex flipping Mott the Hoople.



Singles

East London’s C.A.M. sticks his size nine into DJ Daredevil’s jazz silk-n-snares, front foot form that orders the rest to ‘Act Like You Know’: slickness capable of slipping in a scissor kick. To a knotted, backwards sliding guitar doing the hula all wrong, Earth2Tom gives Frshrz free rein to examine the ‘N_WRD’, a deft dictionary drill that you need to know about. Someone has really got Micall Parknsun’s goat, and we should all be grateful, smashing into Mr Thing tinkling a piano into an ominous tremor and guaranteeing ‘The Raw’. Remixes come from Jazz T slinking in hobnailed boots, and Park-E arming himself with an organ crowing that the enemy is near.





From the ‘Baby Driver’ OST, Danger Mouse builds a custom block rocker for Run the Jewels to floor it to, the hot-wired funk of ‘Chase Me’ picking up Big Boi en route and laughing all the way from the bank. Young RJ quietly urges you to ‘Wait’, a smooth soul swirl taking the edge off with Boldy James and Pete Rock biding their time to invest in a track that’s four minutes worth of sweet spots from the Slum Village affiliate. Also frosted with street cream, Chris Rivers’ ‘Lord Knows’ is one to keep heads up and life in perspective, all while shouting out Joey Tribbiani. The hipster experience from WLK & BSS, both advocates of sunglasses at night, turns skeletal electro into pulsing neon on ‘Nightlife’; from the falsetto hook to the soft trap furnishings, it’s a cruise down the strip acting as high society on social media.

Too tangy for your tastebuds? There’s always Prophets of Rage’s ‘Unfuck the World’: more rock-rap rallying and polling booth ransacking from Chuck D, B Real and RATM which speaks for itself, right down to the video directed by Michael Moore. Alternatively, try Prozack Turner’s ‘Obsession’, a rumpus of guitar-bucking hip-hop matching a B-boy stance with a tip of the Stetson.





Albums

‘Billy Green is Dead’ writes Jehst, a life and times chronicle showing the sort of word association and plain English penmanship that has long made him the UK’s premier emcee. Psychedelic residue, where the Drifter carries on mixing toxins ‘til he’s lost in the synergy, drips into his bests of being uppity and indignant, shaping a storyboard of the eponymous paranoid android dealing with the five degrees of grief. Open-ended enough to keep you wondering whether this is all one carefully calculated dream/lavishly constructed fake news, it’s a demise to be joyous about.



With Ramson Badbonez coming on strong on ‘Hypnodic’ (full review here), an ace marksman hitting every shot at the shy before quickly ducking out, Joe Blow is ‘The Smoking Ace’, the Squid Ninja mixing up surprisingly soulfully tuned rhyme sprees with raw balaclava ripostes – “my life’s a snuff film they won’t show at the cinema” – with consistency absolutely paramount. Ral Duke, Pacewon, Roc Marciano and Skamma help Blow give it both barrels.

With his usual UK to US blend of quiet storms turning into full blown street typhoons, Endemic Emerald, directed by the begrizzled Skanks the Rap Martyr, present ‘Rapsploitation’. Featuring a clutch of underground generals, only press play if you’re a school of hard knocks alumnus and list your hobbies as looking directly into the eye of the storm. Guided by the uppermost UK pedigree on the mic, the recruitment skills of Australian producer Must Volkoff are a bargain for ‘Aquanaut’ to watchfully guard the gateway to the deep. Add some local emcees to the vibe warning against one false move (please, no quips about going Down Under), and it becomes an album to sneak past security where the reward is worth the risk.





Combative in the ‘Game of Death’, Gensu Dean and Wise Intelligent of Poor Righteous Teachers are a well matched pair of pugilists. Dean’s production, woven with a wispy touch of consternation while pulling no punches, and WI’s spry, Kendrick-ish flow always aware of the threat in hand, make it an event fit for a king. Scathing political observations are the key to the lock of David Banner’s ‘The God Box’, throwing open an interesting Southern variety of funk, soul, trap, spoken word and rock to rummage through. The complex sharpens your elbows (including one wedding first dance) with messages doing the same to your brain. FYI’s ‘ameriBLAKKK’ might not make as many genre hops but is just as focused on modern day and historical injustice, a quickness of lip and concept from the LA provocateur showing the possibilities of standing up and smoothing it out (including one late night booty call).





Set in a doorstep reality of drum machines, rap bots, isolation stations and soul flashbacks shambling and shimmering to a mostly unexplained specification, two albums of enigmatic boundary twisting from Shabazz Palaces aim to drown you in lyrical/production depth, or make you feel you’re the last being on earth. Both ‘Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star’ (featuring an unofficial bend of Kraftwerk’s ‘The Model’) and ‘Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines’ reek of jet pack fuel, docking late night to mark the X in unorthodox.

Blacastan & Stu Bangas’ ‘The Uncanny Adventures of Watson & Holmes’ contains a disappointingly low number of references to deerstalkers and matters being ‘elementary’. A single case-cracking track later (‘Murder Mystery II’), Blacastan’s grimy, jawbreaker rhymes are permanently on code red until he’s almost chasing his own tail, and Stu Bangas’ beats – weapon of choice proudly displayed on the sleeve – riddles boom bap with a quiver of hollow 80s synths and American wrestler rawk. English detective pleasantries < “Gravediggaz, with a lil’ bit of Main Source.” Kool G Rap’s ‘Return of the Don’ is swamped in guests to the point where’s he almost the first leg to his own album relay. The calibre of those joining the salivary stick ups is undeniable – Raekwon, Termanology, Sean Price, Cormega and more – and wall to wall production from MoSS allows ample street profiling, but overall it’s another veteran’s day hustle dampening expectations.

Straightforwardly jazzy and making the MPC sound like a million bucks, BennyBen’s ’16 Levels’ is a Finnish breeze of instrumentalism, with the odd dark strand and a couple of mic spots from OnePlusOne bringing the cappuccino beats to the boil. Mightily living up to its title, Fredfades’ ‘Warmth’ flows like sun rays through blinds, with fawning hip-hop rhymes on hire and a soul bronzing that’ll chase away meteorological grey. Of boom-bap crafted as bittersweet symphonies and burdened jazz wanting alone time in the rain, Remulak’s ‘Earth’ is still a comforting presence getting the best from your headphones.





Mixtapes

Always landing sunny side up, Jay Prince’s ‘Late Summers’ has got R&B moves and the lure of the trap as its main prongs of attack. The influences soon become obvious, as is Prince’s smarter-than-most planning to anchor many a good weathered party, whether your yacht’s at full speed, or someone’s shouted there’s more alcohol back at theirs.

Vital visuals this month: Juga-Naut’s self-assessment, Dutch Mob’s photo album, Datkid getting a foot in the door and the thrift of Career Crooks.













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