MATT OLIVER’S ESSENTIAL MONTHLY HIP-HOP REVIEW

 

A happy new year to all freshly affiliated and dyed-in-the-wool Rapture & Verse rapscallions, climbing off its seasonal sickbed by thinking Eminem’s ‘Revival’ would be the antidote (it isn’t, by an unimaginable distance), and surprised that in the era of health and safety, you can still buy a GZA ‘Liquid Swords’ reissue complete with mini toy weaponry. Hopefully last month’s comprehensive Monolith Cocktail round-ups have put you in the picture as to 2017’s ins and outs; while we catch up with December’s overspill, there’s always Skillz and Uncle Murda squabbling for your retrospective vote.






Singles/EPs

After worming his way into the inner circle of Madlib and DOOM, electronic/house superpower Four Tet doesn’t fluff his audition remixing ‘Madvillainy’, a satisfyingly clean alternative bringing its own worldly daredevilry to the original’s boggy waddling. ‘No Excuses’ asserts Big Cakes, and the seven, Queen’s English-get-the-money tracks don’t pull their punches, making a convincing argument to go for second helpings. More international assassination from Endemic Emerald sends his latest platoon into battle, with Scorzayzee and Tragedy among the stripes-earners, while his string sections get the streets surrounded, the granite-and-gasoline ‘Black Bag Operation’ taking the opportunity to dump rubbish.





Liquid refreshment from Moka Only & E.d.g.e. comes ‘Lucid’ to a fluorescent twittering of too cool-for-clubs synths. Noteworthy for the useful mantra that “rap always overgrown, the grass need a mow y’know, too abstract to be quotable”. The trife life sticks close to Muja Messiah, taking on Roc Marciano’s sweat-trickling gangster leisure time; ‘Saran Rap’ is a half dozen street codes with eyes wide open that would relax if the stakes weren’t so high. Illogic re-enters his astral plane to tell everyone about ‘The Beauty in Evolution’, fastening his seatbelt and hanging out the window with a mix of dubby, jazzy instrumentals and rhymes trying to keep a lid on sounding awed.

Straightforward instructional from Slim Thug throws itself into the front row as he sorts ‘Kingz & Bosses’ with Big KRIT, pleasingly muted in measuring for crowns and emperor’s robes. The sledgehammer sound of BigBob pulverising a piano allows Sadat X and Big Twins to carefully take aim and open fire on the enjoyably unequivocal

roach-stomper ‘The Truth’. When the streets are watching, it’s ‘All Eyes On Us’, with Jamo Gang – Ras Kass, El Gant and J57 – bristling at the wheel of a related, get down or lay down steamrollering.




Albums

Completing his Michigan trilogy, Dabrye’s ‘Three/Three’ invites over a glut of underground hip-hop firebrands, but taps a sign that reads ‘respect our neighbours’ every time one takes to the booth. A stylish, steady holding it down, passing pure hip-hop, neo-soul and electronic routings rarely trespassing into the reds, with DOOM, Guilty Simpson, Ghostface, Danny Brown, Nolan the Ninja and Jonwayne standing for a fine album that doesn’t shout so from the rooftops.





High Focus maximise their strength by mix-and-matching two of their topmost chefs souring their latest specials board. Never a duo for soft centres, Jam Baxter and Ed Scissor spray disarray to decorate ‘Laminated Cakes’, their gateaux filled with mercurial gall and grit, and with Ghosttown providing the tough base and sprinkle of hallucinogens that aren’t exactly melt in the mouth. As they make you head nod like there’s a guillotine blade eying up your scone, Pierce Artists are the ‘Kings Returning’ to a hard-backed throne. Unlike the nation’s cricketers, Elliot Fresh and Deeq determinedly dig in, don’t waft at anything airy-fairy and never take their eye off the ball, to Rack Mode keeping perfect line and length on the beats. Part superhero, part vicious dental plan, ‘Teeth Ledger’ has Datkid and Bailey Brown flexing the sort of infectiously perturbing superiority that comes easy. Hood rat rhymes do obnoxious as matter of fact, and beats shrug in the face of catastrophe while waiting for the night bus: both have got a garrison of goods to set wintry nights ablaze, anchored by the supreme head-trolling ‘Whos Dat’. Another slow release slug to your chest from Bisk, with Sam Zircon assisting the leech-like tactics, makes it rain with ‘Saucemoney’ – perfect for when the sun refuses to come up.

Oh No cherrypicking from cool Cali stronghold Now Again is a funk/soul think tank that sounds played by ear, and whose good-paced trolley dash of sounds masks meticulous programming. Keeping a queue of mic antagonists waiting while mentally composing a posse cut’s posse cut, the dustiness of ‘Oh No vs Now Again 3’ is dredged in gold and will reactivate your head. Cutting through early year frostiness is Pete Rock and his ‘Lost Sessions’ finding sunshine on the horizon. Of casual instrumental majesty, the MPC finds the balcony view to its liking once given plenty of breathing space. No need to pass the aux here. The first hip-hop signing by The White Stripes’ Jack White is inauspiciously named New York emcee SHIRT – sartorially scruffy (and a search engine’s nightmare), but with enough raw, nomadic swagger to have you recognising the ‘Pure Beauty’ within.





David Begun continues to meddle in the affairs of Nas and Madlib, ‘Nasimoto: The Even Further Adventures’ playing God with the Gods and bootlegging to a boss standard. Fresh perspectives that push all the right, corresponding buttons. The crux of Masta Ace’s ‘Son of Yvonne’ gets renovated by a host of European producers that do both proud to earn their place in the album’s family portrait. Funky on the low but full of that all important snap that makes Ace tick, the tight-knit promise to never from the beaten track claims a companion to complement and rival the original.

Playing street games and getting results, Religion’s ‘The Demo Reel’ rigs up cop themes crossing the wrong side of town until reality starts to distort. Mists paint the scene from the ground up and freaks come out at night for loops and kicks that will work your neck blue, allowed a seldom spring in its step. For those still walking around in a post-Christmas fug, ‘The Top Left: Skeleton Staff’ from Mistah Bohze will shake you by the collar and out of your resolution-dodging malaise. Bulky from first to last until you’re swamped, and including a crafty reinvention of ‘Kernkraft 400’, the Glasgow emcee ploughs through on his own can’t stop-won’t stop manifesto.





“This is not trap, we don’t mumble neither: closed mouths don’t get fed”. Redbaren 907 and Deep of 2 Hungry Boys are ‘Unbreakable’, and you soon believe them: a won’t flop beats and rhymes unit (‘Barz Flows and Delivery’ hammering the point home), dishing out a one-two you can reliably gain muscle to. With the globe circling the drain, KXNG Crooked presents blow by blow coverage from the disaster zone with a flow to make you put your foot through the TV. ‘Good vs Evil 2: The Red Empire’ is iron-fisted intensity not sugar-coating narratives (despite some carnal urges) for anyone; despite the bleak pictures he paints, you trust the KXNG, whose force relegates beats to a footnote, to repair the job in hand.



Mixtapes

Everything worth hearing from Jeru the Damaja – a higher 90s heyday than most – gets its laundry aired on the ‘Dirty Rotten Mixtape’, Chrome and Donnie Propa in charge of putting together the best wrathful mathematics going. On the surprisingly lightweight ‘Emperor Nehru’s New Groove’, giving brains not too much to worry about, Bishop Nehru is on cruise control when flaunting shiny wares for the club and lounge: smooth operations hanging at the shallow end. Bruse Wane declaring ‘The Batman Should’ve Been On It’ transitions between classic beat loans and original album prep, swooping like charity gala attendee by day before night shift vengeance takes over. The bat signal is fairly strong with this one.





No videos this month. Go catch up with a boxset instead.

You can check out all Matt’s past roundups here

And all his reviews/roundups/selections from 2017 here

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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.











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