Matt Olivers essential Hip-Hop Revue





Singles/EPs

Rapture & Verse’s Halloween prep starts with the usual cutting of holes in a bed sheet, a liberal squirt of ketchup, and a splash of ‘The Tonic 2’ EP across the chops. Dr Syntax and Pete Cannon guarantee a minimum 24 hour protection, examining avenues few dare to visit: the self-explanatory ‘Workinout’ and ‘Facial Hair’ are modern day anthems, stared down by the solemn midpoint warning ‘Oh’. A livener in seven easy supplements. Another duo displaying a healthy sickness, Rack Mode and Elliot Fresh are married to the game ‘Till Death Do Us Part’. Toughened funk with devils horns poking out, and rhymes draining biros with quick reflexes, vow in unison to give you six of the best.





When Mistah Bohze has the ‘Momentum’, he’s hard to stop, twisting through a booming synth shunt before lifting the lid on ‘Pharaoh Dynamics’, delivering snake charming with a death grip. Following a headhunter’s thirst with time to chill, the Midlands’ perma-blunt Late rides again on ‘Elevationz’, making sure his tacks are the brassiest to the sound of Juttla lining the apocalypse with palm trees. Swatting away string orchestras and Hanna-Barbera getaways, competition is defenceless against the renegade steamroller that is Little Simz’ ‘Offence’, pedal pushed down just as hard on ‘Boss’.





A twin takedown from Cimer Amor and Side Effect won’t rest until punks are in their place, ‘Write That Down’ and ‘Gangsta Talk’ nicely to the point en route to causing front row mayhem. ‘Well, Well, Well’ by Bronx Slang styles out the concept of wanting it all, helping themselves to the individual strengths of uncle Tom Cobley’s extended family as a rewindable hypothesis; come for the namechecking, stay for the swagger. Winter’s icy grip is manoeuvred puppet master-style by Yugen Blakrok, part outlaw part cyborg breaking civilisation down into ‘Carbon Form’. Fiercely underground, intimidating, but creating fascinating parables as she goes. ‘The Bone Collector’ by V Don is pure law-breaking music while trying to retain a respectable air, six tracks of fair means and foul carried out by Westside Gunn, Crimeapple and more. “Shave the hair off their fingers so nothing gets stuck on hammers” is a gangsta credential to aspire to.



Albums

The hotly tipped ‘Humble Pi’ divided between Homeboy Sandman and Edan may only be a miserly seven tracks long, but is a banquet of slaps that will become one of your five a day, and ultimately year. Sandman as people’s champ, underground avenger and backpack laureate, and Edan tying an extra double knot in the Madvillain tapestry, are a sixth sense-powered twin threat, embroiled in their own battle royale with each other to reach the summit.

Because ‘Home is Where the Art Is’, the easygoing Barney Artist helps put feet up, but with a darker edge waiting in the next room. For want of a better phrase, his is a rapper next door persona making easy progress to eardrums enjoying a lie-in, deepened when his heart and head begin skirmishing, with appearances from Tom Misch, Jordan Rakei and George the Poet sealing an excellent album of broad appeal.





A quick follow-up to this year’s ‘No Brainer’, Coops’ ‘Life in the Flesh’ continues to look at the world through the blinds; late night but wide awake, survival instincts to the fore and maintaining the momentum of his previous profile that balances retreating wisdom and patiently lying in wait. A master of overlapping the effortlessly tense and the testily comfortable, this is both shelter of and from the streets.

The Madison Washington dossier of ‘Facts’ compiles the personal, intellectual, challenging and sometimes just plain funky. One way or another the US-to-UK pair are gonna light a fire under you with their outpouring of ideas. “Equal parts west coast funk and desert trip-hop” – thanks to great beats from top to bottom from The Lasso, the always lyrical Lando Chill makes his point as a continued threat from whatever angle he examines ‘Black Ego’, though perhaps because of the scenery behind him, a (positively) different proposition from ‘For Mark, Your Son’.





Smooth, slick and possibly dangerous to know, Boog Brown pushes her sophisticated self-titled album at a speakeasy on the low, manned by Tom Caruana. The immediate coffee shop connotations are much more treacherous and ultimately stirring than a simple after hours slam – the Atlanta-via-Detroit emcee and producer feed off one another to create a dusky work of art streaked with comforting light.

Twiddling the dial from left to right for the perfect score of chopped up loops, hardcore head nods, needle fluffers and sunny stop-start soul, Jansport J gets ‘Low’ but ends up with an instrumental album on high. Tweaks of Redman and Al Green are the highlights of a roadtrip where sunglasses and chill are compulsory. That well known fact that nothing rhymes with ‘orange’ is good news for Chariman Maf’s ‘Ginger’, bounding in with a ten track instrumental set full of get-up-and-go and then smoothing it on out for headphone clientele. Funk and fun encourages biros to get scribbling if they’ve got the brio. It ain’t no fun if Illingsworth don’t get some, the some in question on ‘You’re No Fun’ being instrumentals laced with varying amounts of Detroit dustiness and leftism, and the occasional rhyme – Open Mike Eagle and Denmark Vessey temp on the mic – that flicks ears back into action.





A cracked, chainsmoked delivery between Jeezy and The Game seems ideal for Recognize Ali to enter the arid realms of suited and booting mobsterdom. The opposite is true, and ‘The Outlawed’ partly has the UK to blame – Farma Beats, Smellington Piff, El Ay and Da Fly Hooligan all contribute to his running wild into the china shop. Gradually the handbrake is applied, but Ali’s chokehold clamps down on all wannabe thugs and keeps squeezing. ‘Behold a Dark Horse’ by arch dehydrator Roc Marciano is in a similar bracket, a ride you should back once he’s “cocked a nine back like a hand jive”. For someone who claps on instinct – notwithstanding a dip into Chaka Khan on ‘Amethyst’ – he remains a deceivingly slippery character, transfixing you when weaving from ambassador reception to swinging 60s to street brawl.

Still holding the steadiest of lines for what seems like forever, Atmosphere load up on their indelible variables so ‘Mi Vida Local’ always offers something to cling onto. The persistent acoustic drizzle, the hope of cloud-breaking sunshine when an amp gets kicked up or a bottle smashes, the passive/aggressive set-plays modelled as passion/aggression – not to mention the downright sickly ‘Trim’ – preserve their position as both fulcrum and window to the world.

A tumultuous DJ Muggs on the boards, and B-Real and Sen Dog personifying cold-blooded calmness in the eye of the storm – or too stoned to be affected. Cypress Hill’s ‘Elephants on Acid’ is a psychedelic stampede magnified by hallucinations, incantations and Judgement Day dominating the calendar. Old habits obviously die hard – ‘Oh Na Na’ and ‘Crazy’ sound like ‘Insane in the Brain’ remixed by ‘Gravel Pit’ – but the saga that unfolds and breathes down the neck of their 90s heyday takes the band into a new dimension.

 

Looking good this month: Riz MC, Sa Roc and Shockwave with Andy Cooper.











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MATT OLIVER’S ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP ROUNDUP





Singles/EPs

No time to celebrate 50 Cent becoming a bitcoin millionaire or Snoop releasing a gospel album, or Mos Def and Talib Kweli touting a Black Star reunion produced by Madlib. Right about now, groggy jazz from Jazz T and bleary digs from Lee Scott make potent points on ‘Ceiling’/’Urn Money’, matched by sweet and sour remixes from Pitch92 and Sleepwalker. The superior, subliminal sales technique of Genesis Elijah primes ‘How to Lose Fans and Alienate Listeners’ as a bestseller and puts a police cordon around the club. Weighing in at a headbanging ‘310 Pounds’, Juga-Naut and Mr Brown use the devil’s horns as their finishing move. A good heart these days is hard to find, so Ty giving you the benefit of his 20/20 vision is like a shot from Cupid on the breezy seesaw ‘Eyes Open’ featuring Durrty Goodz.





Wise-past-midnight pair Summers Sons are ones to cling to when the next weather warning comes calling, ‘Undertones’ an EP of sticky jazz drifts keeping it moving while remaining perfectly still. In the same postcode, Fanshore & Tropic’s touch of the ‘Reaper’ finds Hawaiian flutter in the Big Smoke, and the softly spoken stream of Coops’ ‘That Jazz’ means now he’s gonna rip you apart. Thug paradise, J Rocc-style, is to blend Mobb Deep and Sade into a whole new bunch of quiet storms. Tasked with the smooth operation of hijacking every 80s wine bar ever, six ‘Thug Ballads’ copy-and-paste their way up for coffee.





Underground bout of the year is found on the comic book crash course ‘Nautical Depth’, where Czarface and DOOM cause forum frenzy with pay-off lines galore and a bassline drilling into your ears. Apathy has also been busy doing dream team deals, appearing with Pharoahe Monch on the Pete Rock-made ‘I Keep On’, then swinging hard over ‘The Order’ of DJ Premier. On the move and on the loose, Sav Killz’ ‘Thundercats’ calls to the wild for some rough and tumble sent cartwheeling by Dirty Diggs. Credit to PHZ-Sicks for turning Sisqo’s most infamous panty raid into a hard hitting address causing ‘Riot in My Memory’. Moodie Black’s punishing industrialism lead by guesting gatekeeper Ceschi sews ‘Lips’ shut; dangerously atmospheric, as hell’s gates remove their padlock. Fake news gets a brick of actual fact to the face, unexpectedly from People Under the Stairs, playing the role of upset press blowing ‘Dog Whistles’.






Albums

Dr Syntax and Pete Cannon are back in full effect, opening up essential dialogue on ‘Let’s Talk’. Ever the polite pop culture vulture, Syntax thumbs through school photos and double-barrels the handbook of how to be an upstanding citizen and a hip-hop A-Z, with Cannon’s bruising beats keeping it cheeky, including one of his infamous Commodore-sponsored jungle jump-ups. Entertaining each and every time, the double act should be kept on speed dial in case of emergencies.





The main pastimes in the 20-strong Brighton borough of ‘Wizville’ are savagery and thrill rides. Ocean Wisdom stretches his rep with that 0-to-60 flow causing heart tremors, playing with the pitch control on the beats to alter the shades of black and blue he leaves the scene with, and placing guests Method Man, Rodney P, Roots Manuva, Jehst and Dizzee Rascal as almost incidental. Just when you think he’s showing signs of flagging, the assault rages on, maintaining Wisdom’s impressive ascent and already giving 2018 plenty to ponder.

 

Farma G’s wistful beats introduce ‘The Sentimental Alien’ to the modern world. Wishful thinkers and regal peace seekers from the Task Force intel, make it easy for handpicked emcees like Recognize Ali, Ric Branson, Smellington Piff, Anyway Tha God and Dirty Dike to dirty up a sound tinted a fine shade of rose. The custom brand, don’t-care daggers flung by Lee Scott and Black Josh create the monster that is the B-Movie Millionaires. With Sam Zircon behind the camera and keeping things eerily sluggish/sluggishly eerie, ‘Attack of The 50​,​000 Ft Sweg Lawds from Outer Space’ is a slumping battle royal of a snuff flick, a beast showing how it “put two and two together and got triple six”. The cure for a sub-zero February is having Pupils of the Clock waiting on you, enterprising Cornwall pair Tok and Lazy Eyez forging a clear path through crisp beats nudging the drowse button and sixth sense connections on ‘Timeless’. No danger of them following through on the declaration that “when we’ve got nothing left to say, that’s the point that we’ll call it a day”.





From the moment he draws first breath on ‘Weather or Not’, Evidence embarks on a masterclass. The man himself states “there are no wasted words”, inspiring under grey skies (the Dilated Peoples man is always better when there’s a storm afoot), holding your attention, and making you feel he’s dismissing (though not dissing) you as he lays everything bare with no discernible change in temperament. The forecast? One of 2018’s best.

Putting “the sublime in the subliminal”, Skyzoo’s ‘In Celebration of Us’ is some of the smoothest psychology and concrete consciousness you’ll hear this year. Written in the streets, penned to stir and examine the soul with his conversion of gunfingers to quotation marks, and cornering both the lounge and the late night creep, Skyzoo raises a glass with vitamin-rich articulation undercut with provocation, and making it look easy while his does it. One to be toasted over and over.



After Adrian Younge offered you ‘Twelve Reasons to Die’, Apollo Brown gives you another dozen dirty deeds to hold your head high by/duck down to. Repackaged as ‘The Brown Tape’ with Ghostface Killah exacting sepia-toned revenge, Wu-Tang Clan members to the right (wild for the night), and Brown providing his own gentlemen’s agreements regarding dead body disposal, it’s a classy sister dynasty mixing noble finesse and brute strength. With Sonnyjim selling you glamorous 70s crime and circling the block like a vulture, Chicago’s Vic Spencer puts his business card in the shop window for the rest of the year on ‘Spencer for Higher’. Top of his CV: the perfect voice for completing a schemes and hustles to-do list, and spitting with a charm happy to chew you up and spit you out.





You can’t keep a good man down, and Planet Asia, riding beats like a son of a gun about to clean up town, gets you wise to the ways of ‘The Golden Buddha’. That West Coast flow is still in fine fettle, sounding typically parched but never found dousing his disdain for non-believers and those slow on the draw. Still a deadlock breaker you can trust.

 

Room temperature boom bap sending you to the land of head nod, Klim Beats adds to the instrumental handbook focusing on jazz and funk. Hip-hop to do your spring cleaning by, though you’ll do well to come up as spotless as the Ukrainian’s ‘Natural’ sound. Looking to goad emcees into action, Badhabitz unveils a bulk of soul flips and darker omens. Staunch kicks and snares earning top dollar throughout, ‘Beat Library Volume 1’ makes itself easily available for your ears.

 

Under the name of an end of level boss with an Esoteric twang, Rock Mecca fights for the right to earn the freedom of ‘Ironworld’. To a flood of swirling symphonies within touching distance of Armageddon and pyrotechnics bankrolled by Hollywood, Vast Aire, Roc Marciano, Kool Keith and Canibus all try on knuckle dusters for size. Those unable to stand the heat will quickly be directed to the kitchen door. Now for the new album from Ugly Duckling’s Andy Cooper, in three easy, foolproof steps: grab a microphone, despatch a bunch of funk breaks hula-hooping or celebrating Mardi Gras, and invite Blabbermouf and Abdominal to challenge the rules on tongue-twisters. Doing what he does best, that’s ‘The Layered Effect’ for you.





For your eyes only: Cut Chemist versus the photofit, and hooray for Hozay.







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