March 23, 2017
MATT OLIVER’S ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVIEW
Rapture & Verse’s March hares are made up of dirt-slinging duo Remy Ma and Nicki Minaj (naturally, Foxy Brown then has her two penneth worth as well), Snoop blurring the line between life and art when it comes to America’s next top president, Joey Badass having a John Lennon-style, ‘Bigger than Jesus’ moment, Tupac ‘memorabilia’ reaching unhealthy new levels, and a right flash-looking reissue of Kool Keith and Dan the Automator’s trailblazing weirdo ‘Dr Octagonecologyst’ (when an Easter egg just won’t do). All topped with Will I Am appearing in a new video with the realest of the Rovers Return, Liz McDonald.
Talib Kweli joins the UK B-Boy World Championships with an April performance (probably not as a contestant…well, you never know). Big Daddy Kane reiterates he’s still got juice with a London appearance in May bound to bring in scores of hip-hop nostalgics; and home-grown old skool originals London Posse go on a wee road trip to tell all the current gun finger spitters how slang should really sound. Also upcoming on these shores – DJ Q-Bert, Masta Ace and Jedi Mind Tricks, all making it rain like an April shower.
A teeny-tiny singles selection this month starts with a quintet of instrumentals seeing who’s big enough to plug a mic in. Urban Click’s ‘Half Past Two’ does boom bap that keeps time and plants seeds of doubt; just enough fear factor to have you looking over your shoulder mid head-nod, until ‘Payback’ brings the hatchet into full view. In need of an assertive, affirmative funk jam with a worldview to cause roadblocks? Rob Cave’s singsong exasperation telling you ‘Hold Your Head’ is that very jam. Follow that with a remix of Mista Sinista’s ‘Life Without Fear’, another partier making a point with Worldarama, Illa Ghee & Chordz Cordero wrapping up Eitan Noyze’s bulbous funker. Milano Constantine gets grimy on the belt-loosening ‘Rasclart’, with Conway and Big Twins helping extort DJ Skizz’ mob skanking.
Action packed storytelling kicks off Your Old Droog’s triumphant ‘Packs’, that languid NY flow quickly working a number of hustles and stakes-high dice games, all with a penchant for humour and words to the wise stashed in the trunk. From go-slows to arse kicks, adopting the same readiness for and awareness of when the streets come calling, and with Danny Brown, Edan and Heems on his team, YOD perfects the unfathomable: a varied album with no time to waste or room for error. 14 silk cuts, if you will.
With a flow somewhere between honey dipped and Seattle high, Porter Ray’s seesaw twang that’s always laidback in a perpetual state of motion grounds spacey, floaty forecasts replacing low riders with ambient parachute jumps. ‘Watercolor’ is vaporous but tangible gangsta living from under the stars with a creditable amount of earnestness, with Ray’s role as some kind of avenging angel leaving his mark on you, one way or another.
UK crews control this month starts with the Gatecrasherz getting parties jumping and scrawling their names all over the VIP list on ‘Uninvited’. A more patient unit than expected, inasmuch as each emcee queues obediently before showing ill discipline on the mic (in turn letting you pick your own distinctively-twanged rapper like you’re swapping stickers), a broadside of bumping beats (including ‘2-3 Break’ playing out like a choose-your-own-adventure book), gets doors off hinges.
Steady Rock and Oliver Sudden push flavour in your ear with ‘Preservatives’. The BBP reliability always plays the game the right way, spanning humble brags, straight shots, living as they live it, tales told while getting ‘em in and beats getting bobbleheaded on life’s dashboard. What you hear is what you get. Amos & Kaz’ ‘Year of the Ram’ justifies all natural assumptions of locking horns and being capable of a battering. Forceful personality dominates business, pleasure and pain; these two are up for a scrap, or at least a good pantsing, after their knowledge has driven its way down your ear canal. Granville Sessions power through without pretension on ‘Monument’, demanding a captive amphitheatre rather than threatening the front row. A forthright manifesto playing no games makes for a well regimented campaign.
After the ‘Barrydockalypse’, Joe Dirt is the last real rapper alive on an album that’s a pessimist’s paradise. Repping Squid Ninjaz by showing strong survival instincts, keeping composure is paramount on a great, stomach-unsettling set for those getting kicks out of losing themselves past the wrong side of the tracks. Safe to say Jam Baxter’s ‘Mansion 38’ is not surrounded by a postcard-perfect white picket fence; half cut, whip smart, and hoovering up Chemo’s top-to-bottom production so that the pair sink until they strike the gold of rock bottom. Ultimate, grungy outlaw hip-hop, putting the trap in trapdoor.
As a flipside, Dabbla barfs out bonus project ‘Chapsville’ (location: London twinned with Tennessee and Thunderdome), spraying obnoxiously hot bars at water cannon pressure while DJ Frosty twists the shapeshfiting landscapes around him. Leaf Dog’s ‘Dyslexic Disciple’ is a proper UK hip-hop knees-up, awash with weed and scuffles always likely to break out because it’s all family. Funk and blues buck like a bronco, plucky and bullish rhymes will step to a mic whatever the weather, Kool Keith drops by to diss you without you realising, and a grand finale of a giant posse cut lands the knockout blow.
Oddisee is his usual engaging self on ‘The Iceberg’. With music as crisp as freshly plucked Romaine, effortlessly upping the pace when the time’s right, the personal becomes appealing so that you can’t help but pore over eloquent diary entries where the ink never runs dry. Ultimately you agree with his clearly made points of view as Oddisee is becoming the master of his own destiny who could make takeaway menus or the phone book sound compelling. From the supple to the ambitious/exhaustive, Beans releases three albums simultaneously (!) – ‘Wolves of the World’, ‘Love Me Tonight’ and ‘HAAST’ – as well as an accompanying novel. Fantastical seat of your pants scenarios and breathless narratives seemingly doing real life and politics in fast forward even if caught in traffic, the Anti-Pop Consortium alumni loves the feel of a fine tooth comb throughout.
NYC’s El Michels Affair have reached the same level of dynasty as their Staten Island source of inspiration. Back covering another batch of Wu-Tang Clan trademarks in an irrepressible, funk and soul, live band experience, ‘Return to the 37th Chamber’ repeats their craft of cultish kung-fu cabaret rewriting the scrolls of Shaolin methodology. Though they dart in as quickly as they sneak out, they’re politely nuthin’ to fuck wit’ when you’re trying to name that tune.
A jawbreaker flow meets boom-bap control; ZoTheJerk and Frost Gamble’s ‘Black Beach’ makes strong statements, showing Detroit determination to put things right – or at least stay vigilant – in a world full of buck-passing. A good combination that cruises before T-boning ya. Fuelled by hard liquor and blackmarket diesel, TOPR’s ‘Afterlife of the Party’ is a 13 track brawl finding “epiphanies in heresy, poetry in vulgarity”, kicking down doors and spitting wisdom with the force of a slammed down shot glass. Even at its calmest, there’s only one (albeit methodical) trajectory, justifying arguments and rabble rousing as a hard-bitten B-boy. The usual safe-breaking, toothpick-chewing, phone-tapping vibes from Roc Marciano plots ‘Rosebudd’s Revenge’, a seedy shoulder-brusher putting its kingpin in a familiar position of power, to the sound of a soul jukebox watching trife life go by.
Hosting a sophisticated dinner party but still putting fresh kicks on the table, Dr Drumah runs a tight ship of instrumentals passing round cigar-n-scotch jazz and choice samples keeping ears attracted late on. ‘90’s Mindz’ is precisely put together, a showcase of simple pleasures that’s got plenty of mileage. Once that’s soiree’s over and done with, head over to Vital’s ‘Pieces of Time’ for pretty much more of the same; hard shells with soft centres and golden age hues, in an easy access network of neck work. Argentinean Gas-Lab boasts an international cast to take you ahead of the sunrise on the soul dejeuner ‘Fusion’, all piano keys and horns applying shine to respectful spit. ‘Rise N Shine’ shakes the bottle and wakes a little Samba in Spaniard Alex Rocks, an easygoing beatsmith who gets his US guests licking their lips from the stoop. With a squeeze of bossa funk in the mix as well, it sticks to the script enough for soft tops and sunloungers to start folding themselves back.
Welcoming your retinas this month: Open Mike Eagle turns superhero, Joey Badass pledges allegiance, Knowledge Nick gives a thumbs down, and Ash the Author keeps on track.
February 23, 2017
Words: Matt Oliver
Having had all our ideas for a witty intro brainwashed by the off-piste pizzazz of Strange U’s ‘#LP4080’, (you don’t wanna know about a Biggie/Faith Evans duets album anyway), lead space cadet Kashmere has also been dabbling in backstreet voodoo with Bambooman on the ‘Supergod’ EP. Verbally out of shape as usual, a wee drop of alchemy sprinkled over stripped backdrops goes a long way. Dabbla, in his usual style sounding like he’s dashing in and out of rush hour traffic, shows off how good his ‘Cardio’ is, and Joker Starr does whatever he can to bring doom without the cartoon to ‘Spy Da Man’. Dream McLean and The Last Skeptik know the value of the basics: the ‘Cheese on Brown Bread’ EP is four tracks, not needing any extra garnish, just cunningly sharp words pricking simple neck chops. Back in the old routine, DJ Format and Abdominal ready a new album with a pair of funky head hunters: industry tell-tale ‘Behind the Scenes’, and 100mph throwdown ‘Diamond Hammer’.
Instrumentals to both ease and expand minds from IMAKEMADBEATS on the seven-starred ‘Better Left Unsaid’, include a remoulding of 10CC and views of hip-hop from afar. Attempting to stay Gd up while keeping to a righteous path, Obi J reps ‘Red City’ with reflection and retaliation. The non-stop hustle of Avarice, bending jazz under his control into a hard-as-nails enforcement of ferocious rhymes, makes ‘Words and Sounds’ anything but simplistic, where the only greed is to go all out. Six tracks that stand up to be counted.
Raekwon beat down ‘This is What It Comes Too’ is a timely reminder to respect the gods, well set up by Xtreme’s subtle flip of a hip-hop fundamental that lets the Chef build and destroy. On ‘The Art of Rock Climbing’, Boldy James welcomes you to the total gangsta experience. Whether in the thick of it or just lounging in the aftermath, the DJ Butter-assisted EP runs rewindable rackets out of Detroit. Wallowing ‘In the Mud’, deM atlaS questions everything and nurses a life hangover in the process, and Vince Staples wilds out, plain and simple, on ‘BagBak’. Passport Rav and Asi Frio will measure you for concrete shoes ahead of a trip to the ‘Shark Tank’ in a callous mob style, while on ‘Help’, the all out 16s of Your Old Droog, Wiki and Edan leap from building to building while the world implodes under a prog rock plume and Rob Base is the last voice of reason. Not a track found pussy footing.
Getting sunshine to glance round the corner, Chris Read & Pugs Atomz air it out over ‘Chocolate Milk’, neo-soul with the bonus of a great hook. ‘Black Nite’ goes deeper and slinkier, with two twizzly remixes from Myke Forte. Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s timeless ‘They Reminisce Over You’ makes its 7” debut and enhances its legend that little bit more.
‘The Building’, a towering B-boy document from honourable humanitarians Mazzi and SOUL Purpose, gives familiar samples new life and piles high banks of bricks and mortar beats and rhymes you can always back to do the business. No punches pulled, see it hanging around year bests in 10 months time. Sucker puncher M Dot gets into it with the ‘Ego and The Enemy’, a spokesman for pessimists arguing reality where there’s no such thing as hard luck stories or second chances. Impressive assists from Hi-Tek, Method Man, Camp Lo, Marco Polo, Large Professor and Marley Marl (craftily flipping of all people, Ms Dynamite) help the Boston brawler grab the game by the scruff of the neck and pop vertebrae like bubblegum.
A heavy dose of Oh No & Tristate cuts class A dope for ‘3 Dimensional Prescriptions’; following the Gangrene cookbook, a dangerous connection casting their own shadow and treating willowy funk and soul like a cross-border haul, it’s an album that sounds equal parts elite and illicit, glamour and gall. Get fixed up. Great all round game from LiKWUiD, with 2 Hungry Bros feeding the machine on the boards, makes ‘Fay Grim’ a storybook full of sass, stress, strike outs and scholarly knowledge that shows fairytales for what they are. An album not rhyming for the sake of riddling. Dope KNife’s ‘NineteenEightyFour’ is an absolute battering ram of four wheel drive blasting through the boggiest of boom bap. Describing the savagery as “the movie Taxi Driver in rap form” is no joke, and Big Brother would think twice about listening in.
A clutch of autobiographical styles from the UK now: the composure of Loyle Carner’s low-key ‘Yesterday’s Gone’, even when the odds of the day to day aren’t always even, creates a new and relatable street bard elect. The decidedly more unrepentant Devlin and the ferocity of ‘The Devil’s In’ is perfect synching second time around after the overproduction that strangled his debut; and Big Heath reminding not to take home comforts and hard work for granted on ‘Smells of Beef’ gets the essentials all in order. Less introspective and just balls out slimy, Stinkin Slumrock & Morriarchi’s ‘Morrstinkin’ parades a doomed brand of swaggering sewer rat rap, hinting what once was polished and optimistic is now ripe for red light zones and no man’s land.
Quelle Chris’ ‘Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often’ catches itself in ups, downs (either going in hard or trying to function) and managing the in betweens. Therefore it never sits still both lyrically and stylistically, with wit and reflection both sharp and slowly revealing itself. Worth taking time with. A similarly individual look at the human condition is Stik Figa’s ‘Central Standard Time’, making the verbally dense levitate – “I got some idioms for idiots if anybody interested” – and displaying appealing introspection and emotional intelligence that’s just the right volume of far out. More of a catharsis is ‘Rap Album Two’, Jonwayne’s return that makes personal struggle both poignant and unapologetic for showing its hand. Suitably muted but speaking strongly and openly, in hushed tones without looking for sympathy, watch its humble humanity become the choice of the open eared this year.
When you can’t see the angles no more, you in trouble. Alternatively, when Corners come into view, fresh UK hip-hop will get you going. Beit Nun, Benny Diction and Deeflux pass the mic like a Sunday morning game of frisbee, and the casualness of their goodness taking the sting out of everyday slogging is pretty devastating. Eight-track ear swim ‘Tape Echo – Gold Floppies’ has dynamic duo Torb The Roach and Floppy McSpace sedating speakers in some unknown realm. Instrumentals grab armfuls of samples and cook them in slowly boiled delirium to create a thick beat stew. The broth of Batsauce for the ‘Clean Plate’ series is also a heavy ladle using battered wax as a serving suggestion; apple-bobbing funk, hot pockets of flavour, and samples strewn to make some kind of sense. Chrome’s ‘The Remix’ funky-freshens a bunch of Britcore classics, golden age staples, and queues Kanye, Edan, Ty, Savvy and De La Soul for a session in his win-win, no fee surgery.
Currently giving Midas tips on how to win, Paul White goes through his psychedelic wax satchel and like a hypnotist, comes up with ‘Everything You’ve Forgotten’, a free mix of past/present/future beats marbling into one. Fighting the power with a comprehensive manifesto , Lushlife’s ‘My Idols are Dead + My Enemies are in Power’ is unequivocal in its activism, a rolling funk fire to get hearts racing and fists clenched at once. Ain’t nothing sweet about the tongue lashing ‘Pick & Mix Experience’ of Ramson Badbonez and Jazz T, a half hour of hard nuts to crack teeth and heat that’s off the Scoville scale.
Feet to the floor with A7PHA and Paul White & Danny Brown, and street takes from HPPYPPL and Gatecrasherz.