Hip-Hop Revue
Words: Matt Oliver





Singles

The summer into autumn changeover is upon us, so here’s Rapture & Verse packed with all new stationery for term time. The tang of Joey Paro’s ‘Victory Gin’, charming you with Illinformed’s sweeping strings before stout flavours are brought out, serves four shots of Bristol cream capable of dumping you on your backside when Eric the Red, Smellington Piff, Datkid and Res One chip in. An EP spraying like winner’s champagne. Four tracks of Rodney P, Ty and Blak Twang stamping their authority is ‘The KingDem’ reminding everyone of UK hip-hop’s rightful sovereignty; steered by presence most will never achieve (“man are OG, shoulda know me”), and with the ‘Kingstep’ switch into drum & bass guaranteeing a multiple carnival float pile-up. More elite elder statesman status from Blade continues to roar from strength to strength, ‘Dark Friends’ vanquishing enemies from the belltower and ‘Make It Connect’ staging a smooth and deadly old skool takedown. For an elbow sharpener, head to Denzel Himself’s ‘Birdie’, live and direct from London’s crucible with a blue touch paper hook.





DZ The Unknown bringing the ‘Thunder Slap’ with Celph Titled, M-Dot, Esoteric and Big Shug stands up for all crime rhyme Houdini Gs, rounding on C-Lance’s Gotham brass beating you into bloody pulp fiction. In contrast, Bishop Nehru and Brady Watt’s ‘The Real Book’ has got your back when coffee either eases you into the weekend or is your bargaining chip to extend the evening. Five smooth, strong aromas. Assuming things go well, J Lately’s ‘Run’ brings the cosmos into line when you’re blissfully between sound asleep and waking up.






Albums

Long owning one of UK hip-hop’s best poker faces, whether up, down or in between (“I just wanna smoke blunts, chillin’ in the bathtub”), Verb T posing ‘A Question of Time’ is his umpteenth delivery of lyrical intricacy with his feet up. The production of Pitch 92 – neo-soulful, sharply jazzed, occasionally exotic, always generously drummed – runs in parallel, the album’s calming influence matched by its best foot forward getting shit done. Grown man hip-hop in the business of casual downtime that just happens to see off those that can’t handle ‘Time’ on their hands.

Blackburn-repping bard Bill Shakes gets quizzical on ‘Eh?’, making convincing arguments on shaky ground, the down-at-heel with the dossers vibe making the bravado work harder – ‘Once Upon a Time in Blackburn’ does his best Slick Rick – and getting the strange realities, born out of the local day-to-day, to slap. One to listen to by the spark of a lighter.

Mikill Pane’s ‘The Night Elm on Mare Street’ is no video nasty, cutting through dry ice and keyboards of a certain dystopian/romantic vintage. Overfeeding punchlines like Gremlins after dark, the patent lyrical agility and care with words is entertainingly nostalgic, and dealing with a whole host of first worlders against banks of VHS-ready synth-pop pulses gives the album its distinction. Don’t sleep. As the ‘Heart Break Kid’, Rick Fury hits with prizefighter accuracy despite looking into wrestling federation glam and with the slouch of someone who’s downed tools. Working harder than the languid North East verbs appear, the soulful beats that Fury hangs his namedrops, home comforts and passive-aggressive coin flips on, sound carefully handpicked from a dusty VIP reserve, adding to the man and myth.

Expect party-hardy funk and frolics from Chali 2na and Krafty Kuts at your peril. When ‘Adventures of a Reluctant Superhero’ seems geared towards cartwheeling breaks and lyrical calisthenics, reinforced by ‘Guard the Fort’ and the sleeve/title, the dominant powers are a variety of tempos – KK releasing simple, neck-aware energies – and flows in thought (covert life coach ‘Feel the Power’) that make incisions: i.e., 2na doing what 2na does. Victory assured.





Two albums that are rough and rugged, but know the game enough to spruce up the raw. Elevating his status to ‘GITU (Greatest in the Universe)’, Chris Rivers doesn’t lose sight of the road ahead, and where the title and look-at-me connotations run deeper. The Big Pun bloodline has never run truer; capable of reading the room so lighter crossover moments share space with ripsnorters to rattle the place. Overall, a polished player with reach. Switch the accessible trap to boom-bap clean enough to eat off, and you have Joell Ortiz’ ‘Monday’ running alongside. Strong armed wistfulness (if that’s a thing), it’s a case of the rhyme animal finding a comfortable lane to put his priorities in order with open eyes, making one particularly good point on ‘Screens’ lamenting the tech-obsessed generation’s refusal to enjoy the fresh air.





Straight shooting from Rapsody earns a promotion to first lady on ‘Eve’, looking to emulate heroes and icons and wanting to be mentioned in the same breath. Making soft touches that much sharper, mixing up Phil Collins and Wu-Tang stashes as she goes, an unflinching belief system sees off the ill-equipped (“ain’t an emcee on this earth that make me feel afraid”), not so much striking a chord as demolishing it with style and sass. Queen Latifah joins the update of the ladies first manifesto from someone who comes “like Left Eye with the matches”.

The celebrated return of Little Brother – funky, soulful and with a killer side eye – is like they’ve never been away. Despite the absence of 9th Wonder, Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh’s proclamation of ‘May the Lord Watch You’ shines summery light over all. Effortless and erudite (“20-20 ain’t shit without foresight”), LB still have the remedy for when your last nerve has been worked over. Two essential elements Blu and Damu the Fudgemunk abide by are ‘Ground & Water’. You already know which other two they come through with, declaring at eight tracks once they’ve refreshed heads but also left in some necessary dirty backwash as well. Therefore, moving crowds, no mistakes allowed, and more than once, Damu giving up the goods to just step. A combination that was never in doubt re-ignites those in need of an enthusiasm boost.

Long a protestor of hip-hop being him against the world, Ras Kass’ ‘Soul on Ice 2’ is in the mood for a high score body count, maximising velocity on every single word as if it’s his last. Shattering myths and ciphers and perfect for two cents worth on the current state of the world, the backing of Diamond D, Snoop, Cee-Lo, JUSTICE League and Immortal Technique allows for valuable variation without dilution of the destruction.





A slimline serving of chintzy hors d’oeuvres and comfortable linens from Alchemist invites heavyweights such as Benny the Butcher, Meyhem Lauren, Boldy James and Action Bronson to scarf down the funk schmaltz and schmooze of ‘Yacht Rock 2’. Your entry aboard is non-refundable, though the imagery of rappers networking in floral shirts with snifter in hand while the band plays on is very believable.

HIP-HOP REVUE
Words: Matt Oliver




Singles/EPs

Love Island audition failed once again, Rapture & Verse reverts to bringing you the tastiest hip-hop to tango your chops with. Redbeard’s ‘Misc’ EP packs a fistful of strong, down-to-earth rhymes, triumphing with joypad flex ‘Dead Pixels’, as the iron-chinned guardian to dreamlike assurance that veers into knocks sponsored by seven bells. Loose lips sink ships, but Sinking Ships bite back with the three-track conundrum ‘Foudroyant’, Leviathan and Rat Bastard pushing the everyday into the abstract along a high wire and striding comfortably through a no man’s land defined by one false move. Brollies up for when the ‘Tidal Wave’ of Cappo and Senz Beats breaks defences and provides blunt counsel that shouldn’t be slept on. A superlative remix package has Jazz T, Uncommon NASA, REDA and Lex Boogie all coping with catastrophe with individual adapt/survive tactics. J Lawson’s search for ‘Fools Gold’ over a mean Senz Beats brawler isn’t a bad look either.

Unlikely to put his ‘Reeboks’ on and have a little dance, Baileys Brown bites into a dub bludgeon laced with cosmic sparkles and Axel Holy, Stinking Slumrok and Datkid in tow. A steamroller acting like it ain’t nothing. ‘The Green House’ effect of Eric the Red and El Grobbo is straight goading music by the half dozen, going nose to nose with the crowd in an odd couple throwdown: thickset beats provide shadow when catching rhymes bouncing off the walls. The super ‘Final Form’ is Sampa the Great flattening opposition to the fattest of disco-funk fanfares: get up-stand up multiplied by can’t stop-won’t stop, generates something unstoppable.








Both scholarly and bathed in sunshine, Blu & Exile’s welcome ‘True & Livin’ EP wants to get everyone together, whether that be within cypher, backyard barbeque or think tank, packing more within three tracks than most manage across whole albums. Blu also makes an appearance on the drowsy ‘What Ifs?’, a drifter from Morriarchi and Confucius MC in Old Paradice mode, the subtle spike of discomfort funked up in cool loungewear by Swarvy on the remix. An ode to the ‘Night Shift’ from Murs looks back to set the record straight with some pertinent quotable, Kash’s blooming piano nodding in agreement, before a re-team with 9th Wonder parades a ‘Ga$ Station Gucci Belt’ as a heavyweight challenge staying light on its feet.



There’s no better demonstration of being in the zone than Homeboy Sandman travelling to the ‘West Coast’ and making light speed seem like a Sunday drive. Aesop Rock on the boards serves pure robot-chasing Def Juxism for the circuitous purpose of making complete sense. Ringing bells with boom bap to leave you hunchbacked, J57 and Blame One stoke the fire that causes Mark Ski’s ‘Voodoo’, answering the question that there is such a thing as joyous demolition lasting under two and half minutes. Finland’s Cut Beetlez and New York’s Good People to and fro for the fun ‘Cut People’ EP, an anything goes six tracker of rhymes wounding like a sarcastic slow clap, and a smorgasbord of boom bap rammed into by raw samples and the Beetlez’ trademark contempt for turntables.




Albums

Entwining the concepts of lo-fi and low life and guaranteed to get under your skin, Jack Danz’ germ peddling ‘TMIB’ gets stone cold/cold stoned as the walls start to drip and reality disintegrates. Mesmeric on his own terms, the voice of someone who’s seen too much but knows exactly what’s going on, manipulates the midnight hour into a seedy object of disdain, remaining heavy enough to give environmental health the finger.





Jazz instrumentalism to a tee from DJ Obsolete induces ‘The Mandela Effect II’, complemented by a crew of emcees to be reckoned with, hurrying up the queue to the booth until another head clocker from the German producer comes through. Nice and relaxed, but with that mean streak made easy, like the 90s used to do. The second volume of Rhettmatic’s ‘Loops, Chops, Beats & Vibes’ is precisely not just that. Early doors the instrumentals are certainly coming from inside the house, the Beat Junkie’s slasher-in-waiting boom bap headlining a bulk load of work for that neck. A premium rate number is DJ Drinks’ ‘Nightline’, switching between getting jazz to force the issue so a red mist starts to fall, and easing on back until ears get warm and blurry. Half an hour of beats that won’t leave you hanging.

The Revorg label compilation ‘Est 2013’ brings up to speed the rock-dwelling community with all of its biggest hitters. Big Toast, Gee Bag, Gatecrasherz, Jack Diggs, CNT, as well as Phoenix da Icefire and MysDiggi, all steam in on a 16-track expo of British firepower: melodious, speaker-tipping beats, and rhymes running ridiculing rings around the unenlightened. Essential.

A seen-it-all-before eye roll set to surprisingly pleasant music – a classic in brave-facing it when the contrary is obvious. Chris Orrick is ‘Out to Sea’, treading water to survive but never leaving you high and dry. A concise collection of Detroit straight talking and a specialist in which battles can and can’t be won, Orrick is able to cut himself some slack with entertaining odes to the munchies and online fraternising.





The serving suggestion for the new Pro album is ‘After Dinner Before Dawn’, and is an album you can’t fault for honesty, in terms of both professional and personal integrity. Someone who won’t stutter, will project his voice and speak clearly, easily slip into a West Coast groove out of East Coast bumps, and whose wisdom fully comes to the fore as the album moves along. Good value.

 Chaotic scenes abound when Injury Reserve’s self-titled album climbs off the bench, though you probably shouldn’t expect anything else from a crew who recorded their first mixtape in a dentist’s office. Tails are up when Rico Nasty, Cakes da Killa and Freddie Gibbs join the trio in creating aggro, when generally they’re not looking to cause trouble or bother nobody. An abrasive leftfield pile-on that levels out, just short of delivering a hotchpotch. Talking of chaotic, Beast Coast are hardly subtle in their ‘Escape from New York’, the massed ranks including Joey Bada$$, Flatbush Zombies, The Underachievers, Kirk Knight and Nyck Caution riding trap-for-all like a wave machine before creating perplexing sensations when smoothing it out. Strength in numbers barges this one past the winning post.





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