THE ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVIEW
Words/Selection: Matt Oliver





Rapture & Verse has always considered itself worldly wise, but is always open to education, learning this month that if Ja Rule offers you a flyer, do not take it. Similarly, if Bow Wow promises you a trip in his flying machine, check the Ts and Cs first. If like Lil Yachty, you’re still rubbing real heads the wrong way, best believe Joe Budden will come for you. And on a happier note, that if you have faith in Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince reuniting and playing live again, it will happen. The touring Main Source, House of Pain and Kool G Rap might see a joyous flurry of dust from old cassettes kicked up as well.

Singles/EPs

A dream team delivered years late, DJ Shadow & Nas’ ‘Systematic’ is an effective treaty of ziggy, in-out loops and notable Queensbridge keenness. Forget what you know about breath control and syllable practice, ‘Freedom Form Flowing’ has Gift of Gab, AFRO and RA the Rugged Man trying to outdo one another in the art of the lung crumpling cipher, with only a honky tonk piano for company. While Stu Bangas chisels boom bap out of icicles that’ll take your eye out, Blacastan teams with Tragedy for the front foot stomp ‘War Crimes’. Old skool representation with a fitted to the fullest is to be found on new material from MC Eiht (‘Represent Like This’), Showbiz & AG (mini-album ‘Take It Back’) and Kool G Rap (‘Wise Guys’).



The anxiety attacks of Bisk’s ‘Yasuke’ EP offer sordid disaffection and some serious warnings pushing wigs in reverse, in a warped Lee Scott-produced wonderland that suddenly snaps into action. No case of mistaken identity when Eric the Red demands to know ‘Who’s That Kid’, splattering the mic across unruffled familiarity from Ilinformed on an ear-catching bout of good versus evil. Pop polish and personal plain English from Charles Edison makes ‘I Can’t Hear Them’ and the ‘Waking Up’ EP reflective and living in the real world with a strong shrug of South East attitude.





On Madison Washington’s distinctive ‘Code Switchin’, Malik Ameer is on wheat/chaff sorting duties with a gravelled larynx unafraid to put it on the Ritz, with thatmanmonkz planing down a double bass on the boards until it’s dagger sharp. The sound of smooth dejection comes from FYI – ‘These the Times (Don’t Judge)’ is up in arms with life, but slinks through the spot on its tiptoes. Ill Gordon’s ‘Super Gordo’ superpower is giving off a death stare vaporising all before him, watching the drama unfold poker faced while comic book fanfares rain down. Endemic Emerald, Skanks, Shabaam Sahdeeq and Kasim Allah promise ‘You Gone Learn’, using their own version of celestial enlightenment to spark you out the pulpit.

 

Albums

We always hoped these two kids would get back together: DJ Format & Abdominal re-rendezvous and do what they do best on ‘Still Hungry’. Stacked with their respective specialities of funk to beat down jumped up punks, and tongue lashings upon lashings of rhymes to buddy up with, the UK-Canada connect keep on flexing the knowhow as strong as a B-boy squad to the power of ten. Try sticking a fork in ‘em, and you’ll find that these boys are never done. Plus they’re taking merchandising to unprecedented, post-marigold levels.





It’s probably disingenuous to label Brother Ali as a gentle giant, but his aura continues to swell on ‘All the Beauty in This Whole Life’, dispensing prudence and political provocation, vulnerability and the ability to lay you out. To the tune of arm-linking assurances and music to light candles by from Atmosphere’s Ant with designated overground overtures, it’s not the all-singing-all-dancing festival of some of his peers that you might expect him to have evolved into, but a triumph of crowd gathering words to the wise meets devil’s advocacy, guaranteeing end of term honours.





Cynical old Rapture & Verse approached KRS-One’s ‘The World is Mind’ as one of those all-timer emcee projects trying to uphold a reputation threatening to eat itself (including one slip of the tongue from the Blastmaster, later rectified). Predictably getting a spectrum of boom bap from a host of willing, occasionally over eager producers (the project was mixed and recorded on Merseyside, obviously), when the going’s good, particularly when on a political footing, he can still send mic manufacturers fleeing.

The Petrelli Brothers’ ‘Ghost Diaries’, making noise that’s coming from inside the house, packs the lyrical bluntness of freshly bloodied weaponry, reeling in shadowy fate-sealing beats. Fans of Bristol’s Split Prophets won’t mind one little bit that Germany’s Samadee has remixed a clutch of the collective’s heaviest hitters, akin to an extra layer of lead pushing speakers over. Kyza’s second act of ‘Miverione’ comes with rolling free-flows, jarring wile’outs, emotional recollections and all round 100% blood sweat and tears. Not so much the bit between his teeth, Mr Sayso only deals in terabytes between his gnashers (wordy BS that the man himself would never indulge in).





In a bid to tease out some sunshine in amongst the valley of the shadows, try sending Kuartz’ ‘Shurikens’ into the atmosphere, a jazzy instrumental how-to of ill discipline with plentiful low end theory to hustle you out of a standstill. A dust-covered dozen of loops that are all boom-bapped out, Peace586’s collection of ‘Pine Tar’ offers brass tack treasures; travel-sized jazziness that you can roll on at your leisure, giving ears convenient first aid.

Aiming for made man status with a mixture of calculation and recklessness, Daniel Son’s ‘Remo Gaggi’ is made by Giallo Point’s beats left for dead in the middle of Italy – all arid strings and expensive twangs smothering the need for a kick drum. Toasting the high life and low lives, it’s gangster rap bearing honourable intentions; the second UK-Canada connect to keep an eye on this month. While Roc Marciano’s production looks over his shoulder as a gangsta sensei, Therman Munsin never rests on ‘Sabbath’, making offers you’re bluntly advised not to reject in a grudge match headlining the obituary pages. Charged by amplifier hum and creating a frattish moshpit, Cas One & Figure’s ‘So Our Egos Don’t Kill Us’ is switched on and trying to kick as much as dust as its digital enhancements allow. Not everyone will find the punk-ish bro-bap energy infectious, but if you’re planning a vengeance-dictated road trip from the outback to the big city, here’s your soundtrack.





Turkish Dcypha helps himself to the Stones Throw catalogue, flips it inside out, comes up with the cunningly titled ‘Throw Stones’, and creates a remix album tipping the scales at roughly a ton. He’s obviously done his homework, as the label’s premier lyricists – Guilty Simpson, Percee P, Charizma, MED – all sound most at home in their new surroundings appreciative of the label’s ethos. Bump it out your glass house right now. Proving that the mash-up album remains in reasonably good health, D Begun takes it upon himself to scale the length and breadth of Nas and Madlib’s back catalogues for the ‘Nasimoto’ project, an odd couple made good with supreme synching skills unearthing a kindred spiritedness worth getting to the bottom of. Boutique bootlegger Tom Caruana puts voodoo chilli back on the menu with a re-up of his Jimi Hendrix versus Wu-Tang Clan soundclash: ‘Black Gold’ skilfully sews both dynasties into a Shaolin sky-kisser with the utmost respect.





Mixtapes

On similar terms, an anniversary mix of Outkast from mix king of kings J Period is the cream of ATL now rubbing shoulders with Slick Rick, Redman, Coldcut, Booby Shmurda, Jay-Z and Goodie Mob. ‘Re:Fixed’ is an utterly wicked mix that has got absolutely everything, honouring the Southern players with skills fit for a Cadillac straight out the showroom.




Unable to kick the reviewing habit for what is now the best part of fifteen years, Matt Oliver has gone from messing around with music-related courseworks and DIY hip-hop sites to pass time in sixth form and university, to writing for/putting out of business a glut of magazine review sections and features pages in both the UK and the US. A minor hip-hop freak in junior school, he has interviewed some serious names in the fields of both hip-hop and dance music – from Grandmaster Flash to Iggy Azalea – and as part of what is now a glorified hobby (seriously, every magazine he used to turn up at bit the dust within weeks), can also be found penning those little bits of track info you find on Beatport and Soundcloud, or the notes that used to come with your promo CD in the post. Despite all that the Monolith Cocktail has welcomed him into its fold, and is now the official home of Oliver’s essential Hip-hop revue, Rapture & Verse.

HIP-HOP REVUE
Words: Matt Oliver


Monolith Cocktail - Rapture & Verse/Matt Oliver


Happy new year to the gazillion followers of Rapture & Verse, jumping on some previously unpulled Christmas crackers and wading into the New Year like the flyest of flyweights – after all, this is the season where Soulja Boy and Chris Brown (including a Mike Tyson diss record) and 50 Cent versus Riff Raff are taking it upon themselves to pick up from where 2016 left off. January cabin fever already? You can choose upcoming UK appearances from Drake, KRS One, Loyle Carner and Rae Sremmurd, or follow the I Love 90s hip-hop tour, with Coolio, Salt n Pepa and Vanilla Ice headlining.

Monolith Cocktail - Rapture & Verse/Matt Oliver



Singles/EPs

Sounding like he actually enjoyed the clusterfuck that was 2016, Jam Baxter’s ‘Teeth Marks’/’Soi 36’, to the sound of Chemo dredging the depths, is an intriguing yet debilitating start to the year. Micall Parknsun ‘Practicing Tag Team Moves’ lets you know you are now rocking with the best, Jehst and Durrty Goodz joining in the belligerence to snap barbells. Lucid Logic’s ‘Falling into Winter’ EP – “our gift to you as we make the transition from Fall to Winter” – is not exactly the simple comfort blanket as appears advertised, Illogic and Lucid Optics providing a boiling pot of ideas and colours. Quelle Chris both flips and upholds hip-hop egotism on ‘Buddies’, Godz Chyld’s ‘Crazy’ vividly illustrates street psychosis that won’t fade, and Reef the Lost Cauze beats his chest with authority as funk fire ‘Grizzly’ matches the talk with the walk.




Instrumental funk that’ll get you stretching your hamstrings for auditions as both ‘floor-burning B-boy and crime fighter from when men were men?’  That’ll be DJ DSK’s 7” pair ‘Lamine’ and ‘I Know You Got Sole’, the boxfresh sneaker freak laced by Mystro. A pensive EP of head down beats, chopping folk as needle fluff dictates, dives through the back of the wardrobe in the name of guarded headphone instrumentalism: L’Orange’s ‘Koala’ EP challenges the cute and cuddly. Meanwhile, Torb The Roach & Floppy McSpace’s dope ‘Tusen Baht’ turns a foreign film dub into a hoodlum’s magic carpet ride, and Nottz conducts his own ghetto Fantasia for Stik Figa and Elzhi to make their ‘Down Payment’ substantial.



The epitome of impetus, Jermiside and L-Marr the Starr air it all out on six track soul nourishment ‘God Bless the Child’ that will both stroke your ego and shake you by your shoulders. Oddisee begins his next critically acclaimed year by sprinting out the gate with ‘Things’, a most spry guru of the groove. Of an older vintage, The Beatnuts’ ‘Off the Books’ – that gangster flute lick with Big Pun ripping it up – and Too $hort, in typically mild-mannered form on the Lil Jon-produced ‘Blow the Whistle’, both get 7” second winds begging for your shopping basket. Corleone holidaying in the sun from Oh No, Tristate & Evidence takes an ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’, some of that old Wu-Tang grit from Masta Killa, Redman and Method Man rocks a ‘Keep It Thoro’-style bruiser and sweeps ‘Therapy’ through a three minute snowstorm, and a familiar heart-stopping boom bap whirlwind from Endemic allows Bankai Fam to smash into the calendar ahead.





Albums

In case you’ve been hibernating to this point, Run the Jewels dropped ‘RTJ3’ at Christmas and have already gone close to making 2017 null and void in terms of competition coming close. Their gunfingers-n-gold chain bravado unsheathes another shedload of quotable, tripping the switch to consistently controlled explosions dialling in their sub-sci-fi, slyly evolving short shrift. Extending the telekinetic chokehold of the previous two albums (and why shouldn’t they? – if it ain’t broke…), El-P and Killer Mike are finding hip-hop’s throne at the top table most comfortable.

 

Taking a New Year’s trip to ‘Paranoid City’, the unnerving calm of Sleaze and Sonnyjim sparks a dangerous combination of smoked out and razor sharp. Lead by the immaculate ironman ‘Lobster Bisque’ and with a supreme cast on the boards (Reklews, Illinformed, Sumgii, Sam Zircon), this is true eyes-on-the-prize hip-hop shot through with the everyday, personas split between callous opportunists and kingpins at play. Take it home at your first opportunity.




A similar character assassination (as well as some of the same production personnel) can be aimed at Lee Scott, whose scallywagging ‘Nice Swan’ is of a loaded nonchalance maxing out the Blah Records patent lining hip-hop’s underbelly. Snivelling between unharmed shrugging and expressly not giving a fuck, Scott reveals the great squalor of opening track ‘Bootl£gliving’, a succession of quality snides, and insomnia-battling technicality “stepping on your dreams with elephant-sized feet”. Perfect to combat the bite of January with.

 

‘The Madness’, while only allowing momentary folly, is Attikus kicking no frills lessons, knuckling down while he knuckles up. Out of Vancouver with a touch of the Midwest, the niceness of his nitty gritty puts hoods up, but then tightens the drawstring to noose-like levels. The golden touch of MidaZ is rarely a subtle one, a chew-up-and-spit-out emcee with a flow rarely resting between scoffs, making ‘Loops Two’ a thorough boost to the bicep. Working around funk with money on its mind while twirling a gun round his finger, it’s an LP maintaining inescapable intimidation at all times. To be fair, both pale in comparison to the monocle and tweed parody of ‘Professor Elemental & His Amazing Friends’, sergeant major styling sounding like a block party thrown by Tom Caruana for the Downtown Abbey massive. Chocks away, tally-ho, and so on.




Given hip-hop’s obsession with the finer things in life, it takes someone like Cab Cabernet to step it up into something aristocratic. ‘Krushed Grapes: Harlem Vintage’ sees the ex-Maspyke member swirling bouquets of beats and reeling off rhymes from the wine list, only dealing in the dapper. Strap your gators on, cos this is slick. Blowing impressive fresh air into your ears are Benny Diction and Blue Buttonz, a UK-SA connect on cruise control for ‘Button Up’ where confidence breeds optimism – even at its sternest, its vibe of yearning is something to sidle up to. eMCee Killa, MNSR Fries, Luca Brazi and Elliot Fresh come along for the smoothest of rides. Yet another Statik Selektah casting session remixes ‘The A3C’ series, wrapping Dave East, Action Bronson, The Underachievers, Mick Jenkins and Vince Staples in new threads frayed from all the shoulder brushing.

 

Run-DMC’s self-titled debut gets a reformat; VIP hip-hop that’s a different world away as it churned up all before it, the primal avant-garde of crunching drum machines and scratches, rawk riffs and full steam tag teamin’ with a brand new attitude, is a stark reminder as much as a shot of nostalgia.

Free to download, Giallo Point adds a fresh lick of majestic menace to the aggravations of Percee P, Nas, KRS-One, Shabazz the Disciple, and a daring flip of OC’s signature switchblade. ‘The Remixes’ practises the ski mask way with some fast life coasting – do not make one false move. A massive ode to real hip-hop demanding you respect his hustle, Optimystic’s two-disc, 32-track ‘Day of the Guiding Light’/’Followed by the Shadow’ finds its lane and never swerves. The Aussie emcee makes his buoyancy loud and clear, that in spite of recruiting a mass regiment of hired guns and old skool soldiers – Jeru the Damaja, Killa Priest, Chip Fu, Krazy Drayz, Mr Cheeks, Keith Murray – is a one man army revering the essence.





Mixtapes

You can never go wrong with a Donnie Propa mixtape. After tributes to Masta Ace and J Dilla, ‘Straight from the Crate Cave’ honours all that is golden aged in the garden of Pete Rock. It’s the full spectrum of the Chocolate Boy Wonder that’ll have you auto reversing in no time. Certainties in life: death, taxes, and the freshness of J-Live. ‘At the Date of this Writing’ – tagline: ‘advocate dope’ – offers more soaring standards of enlightenment, maximising damning indictments and wordplay to get your grey cells cramming. Only seven tracks only, it’s the first of a series of one-man mixtapes to put you in a thinker’s pose.

 

Got a twin tape ghetto blaster for Christmas? Get ‘Cuts for the Boombox’ on it and watch the blockbuster haul from Oso Blanco & Matt Kuartz start rocking and tripping from your shoulder. Don’t forget to rewind. Neatly finishing up this month, DJ Skarface puts DJ Shadow beats underneath Run the Jewels wrath for a well executed 20 minute mash up to get everyone talking.



Maximise your browsers for M- Dot’s life through a lens, Jabee’s face-off, and Geechi Suede getting grooves on.