Hip-Hop Revue: Matt Oliver




Singles/EPs

Welcome to March’s Rapture & Verse, writers of extraordinary introductions and this month beginning with champions of champions The Kingdem – the improbably heavyweight trio of Rodney P, Blak Twang and Ty – getting down to ‘The Conversation’. Due to the use of “Diplo-styled dolphin vocal loops” it’s not as big a rumpus as anticipated, but certainly works as a summery, elder statesman roundtable. ‘Peep the EP’ and ye shall find BVA shifting with the knuckle-cracking belligerence of a schoolmaster, four tracks getting stuck in with Leaf Dog and Illinformed bringing fire while turning mythical pages. A job-doer not messing around. Ever been told to cheer up, because it might never happen? Illaman is the one to take umbrage with the ‘Give Us a Smile’ EP, pairing a brass neck with a steel stomach and thick skin, getting motivated over beats on the brink and pulling you from ear to ear.





A sympathetic Handbook listens to Supreme Sol being dealt rough hands and rougher handling on ‘Talk Show Host’, a fine, immersive transatlantic collaboration sustaining levels of vivid sourness on ‘Con Consciousness’. Another UK to US brainstorm has London’s Dolenz grinding gears for a typically dour Guilty Simpson on the interesting ‘Pull’, an edgy, industrial-themed click and spark soundtracking the last days of Detroit autonomy, brought into the light by a Darkhouse Family remix.



Ronnie Bosh gives it ‘100%’, sure to make locals edgy once he’s stepped in the place and barged his way to the front with the air of a new, non-shit-taking sheriff in town. Six tracks of ‘Serious Waffle’ is Jimmy Danger getting mouthy on an EP that goes with beats, boasts, bangers and beatings. Dr Syntax, Dirty Dike and Skuff pass through to witness this particular dangerman mashing ‘em down with a sneer you’ll give in to. Snatching the mic with an extended middle finger, Datkid’s ‘Crud Addict’ is two minutes 45 seconds of boorish wind-up merchantry aiming at the front row, a neck wringer where Leaf Dog tinkles the ivories into a catastrophe. Turning the vapour of neo-soul instrumentalism into a significant aphrodisiac, Talos’ onomatopoeic ‘Iridescent’ is a five-track stargazer tweaking the template to keep ears devoted.

The languid attraction of ‘Door Down’ from Chiedu Oraka and Fila Brazillia legend Steve Cobby will knock down a lot of…er…doors when the sun gets fully into position: of cool and not a little cunning. Instrumental soul that’s all in the fingertips, FAIL.WAV celebrates ‘Failuary’ with an eight-sided set of touch-of-a-button smoothness making advances towards your headphones, bringing together far out and warming sounds. Drink ‘Flat Tummy Tea’. Wear a ‘Bandana’. Listen to Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, a car chase clearing the lane, followed by bossing the club as the walls drip psychedelics. Wiki drops jewels over the trap-not-trap, boom-or-bust of ‘Cheat Code’, an aggressive player collecting every bonus. El Camino and Benny the Butcher aren’t on ‘Venice Beach’ to relax, creating a sludgy sandstorm with monstrous, last breath strings from Dirty Diggs.






Albums

On ‘A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night’, Blu and Oh No mosey across the West Coast to capture the hustles and bustle as a frontline tour guide mapping out all the no-go areas and places to tap into local electricity. Blu rhymes his ass off, resetting himself when on the verge of catching his own tail as the album develops into a Big L-style heist, and Oh No’s funk soundtrack ducks and dives with similar equilibrium, closing the gap between resplendent and kerbside like a GTA dial twiddle.





Enthusiastically leaving dead air in their wake, Clear Soul Forces are anything but ‘Still’ in their welcome to Detroit, bumpy funk dislodging the dust and doing the road trip experience with tracks to cruise to while getting the whole convoy to jump in. A party album on close-knit terms. Chicago’s WateRR and UK stalwart Farmabeats open up a joint venture: ‘The Dispensary’ mostly deals in lows of gutter-bathed rhymes chewing up a psych-laced sound saying that the summer of love is over, and sometimes darker still. A potent strain. The thrill of the ‘Chase’ is that Aaron May has a casually cool, J Cole-style flow to woo you with, the Houston rhymer needing under half an hour to convince you big things are imminent. Patrons of lazy days and sticky nights should sign up for this immediately.





Home cooking from Choosey and Exile serves ‘Black Beans’ as nuggets of gold, a unifier without any grand gestures, capturing the essence of swapping stories and cautionary tales across a crowded dinner table and reminding you not to forget your manners. The comforts of soulful Cali ear butter, the mantra of “trying to break the cycle, like I’m squeezing on handlebars”, and rhymes of a valued familiarity without looking to make new friends, has eyes on a top 10 spot come the end of the year.

SOL Development lay bare ‘The SOL of Black Folk’, a live outfit laying the state of the world on a bed of sensitive musicianship – from coy to rousing – and leaving no hot topic untouched. A readymade spectacle away from the stereo, they honour the formula of raw, eyewitness rhymes and uplifting, educational soul hooks and exclamations, strident (and sometimes grungy) enough to turns nods of agreement into pro-active support. Elaquent’s ‘Blessing in Disguise’, a warm instrumental album painting sunnier climes, guides you down the straight and narrow of a neo-brick road ideal for dinner parties and picturesque picnics, drifting without fading past your ears.

With the cloying hue and scent of deadly nightshade heavy in the air, Sadistik tending to ‘Haunted Gardens’ is a classic in tainted soul catharsis. The passive/aggressive survival, functioning via the need to be numb – “I live and die every day, I’m so versatile” – makes for a doom-laden, backwoods champion when his sub-gothic poetry and demeanour wants to be anything but iconic.





As hirsute superheroes with long-established powers of deduction, the Epic Beard Men, funky bad-asses B Dolan and Sage Francis, entertain when their teasing becomes a punishment of the ignorant. ‘This Was Supposed To Be Fun’ is a prophetic title where the pair buddy up before stopping on a sixpence to admonish the ills around them. The diminishing art of the mic swap is alive and well here, rocking out from Rhode Island through the Midwest. With his status as ‘Destituent’ marking him like a red dot to the forehead, merciful/avenging angel Sole sprints to the centre of the volcano from word one. Running against oddly appropriate 80s synths and rawk, battle-hardened symphonies dragged through a silver screen apocalypse like they used to make, typically fluid, inventive wordplay and a level head belie the inevitability of the worst case scenario as the underground breathlessly spills over.


Words/Selection: Matt Oliver

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MATT OLIVER’S ESSENTIAL MONTHLY HIP-HOP ROUNDUP





Singles/EPs

With Rapture & Verse writing letters to Santa asking for Record Store Day specials from Prodigy, Dilla, Three6Mafia, Latyrx and a not-safe-for-turntables Christmas ice breaker from Kool Keith, the long held preconception that bad boys move in silence proves to be nothing but fake news. To the tune of stink-eye jazz, a warning shot causing whiplash is Ocean Wisdom maintaining ‘Eye Contact’, flowing comfortably before reaching his trademark warp speed without loss of clarity. Fresh hell from Onoe Caponoe unsheathes a similar typhoon tongue, taking the form of ‘Pennywize’ to a trap hammer horror thrown under the bus with the kitchen sink. Res One’s clinical and dangerous ‘Preach Nothing’ ensures you’ll burn in hell, Vicious Creep producing a funeral hymn remembering a Wild West shoot out. Beads jangling, consider the bird well and truly flipped when Dabbla goes ‘Flying’ – only first class, of course. Even the proper Professor Elemental is sent into a tailspin when James Flamestar turns ‘Knock Knock’ into a sub-EDM battering ram.





Bring your bludgeoned ears to the house of Handbook, who’ll look after you (and many an emcee) with the soulfully strong instrumentals ‘Holding You’/’Nightlife’. MrE simmers down and lights up with ‘Fairy Tale’, a well executed storyteller twisting bedtime favourites and fables into a pointed Bronx lullaby. But if you’re sitting comfortably to Beatnick Dee & Allen Poe’s ‘Composure’ EP, the LA-Kentucky match-up will pull the seat from under you, soulful for body and brain, with a conscience prepared to do double shifts. Fearing the worst when a club track called ‘Opulence’ with a poolside sleeve is cued, K Gaines leads the flashy set a merry dance with funk and flow setting and nailing simple targets.

One of Sage Francis’ signature fact-finding devastations gets a re-up, ‘Hoofprints in the Sand’ remixed by SonOfKarl as homely calm tries to keep the wolves from the door. Coating bar after bar in blood, KXNG Crooked & Royce 5’9” dispense ‘Truth’, ruthlessly bursting the bubble of bleary trap whose race sounds run. One of DJ Premier’s back pocket boom bappers gets A$AP Ferg to reclaim ‘Our Streets’, a nice beats and rhymes combination operating at about 75% and still eliminating imitators and New York naysayers in their droves. Another DOOM special team – metal-faced sagging meeting the street-carbonated Westside Gunn – comes more underground than a mole’s metro system, on the picture disc payday ‘Gorilla Monsoon’/‘2 Stings’.






Albums

Cappo, Juga-Naut and Vandal Savage power up again as valued vehicle of vengeance VVV, using the pointed end of the dunce cap to gut opposition on ‘Bozo Boyz’. Wearing Nottingham swagbasco like its rockstar cologne, the trio take apart prowling club beats powered by the high beams of an 80s sportscar, a wink and a nod helping slice through lingering gunsmoke.





Reading last rites on ‘2000BD’, Babylon Dead are the governing body of Illinformed, in bedevilled form on the boards, and Jman, riding dirty with ragga rawness on the mic. An uncompromising last days scorch that can you make jump and shout as much as sending you cowering to the corner. The ever bloodshot Bisk and his supply of dropped out hip-hop continues unabated, the typically fitful ‘Fly Sh!t’ and his affiliation of anything but tranquil tranquilizers, Morriarchi, Lee Scott, Sam Zircon and Drae da Skimask, dealing in lo-fi at extreme pressure. Back for seconds, DJ Format and Abdominal adjust the napkin for ‘Still Hungry: The Remixes’, eight extra courses of funkiness that you don’t even have to tip the dynamic duo for.





We’ve all thought it – Armand van Helden and Jan Hammer would make a toothpaste-selling dream team. For now, it’s Armand Hammer leaving Chelsea smiles, New York duo Elucid and Billy Woods heading to ‘Rome’ as underground gladiators whose coat of arms reads “I’m the solution, I’m the condition, I’m a symptom”. Dense, sprawling heat, headed by Messiah Musik and August Fanon on some press-record-and-go business, ‘Rome’ becomes a coliseum-sized battle when reality and ill illusions converge.

The dapper delights of L’Orange’s ‘The Ordinary Man’, instrumental top hat and tails with the creases kept in, create an evocative performance capturing in black and white a concerto producer forming his own magic circle. Right hand men drop in on the mic – Blu, Elzhi, Del, Oddisee – to flank a fantastic sample archive wearing a slightly world-weary pose, from a producer whose trick-from-sleeve ratio remains visionary.





Bringing bangers from the Balkans to Boston, Mr Lif runs with Brass Menažeri for an album of oompah-pa power. ‘Resilient’ sees Lif’s customary nose for a cautionary tale and willingness to occupy outside space, woven to a backdrop of massive horns and cosmopolitan live musicianship let off the leash. Hearty but no novelty, the odd couple/fantasy lineup raises smiles and earns respect.

D4rksid3’s ‘The Dark Tape’ is an envoy of gloom, but slick with it, nestling in hip-hop’s recesses but keeping it moving and able to scoop victory from the jaws of defeat. What starts as groggy gangsterism sparks into life when Meyhem Lauren & DJ Muggs strike gold in uncovering ‘Gems from the Equinox’, a shady, honour-shattering set that with Roc Marciano Action Bronson, Conway, and Mr MFN eXquire in tow, gets into the groove of steam rollering suckers stoopid. Music to out-train Rocky to, Stoneface’s ‘The Stone Age’ runs strictly on rugged terrain on his way to affirmation, quiet storms dive-bombing off clifftops. Do not listen if you’re not up for the fight.



“Boom bap be the music of choice, baritone be the range of the voice”: on an album called ‘Back to the Basics (The Boom Bap)’, the demands of LS Camp are pretty plain. Defenders of the faith who sail smoothly through beats and rhymes, without viewing the world through rose (or golden) tinted glasses. Talking of smooth, Blu & Exile’s ‘In The Beginning: Before the Heavens’ is a prequel talking a lot of sense as it sits atop its predecessor like California cream on top of flavourful pie.

 

Mixtapes

Accomplished enough to be an album in its own right, Sampa the Great’s ‘Birds and The Bee9’ brings to mind the best of Bahamadia. As much as a relaxant as a pricker of ears, global vibes and soulful, gossamer licks consistently dropping shamanic B-girl jewels, confirm one-to-watch status. Chris Read reruns the fun of The Pharcyde’s ‘Bizarre Ride II…’ with a 25th anniversary mix giving you 48 minutes of all the band’s celebrated, accelerated funk and foibles, plus the finger food in between.



On this week’s Gogglebox: Chester P’s premonitions, Rye Shabby’s hometown tour, and Rapsody’s ascension.










Look out for Rapture & Verse’s picks of the year in Monolith Cocktail’s comprehensive 2017 round up, coming soon.


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