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.

THE ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVUE
Words: Matt Oliver





 

Amidst the debate whether you’re pro-playlist Drake or give a damn about Kendrick, this is the real hip-hop bombshell. To quote Chris Rock: “love rap & hip-hop – tired of defending it”.

Within the ever turning reissue market and with the bun fight of Record Store Day upon us, some re-ups you may wanna check. Slick Rick’s ‘Children’s Story’ is now logically an illustrated volume for bedtime, Blockhead’s ‘Uncle Tony’s Colouring Book’ gets a reboot on wax, and DOOM & Danger Mouse’s ‘DANGERDOOM’ goes deluxe. More bizarre (and Rapture & Verse had to check it wasn’t April 1st), is the new Raekwon album that can be worn as a backpack, where the audio kind of works as a rumble pack for your body. True story.

Singles/EPs

IAMBENJI’s instrumental righteousness summons a headbanging vision of ‘Jesus Walks’ with ‘Its You’, chopping exultant soul into pulpit pressure: a true four minute warning. Korede’s ‘Humble Beginnings’, a smart mini-expo showing what he’s made for J-Live, has got a chunky drum-n-groove jangle to it like heavy jewellery. An impressive half dozen hangout between Juga-Naut and Micall Parknsun lobs ‘Six Bricks’, with Cappo and Scorzayzee adding extra mortar to a fortress built in Nottingham and with a strict policy on the fundamentals. The highly strung Smellington Piff and Sean Peng take solace under ‘Purple Trees’ in a bid to divert jazz cat, beret and goatee vibes, and the champion sound of Mongrels’ ‘Attack the Monolith’ is now an awesome remix movement. The ‘Attack the Megalith’ EP beams a bat signal to a big time octet, including Hashfinger sliding over a cop car bonnet and Third Person Lurkin going a grim-reapin’, to transform the Yorkshire supernovas second time around.



CunninLynguists’ fine ‘The Rose’ EP gets the barricade rocking with soul-stirring open letters eloquently asking questions and patiently waiting for answers. Aiming to make a difference as much as it whispers to bask in the sun, Maurice Brown & Talib Kweli’s ‘Stand Up’ is the epitome of peaceful protest, and something of a nice dilemma to have. Killa Kyleon’s well executed ‘Killing Over Jays’ is a nifty two-way that’s both cautionary tale and industry/cultural call out, to an oxymoron of smoothed out, box fresh trap. ‘Alone by Choice’ but with plenty to offer, Jango gives you a seven track pick n mix of sharp trap and plush roll outs with the flow to match; a GQ EP pretty much pinpointing what your ears need as and when.






Albums

Should you heed the call of Raekwon’s ‘The Wild?’ It’s not a bad shout, showing something close to vintage Wu-gambinoism, open to the conceptual (‘Marvin’, a fine biopic of Marvin Gaye with Cee-Lo; some alphabet aerobics alongside P.U.R.E.), and cajoling Lil Wayne into a decent verse for ‘My Corner’. The huntsman mentality pulls the album over the line just when the glossy crossovers airing his dirty Gucci laundry in public threaten to nullify the threat.

In a way the same can be said for Joey Bada$$’ ‘All-Amerikkkan Bada$$’, whose clear and effective state of the nation addresses come presented in funk and soul pageantry aiming for Chance the Rapper’s all rounder status. The appeal of the supple, easygoing beats, polished hooks and timely gathering together of everyone is obvious (2pac comparisons come easy as well), though it’s an album that settles into a groove and perhaps at times isn’t quite as hungry as the subject matter would welcome. Nonetheless, Bada$$’ development makes him a candidate for end of year honours.

Turntable ringmasters Boca45 and DJ Woody saddle up into the sunset again on ‘Carousel’, where you must be this fly to join the ride. In a myriad of needles, spins and samples, BluRum13 threatening to steal the show as mic anchor, breaks needing another belt notch, and energetic fun (not forgetting the obligatory electro pop-n-lock), technique and entertainment takes lesser DJs to clown school when these two go back to back. BocaWoody boss the big top like Barnum.





Indiana’s irresistible force Freddie Gibbs is someone not for dislodging. Like a Bond villain who doesn’t know what a P45 is, ‘You Only Live 2wice’ does grim low riding, lord praising, quiet storming and do-or-die roulette spinning, all the while Gibbs reads the gangsta gospel slash riot act with that swerveless flow of his going all in. At eight tracks long you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s left a lot in the locker, but it’s a pretty comprehensive, fluid body of work.

Renowned rhyme brawler Apathy cuts the mic adrift and goes instrumental for ‘Dive Medicine: Chapter One’, displaying sonic skills well in tune with his usual vocal rips. Soulful but with plenty of punch, as if Apathy will look you straight in the eye before rattling your ribcage, the sleeve may suggest boom bap kitted out for submarines, but the likes of ‘Scuba Groupie’ and ‘Subterranean Meditation’ are happier chilling in a deckchair amidst a bunch of mean, street-ready flexes. Re-upping straight bat boom bap from social media’s olden days, Sraw’s ‘Beat Weeks’ is the Scandinavian timetabling instrumentals that go bump in the night, jazzy foot tappers over coffee, and wheezing whacks to the loaf. Nice enough to take some time with. The mind expansions of Frenchman Al’Tarba look at instrumentals through a prism mounted atop a plasma ball, ‘La Nuit Se Lève’ the score to a film only streaming in flashbacks you haven’t experienced yet, caught in a cold-veined tailspin with dubstep choking on its exhaust.





Wired between confessional and eccentric wisdom explaining ‘How to Fake Your Own Death’, backwater hip-hop from Ecid unfurls a slow and precise, me-against-everything scuzz of discomfort holding up a mirror to the world in a typical Midwest post-malaise. One to be passed around huddles of the disenfranchised. They should then transfer to the occult of A7PHA, Anticon messengers Doesone and Mestizo delivering a dense, walls-are-closing-in distortion of reality “releasing heat so hot it disinfects metal”, and whose silhouettes make the ponderous and rabid unnerving bedfellows, reaching a crescendo/crisis point. A collection so strictly underground it should come with its own canary, Copywrite and Planet Asia are naturally all about taking care of business with ‘Unfinished & Untitled’; forget the title, these are prizefighters in all their pomp.





With the reserved flow of an all-seeing shaman, Zaire Black stamps the passport of DJ Drez’ global trip of simmering colours on the studious ‘Aficionados’, making work a mismatch of a slight vocal reticence and rich, probing production (check ‘I Will I Want’ for its range of unlikely samples, though ‘That DJ’ goes a bit EDM loco). A collection of remixes for Lessondary’s top drawer ‘Ahead of Schedule’ will do just nicely: ‘RE:Scheduled’ has twangy funk and head nod high noons from Jamie Cooley, Donwill, Jermiside and ZFTP slipping nicely into a support role going toe-to-toe with the quality of the original. The smoothness of Brooklyn’s ScienZe orders ‘Kind of Dessert’ to go with the nightcap he’s suggesting you come up for; cosmopolitan swirls, boho brainstorming, neo-soul niceness and vibes that wake when they want before hitting the ground running. Still one of the game’s surest things when it comes to storytelling, Murs as ‘Captain California’ drops you slap bang in the middle of the action, as well as walking you through tales step by step with simple start-beginning-end structures. Buoyant beats help Murs’ Mills-n-Booning no end, and his show-n-prove still ain’t bad either.






Mixtapes

Dishing out more mixtape pleasure, Donnie Propa goes to town on the play and record buttons for a second Masta Ace masterclass; a standard fix-up of classics, one-offs etc, ‘The Ace Tape volume 2’ won’t let a single beat, rhyme, cut or blend miss a step. A great DJ curates a great emcee.

Front and centre this month: Danny Brown’s must-see, Evidence’s latest weather report, The Last Skeptik going split-screen, and Bohze’s weekend attire.