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

HIP-HOP REVIEW: WORDS: MATT OLIVER




Singles/EPs

If you can look away from Kanye rediscovering his Twitter password, here’s the new Rapture & Verse to clog up your social media feeds with self-amusing jpegs, resent at royal wedding snubs, and wondering who’ll step up next after J Cole’s ‘KOD’ and Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’. The saga continues when Salar examines the ‘Demigod Complex’, whose who-wants-some rhymes come wrapped in dynasty strings measuring you for a horse’s head. S. Kalibre takes the weather personal on ‘Sun and Rain’, a quiet storm looking for a sliver of light in burdened times. Bluesy keys and dipping sunshine won’t hold back Fliptrix, asserting ‘It’s Like That’ with bladed precision synching syllables against the shimmer. “If the bars don’t get ‘em, then the flow will” – Legion of Goon lump you with extra credit, ‘AIOFO’ and ‘Flashing Lights’ keeping up their strain of witty unpredictable. ‘Lock Your Doors’ is a pretty flimsy means of resistance once Ramson Badbonez does his best Jack Torrance impression, and ‘Safe’ by Kalieon won’t provide shelter from a measured pounding of the streets battling uphill.

The sweg of sarky master Lee Scott continues unabated, ‘Oh, The Fun We’re All Having’ a seven tracker finding pleasing ways to rise up from his customary wit pricking dulled psychedelica. ‘When It Rains It Pours’, and when Lewis Parker reaches cucumber temperature, it’s normally a keys and breeze classic, smoothness to the Nth degree with Verbz on the mic a good fit for street forecasting. Three times for your mind, the P Brothers’ buccaneering ‘Mentaltainment’, with Daniel Son, Doo Wop, Your Old Droog and Milano picking up and brandishing the baton, does heavyweight jail breaking you’ll lose your shoes over. On 2018’s system update of ‘don’t touch that dial’, Homeboy Sandman and Edan attempt to break superhighway shackles and ‘#NeverUseTheInternetAgain’, a fun old skool caper with a hook from the rooftops capping exasperated moral guardianship/public health warning.








Interesting spoken word/rhyming at both ends of the candle from Lausse the Cat tells the tale of ‘The Girl, The Cat and The Tree’. A cosy jazz bedding of some splendour can show its claws, and the comfortably muted storytelling joins the dots between telltale realities of love and life, and what’s going on through the looking glass. The powerful, stark prose and spectacle in the spotlight of ‘Without Certainty’ has Ceiling Demons speaking up in a bid to bring a pertinent good cause to the fore: job done if it strikes a chord or doesn’t leave you sitting comfortably. “Emotional damage, you know I’m a vet” – at the junction of heartbreak ridge and breaking point, WLK’s ‘The Gry’ EP is a bid for survival knocking you sideways: industrially scalded, claustrophobic in surround sound, and lashing out when rationality evaporates. With a Guilty Simpson-esque roughness around the edges, MIKE’s ‘Black Soap’ EP is a steel wool wash of loops and freestyle static circling the drain, that gruff command structuring and keeping heads above water.




Albums

A whiny, shrill, eyeballs bulging flow researching Cage at the height of his neuroses with a dash of Chester P: that’s the mist of Eric the Red descending on ‘Caught Red Handed’. Eric’s mugshot is front and centre while Illinformed helps himself out back, in prime form with 14 shots to the dome and his own mutinous agenda. A swift in and out job, as much about partnering in crime as trying to stitch one another up, this is a thick cut of hella lairy British beef.





Spraying bars to bleach your grey cells and decreeing “I’d rather be real shallow than fake deep”, Lunar C has got the smarts to back the undoubted brat factor. ‘Dirtbrain’ rides mischief and sledgehammers found on grime stairwells (see the scales-breaking ‘Skwolla’), with WTF wordplay goading the rewind button. But canny operations that could well take him further, show his strength for the gift of gab beyond gobbing off. Ain’t no such things as halfway crooks, but there is The Mouse Outfit’s ‘Jagged Tooth Crook’, which is neo-soul, nailed. Manchester’s late night live band stick to the script and show the usual steady steps spiced by a rota of emcees and guests.

With assistance from Earl Sweatshirt and Knxwledge, Denmark Vessey’s ‘Sun Go Nova’ is a laborious half and half of rhymes most ears won’t be ready for, and a turnaround of instrumentals riffing off of needle fluff. “For lack of a better word, it’s alternative and leftfield” says the man himself, which is putting it mildly. An insurgent radio station needing the deftest of twiddles to lock onto, follows an audience address admirable for its single-mindedness, chipping away at your defences.

If the origins and whereabouts of Pan Amsterdam lead your search engine down a dead end, ‘The Pocket Watch’ shrugs ‘so what?’ if its skittish ghetto Jackanory leads you down a rabbit hole/Never-Netherlands. Easily distracted with thought pieces of no why and wherefore, the coolest town crier refuting time and space that you’d never imagine medicates to funk, jazz and electro paying low rent but giving glints of bygone razzle dazzle. Unfazed, unconstrained, and easily up for cult listen of the year.





Instrumental scaremongering from Dew8 offers a one-way ticket to a two-way street of the outer limits and no man’s land with lo-fi ghoulishness, ‘Pigeon Feed’ perfecting the classic of letting your ears fill in the gaps for what horrors will follow. Parallel altered state ambience and patent anxiety from Sam Zircon reserved ‘For Shipping and/or Storage’ is like trying to piece together the ghosts of dreams past, offering sub zero degrees of nostalgic comfort and a boom bap itch that you can never quite get to.

Solidify your summertime listening with Dumi RIGHT’s ‘Doing It The Right Way’, the Zimbabwe Legit emcee doing user-friendly consciousness with help from Mr Lif and Mike G of the Jungle Brothers; a good one to throw on once debate breaks out over beers and barbeque. Follow suit with Offwhyte’s ‘Both Sides of the Mississippi’, packing contemplative punch from that fairly gentle, ever fluent flow of his, where rhymes manifest over perfectly matched beats until he’s the last man standing. More fire from The Doppelgangaz tells you to open wide and say ‘Aaaaggghh’. Tinted a little darker than their rockingly good ‘Dopp Hopp’, still crossing from East to West but like they’ve dimmed the high beams on the low-rider (‘Slay Bells’ demands are you listening), all praise remains due to The Cloak from one of the baddest assed pairs out there.





The love of lexicon is still the apple of Paul Barman’s eye. More than meets the ear in his answer-for-everything, stimulator kook role, ‘Echo Chamber’ carries on closing the gap between potent politics, funky lounge lizard off-the-tops and bizarre hypotheses, burrowing its way through the toughest of leather bound volumes to have you picking the bones out for weeks on end. A supporting cast of ?uestlove, Mark Ronson, Open Mike Eagle, Prince Paul, DOOM and Masta Ace means it’s not far from frickin’ awesome. Blu and Shafiq Husayn’s flaky ‘The Blueprint’ has funk to be found, but sounds like it’s constantly going in and out of tunnels while it breaks down gang divisions and geography by the most basic means possible.

Some proper old skool, four-track business out of Cali produces a re-up of The Nonce’s ‘1990’, the Project Blowed affiliates finding their feet with De La Soul-style rhymes, pointers towards Peanut Butter Wolf & Charizma and The Pharcyde, and interplay and concepts (little metaphor needed for the napkin-tucking ‘Chocolate Cake’) getting the most out of raw materials. Royce da 5’9” continues to go from strength to strength when unlocking the ‘Book of Ryan’, piled high with battles and confessionals, life lessons and fears to open eyes and ears. Given the LP’s length, ‘I’m not getting better, I’m just getting started” will make you think twice if you thought you knew everything about the man already.





With so much drama in the CNT it’s kinda hard being the LDZ. Funky DL does GTA, and Sam Krats has got the cream.













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