Hip-Hop Revue:: Matt Oliver




Singles/EPs

Welcome to the April-into-May edition of Rapture & Verse, powering through to the end of the season and still searching for that goose that laid the golden Easter egg. Into the singles, suffice to say the remix of Nick Roberts’ ‘Phlegm’ drips harder when Ash the Author has cleared his throat and sent for the delicate jazz vibes while “sick like influenza”. Cobes’ sense of stonefaced ‘Deja Vu’ is to give the people something from the gutter, wielding a sawn off flow to hypnotically sludgy trap from Don Piper. Also looking to announce their arrival via hatchet through your front door, the faint but powerful eeriness of Ill Move Sporadic allows Strange Neighbour to apply a callous coup de grace as ‘Drug Slur’ slowly seizes your brain.





The resurrected renegades of funk Belles in Monica revisit their post millennium espionage with the ‘Natsukashii’ EP, the Glasgow crew sidewinding from the shadows with balaclava militancy mixed with the invoking of bad karma. CMPND’s ‘Whatuplayin@’ makes low-rider music that redefines the ghost whip, murky with a spectral edge where show and prove deals a scorpion sting. There are those that do and those that only observe, and Upfront makes that same distinction with cocky confidence on ‘Spectator’ before beckoning to ‘Look at This’, hocking all over airy jazz vibes.

Then there’s Milkavelli’s ‘Channel Surfing’, a ten minute stream of unglued, curiosity-eking lava lamp consciousness, playing like a late night talk show you won’t find in any TV listings. A friendly game of beats and rhymes is the ‘Word’ of Rob Cave and The Other Guys, seven tracks of sunshine in a record sleeve (perhaps it’s Cave’s Del-like tone), promising something for everyone.






Albums

On his worst behaviour when ‘Confessions of a Crud Lord’ writes red-top headlines, Datkid bullies the beats of Leaf Dog until he’s administering toilet swirlies. Audaciously, Westside Gun, Conway the Machine and Roc Marciano join in with the offense of a one-man gang whose flow is pretty darned irresistible (‘Grown Up’ shows a sharper-than-thought narrative game as well), toying with his Bristol compatriot’s heavy hitters that know exactly how to get the crud to rise to the top.

Datkid also leaves his mitts on Split Prophets’ ‘The Forecast’, joining Upfront, Flying Monk, Paro, Res One and Bil Next on a proper pass-the-mic session. Badhabitz on the boards runs a tight ship for the Westcountry crew go for theirs across eight tracks, equivalent to a knowing look being all the encouragement needed to rack up a bill for booth damages.

Another outcast for whom ASBOs were drafted for is Onoe Caponoe, his Thunderdome rollercoaster ‘Surf of Die’ fixed with two settings of maelstrom or meek. Druggy wall crawlers and wild trap booms raging with the brakes cut pressurise the album until it eventually blows out with exhaustion, but it’s the solemn pauses to look at the view below that make the 169er an even more unnerving object of fascination.





One more to add to this month’s bunch of pithy, snotty spitters is the succinct Sean Peng telling you about his ‘Trips to the Medicine Cabinet’. Heat turned up by Illinformed’s usual brand of head shots driven straight down the middle, Peng is not one to indulge in excess despite the title, leaving the mic shook with an efficiency akin to racing through a Rubik’s Cube like it’s nothing.

Resisting the urge to fart rainbows and spew glitter, Ill Bill and Stu Bangas’ ‘Cannibal Hulk’ goes plundering with a superhuman taste for flesh. Bill’s Non Phixion comrades Goretex and DJ Eclipse assist with the rock and roll hellraising, which despite being petite in length, yanks you onto its team with the sway of cult leadership.

California and Detroit is where ‘Child of the Jungle’ resides, the offspring of Guilty Simpson and MED keeping the underground on a low heat you can still feel on your neck. Spoilt with the production riches of Madlib, Nottz, Black Milk, MNDSGN, Karriem Riggins and Apollo Brown, the mood moves between urgent, soulful and dusted – not the sort of backdrop the mic warhorses are gonna miss out on, slotting in without airs as is customary. Pistol McFly’s chill ‘Road Trip’ is of a similar, middle lane hold from the West Coast, picking up fans on the strength of being roofless rather than ruthless, though the occasional need to speak up and detouring down darker lanes are welcome additions to the journey.

The definition of enterprising, Quelle Chris remains a singular underground voice, loading latest album ‘Guns’ with intelligent angles on a topic never far from the news, coming up with some hardcore head nodders and an educational bigger picture that’ll “make a rapper freeze up like I was Zack in Bayside”.  Rhymes to play on your mind.





A number of R&V favourites return. Chewing premium fat like it’s mere water cooler conversation, Your Old Droog proves ‘It Wasn’t Even Close’ to the sound of cop show themes on their last doughnut and your favourite rapper being moved into retirement by means of cloak and dagger cult. Supplemented by DOOM, Mach-Hommy, Wiki and Roc Marciano passing through on the low, Droog again doesn’t need to overstate the obvious that he’s dope, a slew of shrugging punchlines and forensic wordplay cracking smiles when it feels almost inappropriate to do so, and answering his own question of “whatever happened to lines that used to make you rewind?”





Witness the fitness when Nolan the Ninja, at his most ‘Sportee’, inflicts damage on a jumble of beats mainly being used as target practice rather than competitive equal. Still striving for mid-30s retirement and musing on how to “turn my passion into profit”, another influx of hurricane rhymes wind down in the album’s latter stages just like on the previous ‘Yen’, offering a wee glimpse of conserved style beyond his impressive enthusiasm.





You know what, Dope KNife was right: ‘Things Got Worse’, though not the impact of his front foot stomping continuing on from ‘NinteenEightyFour’. Holding a grudge until knuckles turn white, this has the feel of dismissive modern gangster rap/unofficial old skool with the necessary smarts, playing the position perfectly on the industry glutton ‘Famous’. “Don’t debate the beast, cos I don’t tolerate your weakness” is all the warning needed. El Camino’s warning of ‘Don’t Eat the Fruit’ follows the morality and mechanics of the modern G-code. Namely, funk and soul loops deconstructed as makeweights in drug deals and gunplay, a flow riddled with insomnia, obsession and a bout of the hiccups, and quick out the door so as to make room for the next scheme.

Alchemist’s fifth ‘Rapper’s Best Friend’ collection shares more premium instrumentals, painting pictures to the edge of panic and including two headliners claimed by Evidence. A Record Store Day special giving a clutch of 90s beats their vinyl debut, Pete Rock – poster boy for the MPC don’t forget – claims gold for the other side with ‘Return of the SP1200’. Perfectly sitting on the rugged/smooth axis, the golden timekeeping and honeyed snap, omnipresent from jazz lullabies to flexing outside, is like ice and a slice when you’re beating sweat back.

Wrapping up this month – woop woop, it’s the sound of Open Mike Eagle & DOOM.






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

MATT OLIVER’S ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVIEW




Rapture & Verse’s March hares are made up of dirt-slinging duo Remy Ma and Nicki Minaj (naturally, Foxy Brown then has her two penneth worth as well), Snoop blurring the line between life and art when it comes to America’s next top president, Joey Badass having a John Lennon-style, ‘Bigger than Jesus’ moment, Tupac ‘memorabilia’ reaching unhealthy new levels, and a right flash-looking reissue of Kool Keith and Dan the Automator’s trailblazing weirdo ‘Dr Octagonecologyst’ (when an Easter egg just won’t do). All topped with Will I Am appearing in a new video with the realest of the Rovers Return, Liz McDonald.

Talib Kweli joins the UK B-Boy World Championships with an April performance (probably not as a contestant…well, you never know). Big Daddy Kane reiterates he’s still got juice with a London appearance in May bound to bring in scores of hip-hop nostalgics; and home-grown old skool originals London Posse go on a wee road trip to tell all the current gun finger spitters how slang should really sound. Also upcoming on these shores – DJ Q-Bert, Masta Ace and Jedi Mind Tricks, all making it rain like an April shower.






Singles/EPs

A teeny-tiny singles selection this month starts with a quintet of instrumentals seeing who’s big enough to plug a mic in. Urban Click’s ‘Half Past Two’ does boom bap that keeps time and plants seeds of doubt; just enough fear factor to have you looking over your shoulder mid head-nod, until ‘Payback’ brings the hatchet into full view. In need of an assertive, affirmative funk jam with a worldview to cause roadblocks? Rob Cave’s singsong exasperation telling you ‘Hold Your Head’ is that very jam. Follow that with a remix of Mista Sinista’s ‘Life Without Fear’, another partier making a point with Worldarama, Illa Ghee & Chordz Cordero wrapping up Eitan Noyze’s bulbous funker. Milano Constantine gets grimy on the belt-loosening ‘Rasclart’, with Conway and Big Twins helping extort DJ Skizz’ mob skanking.






Albums

Action packed storytelling kicks off Your Old Droog’s triumphant ‘Packs’, that languid NY flow quickly working a number of hustles and stakes-high dice games, all with a penchant for humour and words to the wise stashed in the trunk. From go-slows to arse kicks, adopting the same readiness for and awareness of when the streets come calling, and with Danny Brown, Edan and Heems on his team, YOD perfects the unfathomable: a varied album with no time to waste or room for error. 14 silk cuts, if you will.

With a flow somewhere between honey dipped and Seattle high, Porter Ray’s seesaw twang that’s always laidback in a perpetual state of motion grounds spacey, floaty forecasts replacing low riders with ambient parachute jumps. ‘Watercolor’ is vaporous but tangible gangsta living from under the stars with a creditable amount of earnestness, with Ray’s role as some kind of avenging angel leaving his mark on you, one way or another.





UK crews control this month starts with the Gatecrasherz getting parties jumping and scrawling their names all over the VIP list on ‘Uninvited’. A more patient unit than expected, inasmuch as each emcee queues obediently before showing ill discipline on the mic (in turn letting you pick your own distinctively-twanged rapper like you’re swapping stickers), a broadside of bumping beats (including ‘2-3 Break’ playing out like a choose-your-own-adventure book), gets doors off hinges.

 

Steady Rock and Oliver Sudden push flavour in your ear with ‘Preservatives’. The BBP reliability always plays the game the right way, spanning humble brags, straight shots, living as they live it, tales told while getting ‘em in and beats getting bobbleheaded on life’s dashboard. What you hear is what you get. Amos & Kaz’ ‘Year of the Ram’ justifies all natural assumptions of locking horns and being capable of a battering. Forceful personality dominates business, pleasure and pain; these two are up for a scrap, or at least a good pantsing, after their knowledge has driven its way down your ear canal. Granville Sessions power through without pretension on ‘Monument’, demanding a captive amphitheatre rather than threatening the front row. A forthright manifesto playing no games makes for a well regimented campaign.

 

After the ‘Barrydockalypse’, Joe Dirt is the last real rapper alive on an album that’s a pessimist’s paradise. Repping Squid Ninjaz by showing strong survival instincts, keeping composure is paramount on a great, stomach-unsettling set for those getting kicks out of losing themselves past the wrong side of the tracks. Safe to say Jam Baxter’s ‘Mansion 38’ is not surrounded by a postcard-perfect white picket fence; half cut, whip smart, and hoovering up Chemo’s top-to-bottom production so that the pair sink until they strike the gold of rock bottom. Ultimate, grungy outlaw hip-hop, putting the trap in trapdoor.





As a flipside, Dabbla barfs out bonus project ‘Chapsville’ (location: London twinned with Tennessee and Thunderdome), spraying obnoxiously hot bars at water cannon pressure while DJ Frosty twists the shapeshfiting landscapes around him. Leaf Dog’s ‘Dyslexic Disciple’ is a proper UK hip-hop knees-up, awash with weed and scuffles always likely to break out because it’s all family. Funk and blues buck like a bronco, plucky and bullish rhymes will step to a mic whatever the weather, Kool Keith drops by to diss you without you realising, and a grand finale of a giant posse cut lands the knockout blow.





Oddisee is his usual engaging self on ‘The Iceberg’. With music as crisp as freshly plucked Romaine, effortlessly upping the pace when the time’s right, the personal becomes appealing so that you can’t help but pore over eloquent diary entries where the ink never runs dry. Ultimately you agree with his clearly made points of view as Oddisee is becoming the master of his own destiny who could make takeaway menus or the phone book sound compelling. From the supple to the ambitious/exhaustive, Beans releases three albums simultaneously (!) – ‘Wolves of the World’, ‘Love Me Tonight’ and ‘HAAST’ – as well as an accompanying novel. Fantastical seat of your pants scenarios and breathless narratives seemingly doing real life and politics in fast forward even if caught in traffic, the Anti-Pop Consortium alumni loves the feel of a fine tooth comb throughout.

NYC’s El Michels Affair have reached the same level of dynasty as their Staten Island source of inspiration. Back covering another batch of Wu-Tang Clan trademarks in an irrepressible, funk and soul, live band experience, ‘Return to the 37th Chamber’ repeats their craft of cultish kung-fu cabaret rewriting the scrolls of Shaolin methodology. Though they dart in as quickly as they sneak out, they’re politely nuthin’ to fuck wit’ when you’re trying to name that tune.

 

A jawbreaker flow meets boom-bap control; ZoTheJerk and Frost Gamble’s ‘Black Beach’ makes strong statements, showing Detroit determination to put things right – or at least stay vigilant – in a world full of buck-passing. A good combination that cruises before T-boning ya. Fuelled by hard liquor and blackmarket diesel, TOPR’s ‘Afterlife of the Party’ is a 13 track brawl finding “epiphanies in heresy, poetry in vulgarity”, kicking down doors and spitting wisdom with the force of a slammed down shot glass. Even at its calmest, there’s only one (albeit methodical) trajectory, justifying arguments and rabble rousing as a hard-bitten B-boy. The usual safe-breaking, toothpick-chewing, phone-tapping vibes from Roc Marciano plots ‘Rosebudd’s Revenge’, a seedy shoulder-brusher putting its kingpin in a familiar position of power, to the sound of a soul jukebox watching trife life go by.





Hosting a sophisticated dinner party but still putting fresh kicks on the table, Dr Drumah runs a tight ship of instrumentals passing round cigar-n-scotch jazz and choice samples keeping ears attracted late on. ‘90’s Mindz’ is precisely put together, a showcase of simple pleasures that’s got plenty of mileage. Once that’s soiree’s over and done with, head over to Vital’s ‘Pieces of Time’ for pretty much more of the same; hard shells with soft centres and golden age hues, in an easy access network of neck work. Argentinean Gas-Lab boasts an international cast to take you ahead of the sunrise on the soul dejeuner ‘Fusion’, all piano keys and horns applying shine to respectful spit. ‘Rise N Shine’ shakes the bottle and wakes a little Samba in Spaniard Alex Rocks, an easygoing beatsmith who gets his US guests licking their lips from the stoop. With a squeeze of bossa funk in the mix as well, it sticks to the script enough for soft tops and sunloungers to start folding themselves back.





Welcoming your retinas this month: Open Mike Eagle turns superhero, Joey Badass pledges allegiance, Knowledge Nick gives a thumbs down, and Ash the Author keeps on track.














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