Hip-Hop Revue: Matt Oliver





Singles/EPs

A bouquet of beats, Cupid-sent cuts, and rhymes to make your headboard rock – it’s the post-Valentine’s instalment of Rapture & Verse for all you horndogs. Legendary London Posse rhymer Bionic returns as the GreenCryptoKnight, showing you never lose your superpowers as he tears into Jazz T and Zygote’s face slapping, emerald-vinyled ‘Superman’, before adjusting the slicked back specs and tie look on the sombre ‘It Set In Stone’. Circling the drain and enjoying the sensation of tenterhooks snagging the skin, Press1, Sylla B and Dr Syntax face up to the facts of ‘Smartphone Zombies’, far gloomier than the amusing title insinuates. Taking you to down to ‘Suicide City’, where the grass is decidedly not greener and you can decide for yourself about the girls, Onoe Capone turns on the rapid fire with nothing to lose as the “bad guy that’s misunderstood”.





Bonus heat from Nolan the Ninja on the quiet storm ‘IMG’ slickly goes from casual retrospective to show-n-prove tying you up in knots. On some grimy underdog biz, Lee Ricks grits his teeth fully aware that ‘Life’s a Bitch’, fired up by being fed up, peering over the edge to BigBob’s fatefully wistful nodder. Similar grit out of necessity is displayed by the granite-carved David May, right on time when grinding hard on ‘Black Box’ with Lake Indigo pairing Celtic wonder with bass pushing the reds. Yamin Semali passionately defining what it means to be ‘Immortal’ comes with strings leaping from the speakers and a banquet of soul food for thought. Nothing but honest energy on seven amped tracks from DJ Nu-Mark, Slimkid3 and Austin Antoine creates a ‘TRDMRK’. Beats and rhymes loosen the screws on your speakers and make the front row spring-loaded, with Guilty Simpson and Dillon Cooper coming through for the jump-ups.






Albums

Round four of the Czarface chronicles, this time with Ghostface Killah in the guest hot seat. There are times when an isolated Tony Starks feels like a fourth wheel/fifth Beatle – 7L & Esoteric 1, Wu-Tang Clan 0 – but compared to some of his more recent long players his appetite on ‘Czarface Meets Ghostface’ is well up. In amongst the usual play-your-position hurricane of uppercut-landing beats and career-ending 16s from the cipher to the comic book store, is confirmation of what an amazingly consistent emcee Esoteric is. Don’t expect Czarface to relinquish their infinite lives status any time soon.





The unquenchable thirst for blood that motivates Ramson Badbonez, makes ‘Mic Day the 13th’ a date to both revere and fear. RB’s considered decapitations, referencing all your favourite madmen, accomplish carnage with the level-headedness of a double agent whose shift changes under a full moon. While beats go bump in the night, a pokerfaced accomplice of the slasher going about his business, it’s a very British campaign of murder-murder-kill-kill.





You are about to witness the strength of street knowledge. The ‘G.A.W.D.’ complex of Joker Starr is his usual bustling style putting an F word to what you heard, hitting you with a bunch of robustly educational reducers set up by Micall Parknsun with a Blaxploitative nod on the boards. Jack Jetson and Illinformed are the ushers to ‘Strange Cinema’, tuneful head nodders galore until necks feel swollen, and an impactful flow with very little histrionics, even when “I lost my mind, now I found it, but it’s missing bits”: a watertight combination. The latest round of two minute warnings from Bisk, sticky, lo-fi claustrophobia from a peak NYC housing project, makes you squint through the abrupt ‘Gunsmoke’: an absolutely deadly spell of fully clipped relaxation.





Your neckline firmly in his sights, Pitch 92 runs a tight ship in representing ‘3rd Culture’ with a steady hand at the wheel. The Manchester producer must’ve sprinkled some sort of emcee catnip in the booth however, as he brings out some excellent performances from Jehst, Kashmere, Sparkz, Fliptrix, Foreign Beggars, the Four Owls and more. While there’s no doubting that the guests would have come through, you have to give credit to Pitch on the boards for giving them the right and clean balance of canvas to do so.





Seethingly succinct and planning your downfall at his most matey, Rick Fury isn’t quiet in giving his targets what for, signalling the ‘Death of Autumn’ from the North East. Expertly manoeuvring soulful strike-outs from DJ ADS, in tune with the changing colour of the leaves and cannily reworking a trance classic on the album’s finale, Fury intertwines the mutual exclusivity of a simmering glare and a playful bounce to his rhymes, suggesting that if you make yourself comfortable, don’t do overdo it. An emcee able to cancel all challengers.

Boom bap, original rap: Bronx Slang’s self-titled album systematically sorts the wheat from the chaff. On paper their method is foolproof: high protein funk prone to espionage (and from surprise sources), mic-crumbling rhymes, 11 tracks, tag team performance, concepts and comment, plentiful lines to rewind…if all of this sounds overly nostalgic at pains to keep it real, Jerry Beeks and Miggs are more sages than saviours, proving you don’t have to settle for what’s supposedly trending. Proper hip-hop citizenship.





How do you like your eggs in the morning? Jazzy, sunny side up and with plenty of snap? Remulak’s plate of ‘Scrambled Eggs’ gets a dusting down and offers an instrumental challenge to any plucky master of ceremonies, doing very nicely for itself when you’re taking a break from putting on the Ritz and wearing spats with a swoosh. Most dapper, and no faking either. A decade’s worth of Oliver Sudden in 46 minutes is a fine flick through the racks that sails down like the first pint of summer. The ‘10 Year Mixtape’, put together by Downstroke and featuring assists from Luca Brazi, Sam Zircon and Ill Move Sporadic, is guaranteed to remove all accumulated crud from your ears: pretty much unskippable.

 

Presenting old skool rules from Positive K and MC Lyte, and the greatness of the Train Robbers.








Words: 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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