Essential Hip-Hop Revue: Words: Matt Oliver





Singles/EPs

The bunting’s down, the facepaint has been ruined by teardrops, the class of 2018 failed to graduate…but worry not, Rapture & Verse is here to wipe the World Cup slate clean. Starting with some jazz to get horizontal to from Talos, with Coops stopping by and making the ‘Lowlight’ EP one to reach for when your soul needs a spritz of aftersun. Cross the Final Boss and expect to get your crash helmet cracked through the seat of your pants on the intriguing ‘Renegade’, a juddering slalom mixing joypad sci-fi and rock ready to brawl, piloted by a maverick on the verge of dangerous. ‘Est 92’ has Farma and Remus putting in a diverse five-track shift and pushing chips off the old block the size of boulders that shatter the mirror dividing fantasy and reality.





Doing what he does best with all of his strong arm steadiness, Rasco’s ‘Where the Heart’s At’ stomps down, a rugged size 9 carrying a little club favour to it thanks to Tom Caruana. Unashamedly summary, The Aztext will have you a blast once ‘Everyday Sun’ hits your speakers; the honeyed hook, the pianos and horns, and rhymes rolling up their sleeves, get parasols popping. Get yourself to the low-rider showroom as well and demand a Sean Elliot paint job while you’re at it, ‘Big Boy’ a funky-assed baller blasted with Southern rays and Big Sant on the passenger side. Madison Washington continue their hot streak with the laidback ‘No Cliché’, an after-party groove with the right amount of nous behind it.




Albums

Take a look ‘Under the Patio’ and you’ll find the excellent return of The Last Skeptik, stumping up a string of vibing, dusky beats that never fade to black, understated in their genre reach. Star turns around the honeypot from Bonkaz, Mikill Pane, Cosmo, Kojey Radical and plenty more feed off the unseen electricity that eventually overloads into a sneering punk climax. An album simmering down the summer’s sticky restlessness, but Skeptik’s lot ain’t soft by a long stretch.

Micall Parknsun and Mr Thing are unequivocal on ‘Finish What We Started’, mainstays trusted with hip-hop restoration and consumed by the decency of “this is real, this is raw, this ain’t pop shit”. Park-E’s unmistakable stony flow draining stamina from challengers, and Thing adjusting the degrees of boom bap drama – including scheming countdowns and old skool windmills landing like a haymaker – have all the answers for those exaggerating hip-hop’s downfall.





‘Sugar Like Salt’ is the taste of Louis VI. A cunning operator sounding a little like Loyle Carner, the Londoner flavours the album just as the title says by working jazz angles and stories from midnight into the sunshine, and smarts from both sides of the equation. Hazy, but a firer on all cylinders. A third round of ‘Blackcurrent Jazz’ has Funky DL reaching his usual pro-jazz professionalism. Smoothness shaking out all the strains of the day comes with some refreshing twists on love and life, and even when the album’s at its most down in the mouth, the funky def lyrics can raise spirits and get a toe tapped.





Roll up roll up, Vanderslice is offering you the chance to grab ‘The Best Album Money Can Buy’. Ghostface, Freddie Gibbs, Prodigy, Slug and Evidence on guest duties up the exchange rate of the producer’s skinny set, a mob playground slash foreign film dub with Vic Spencer’s ‘Bone Museum’ the heaviest on the door, and rubbed up the wrong way by J-Zone crashing a ‘Chevrolet’.

You only have to skim through past R&V columns to see old skool institutions coming a cropper in the modern game. AG isn’t one to stumble, ensuring ‘The Taste of AMbrosia’ doesn’t lose any of that DITC flavour. “For mature rap devotees who’ve grown tired of contemporary rhymesayer laziness”, sounds like corporate blurb: “the flow is so simple but the words are so heavy” is AG chasing artificial additives out of town.

After last month’s explosion of seven track elitism, we should probably give a mention to Drake’s ‘Scorpion’. The good quality moments and educated/cryptic referencing are overcome by the usual sing-song peacocking (you don’t judge a battle by Drake out-singing Pusha T), and a tracklisting that’s in itself seems like a direct response to his competitors’ funsize selections. That hasn’t stopped it selling/streaming by the squillion, so what do we know.

Don’t expect ‘Therapeutic’ by A Minus and Chanes to take you somewhere New Age. Do expect plenty of that ol’ Detroit drowse button to blow you on course, smog soul and rhymes keeping upright but never uptight and with some good plots to pore over. One to spend time on the couch with. An even bigger smoke break with levels submerged until eyes turn red, MIKE’s ‘Renaissance Man’, with a Guilty Simpson-esque swagger, teeters through heavy cloud cover, an unfazed baritone dragging the lapse-hop project up by its bootlaces. Roughness around the edges that can still strike a chord with the keep it realists. No nonsense, WYSIWYG, Ronseal hip-hop from Scoob Rock – ‘Be You’ is his uncomplicated proclamation, and he follows his own advice with a weathered, hoarse flow dipping into a patois that maintains a snake-like squeeze on the beats. Will stare you down, administer a one punch TKO before continuing about his day.

L’Orange continues his long and successful run of collaborative albums with ‘Marlowe’, in partnership with fellow North Carolinan Solemn Brigham. As usual the producer’s beats are full of character, detailing colourful scenarios, surprise witnesses and funkiness found in every archive discovery. Brigham clamps the mic from the get-go and is an imperious ringleader to the circus, challenging but never difficult. Both excel in never revealing what’s steaming around the next corner, even when you’ve grabbed your tooth comb for the umpteenth time.






Mixtapes/remix LPs

Fans have thought it; purists have wished for it, speculators have theorized it – a whole album of Nas rhyming over DJ Premier beats. Shortee Blitz and Turkish Dcypha give you a taste of what might have been (and what still could be), their dexterous, catalogue-cherry picking ‘NaSir’ mash-up supplying enough theoretical bangers to get petitioners for the real thing hot under the collar. Not to be outdone, the Steel Town Sounds Crew remix their own Nas favourites, prepared to push out the boat and up the risk factor (as well as keep the peace) with a collection of familiarities and the lesser picked – worth a listen on a name your price basis. Golden agers wanting some of that DITC TNT for the ear are in luck as well. Donnie Propa steps back up to the mixtape plate for a ‘Diggin in the Crate Cave’ double sider, Big L, Fat Joe, OC and co replayed in all their suede Timbs and sleigh bells finery. 90s quality to make your jeans that lil’ bit baggier.

Two DOOM features to gaze at: one with DJ Muggs and Freddie Gibbs, the other overseeing the Youth of the Apocalypse. Plus Wiki and Your Old Droog hit the city.










Words: Matt Oliver


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MATT OLIVER‘S ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP ROUNDUP






Singles/EPs

By any means necessary, Illaman will ‘Geddit’, rifling through Sumgii’s kitchen sink bass scuttle. No boos when G00se jumps to his desk and welcomes to you the spot-on six track ‘Living Poets Society’, pitching himself against sinuously looped funk so he can give the mic what for with lyrics that “are rejected scripts from The Exorcist”. Harvs le Toad’s ‘Garlic Mayo’ EP is a strong platter of elegant neck warmers, taken away from the fireside by the candour of Kemastry, Vitamin G and Bill Greene. The nimble step ups of Louis VI tip their hat to how ‘Jazz Got Me’, joined by Mick Jenkins for a quiet storm warming the spot just lovely as rhymes dart between licks and plucks.





Westside Gunn continues to fire across the compass with the imposing Mr Green, “FLYGOD Is Good..​. All The Time” pushing big and dusty drum snaps and that trigger happy, badaboom flow spraying stupidly close bystanders. Off-kilter with a happy, cosmic ending, Blacktop Megaphone’s three track spitball starring Denmark Vessey, DrxQuinnx, Khallee and Angele Anise could only be called ‘Post Reality’. The intense vortex spun by Haleek Maul’s ‘In Permanence’ EP is perfect end-of-days/modern day guerrilla hip-hop, soulfulness and shoots of recovery encased in twisted electronics and blasted with raw-throated verbs. Least subtle muse of the month goes to A$AP Rocky rinsing Moby on ‘A$AP Forever’, a hotchpotch so brazen it’s almost admirable.



Albums

Several false starts after the startling original, Dr Octagon is back doing the rounds, Kool Keith reading a print out from his random scenario generator as his thesis of ‘Moosebumps – An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation’ reunites the pimp-practitioner with the screwdriver sonics of Dan the Automator and Qbert. A couple of hardcore/‘I’m Destructive’ moments in the top pocket, it’s otherwise prime time, KK cue card rambling/shopping list recitals to space-staged conspiracies, at least going some way to restoring the good doctor’s name.





A collaboration sure to put a knot in the shorts of fanboys everywhere, ‘Czarface Meets Metal Face’ pretty much delivers on comic book and underground hip-hop hype. Inspectah Deck plays a controlled, governing hand. Esoteric will battle anybody, and doesn’t care who you tell. DOOM is even more aloof when staring the cataclysmic dead in the eye. DJ 7L is a threat throughout on the beats with a succession of meaty blows. Plenty to dissect then; in proper comic book style, this boat race battle will run and run.





Nowadays it’s a boost to your credibility, maturity and back catalogue to take a trip to the opera house. Nas is the latest to dig out his dicky bow, his Kennedy Center performance of ‘Illmatic’ from top to bottom with the National Symphony Orchestra, caught for posterity. The prodigal son of the projects now has America’s amphitheatres in his pocket, thief themes now a grandiose, surround sound spectacle. If you think it’s superfluous, Nas not dropping a single note in the spirit of the original is worth putting your top hat and tails for.

Strong on the basics with one foot in the club, Del & Amp Live coast out of ‘Gate 13’ with shiny beats that indulge in P-funk boogie without over-flossing, nor complying to trap 101. Del’s customary wordery successfully challenges itself to come off the top without reaching for the moon, despite the occasional Amp Live nudge into Deltron 3030 colonies. Don’t let this one slip under the radar.

You believe Jean Grae and Quelle Chris when they declare ‘Everything’s Fine’, an album full of contrasting textures and combinations from the power couple. Lo-fi to highly charged to deeply underground, socially aware to conceptual to off the wall, unyielding to free and flowing and far reaching (including cameos from Nick Offerman, Hannibal Buress and Your Old Droog). Casual listens are strictly off limits.

For when you’re kicking back but still scheming, Maxo’s ‘Smile’ grins through gritted teeth, all bleary neo-soul beats and off-the-chest, mind working overtime assertions. Once Cavalier opens up his ‘Private Stock’, you’re prey to fuggy funk – Iman Omari with the lion’s share – and easy-on-the-streets style you can’t help but fall back to. “Your recipe depend on your prowess” forces opposition to cook the books. Stepping in the right direction ‘On Their Way’, Dillon and Batsauce flow through highs and lows (see ‘Splash’ drowning its sorrows segueing into the Greg Nice upper ‘Come On’) with turn of phrase and funkiness of lick, wisdom to throw wide open and also crumbs of comfort to keep to yourself. “As long as we get fed, then nobody gets hurt” – so do yourself a favour and throw them a bone.





The best of Wretch32 and label mate Ocean Wisdom, Coops runs the graveyard shift to deal with the grey matter of ‘No Brainer’. Over a bedrock of deep watery keys and sultry atmospheres jamming on the low, Coops’ clutch flow is perfect for seeing situations through to daybreak, mixing the kinetic and lullabies both cradling and on the creep. Uncomplicated and concise, let it take hold as shadows lengthen. British bulldog spirit ignorant to minding Ps and Qs, Smellington Piff – “the definition of a drunken scholar, living in squalor” – is the school of seven bells graduate forcibly removing those in his way. ‘No Fixed Abode’ is an energetic knuckle sandwich full of big, thoroughly well produced head nodders and sabre-truth rhymes as the Piff hits the stand towards the top of the UK brat pack.





Live from the doss house, Cult of the Damned’s squalid ciphers come so solid on “Part Deux: Brick Pelican Posse Crew Gang Syndicate”, the all-star suicide squad wearing a “Burger King crown with your queen feeding me”. Def/undead rhymes tilt the balance of lopsided boom-bap phantasms, probably done the old fashioned, wet-finger-in-plug-socket way. Not far behind, Wundrop and Kemastry are ice cold in their provision of ‘Frosty Raps’, hammering out a reality while surroundings start reddening eyeballs. Forging ahead against the smother of midnight, the pair achieve the fine art of making the squalid sound like a super sharp shooter.





Poseur exterminator Big Toast continues to spray society’s roaches on ‘Call It On’, joined by Jack Diggs showing a spite-concealing jazz hand on the beats, and stepping to the mic with equally indignant gusto. Focus mode on full alert and guaranteed to end in blood, sweat and tears, the pair pile in as the pints are poured. The human condition analysed in that cold up North flow, Savvy aka Asaviour takes risks and expands outside of his bread and butter in ‘The Battle for Hearts and Minds’, with extensive, well rounded theatre addressing the state of the world.

A splice of soul gold, Kuartz’ ‘Kuartz FM’ is most debonair on the dials, heading down the highway with wind in hair and song in heart. Determined to make the sun put its hat on, instrumentals create a love zone playlist with the right amount of kick-snare slap to it. For those who enjoyed Calvin Valentine’s ‘Plush Seats’, make room for the addition of ePP supplying vocal garnish and taking care of the source on the free upgrade ‘Chrome Seats’.



Mixtapes

(Pulitzer prize winner) Kendrick Lamar rhymes over Dr Dre beats. Wipe that drool away and rejoice that DJ Critical Hype has got his wondrous sewing machine out and impeccably stitched together a capital Compton grey album so high grade, it’s ‘The Damn Chronic’, to the sound of a million hip-hop messageboards imploding.

https://audiomack.com/embed/album/dj-critical-hype/the-damn-chronic

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