HIP-HOP REVUE
Words: Matt Oliver




Welcome to the latest Rapture & Verse – if you don’t like some of the opinions expressed, don’t worry, VAR has probably got your back. Financial management and futures planning from the eloquently frank Charles Edison breaks it down to ‘Bricks’, striking a chord for those trying to keep their head above water and a roof over it. The guru-like linkage of Chong Wizard summons a mix of voices and beatsmiths to ‘The Soul Stone’, six tracks worth of soulful bumps with criminal connections, ground down by headliners Vic Spencer, El Ay, Juga-Naut, Vandal Savage and Stack Skrilla. ‘Cypher Sore Eyes’ is boom-bap balm for the ears from the game face of Nottingham’s Louis Cypher, getting stuck in and hounding the supplies of DJ Severe, Kastanza and Pete 1st Blood. A six-track EP that’s got soul and a will to win.





An EP of energy spikes and crashes, either frantically running for its life or staggering back so what’ll be will be, ‘Defo Not Normal’ is the badge of honour worn by the twitchy Bang On when prompted and prodded by Reklewz. Will put your speakers in a cobra clutch, whatever direction it’s moving in. “Outlook = miserable, forecast = kill ‘em all” – so say the Delusionists, keeping grounded from their position in the ‘Clouds’. Warnings of caution, carefully, smartly conveyed, make them the responsible choice. A classic sunup-to-sundown beat from Ded Tebiase – slightly stoned, but bassy enough to ring around the borough – allows Ash the Author the maximum means to ‘Transmit’ loud and clear.






Albums

Gawd Status is not a crown that lies heavy with Joker Starr and King Kashmere, ‘Firmamentum’ a rolling thunder of articulate rage and a fiercely tribal shakedown rewriting the Blaxploitation manifesto. The Iguana Man, an absolute banshee on the boards, appears in a more advisory, all-seeing role on the mic, while Joker Starr is at the front, warring so that no man is safe, allowing for occasional leave of reality. Militant pride that’ll uproot those sitting on the fence, including a silky smooth soul intermission playing its position, at a scandalously slim eight tracks long it’s a saga that must run and run. Absolutely boomin’.





Ronnie Bosh has both the no-nonsense name and gameplan of the glory days of East End hard cases, taking great disdainful chunks out of this debut ‘All People Expect’. Setting rhymes in stone with no right of reply, Bosh is perfectly aware that there’s no need to overthink matters or get too technical, yet is never economical with the truth, squeezing the mic in a considered accumulation of pressure. Jazzy head shots and drowsier dips care of Dirty Dike, complete the definition of raw and uncut.

Announcing his album arrival with the pretty outrageous ‘FCK Boy!’, Mr Muthaf*ckin’ eXquire delivers on his promises of a wild ride, armed with a bunch of spanners to hurl work-wards. Just as disruptive is his shrewd taste for narrative, hitting home without promising happy endings. Satisfying your ignorant itch and also reducing dancefloors to bloody smithereens, it’s a surprisingly, satisfyingly well-rounded album where the bite backs up the bark.





Reconvening with Madlib on Etch-a-Sketch (well, not quite) and Freddie Gibbs toting his usual gangsta trappings, the much hyped ‘Bandana’ exploits the sweet spot of Lord Quas’ soul raids and loop manoeuvres as peacekeeper/mostly silent partner in the face of Gibbs’ tirades – not that he needs too much direction to vent anyway. Open to discussion, and that’s before appearances from Anderson Paak, Pusha T, Killer Mike, Yasiin Bey and Black Thought, ‘Bandana’ kind of wings it, mostly cementing their inexplicable chemistry made bespoke.

Tread carefully should you receive directions to and from the Delivery Room, whose eponymous album rolls out the red carpet to a house of horrors and takes uncomplicated swings like a headhunter test-driving a new axe. Sometimes funky in amongst perpetual pulverisation, the Scottish crew reach a rowdy peak as ‘Break Loose’ chucks Flat Eric and The Prodigy into the moshpit. Hocking rhymes like kerb-ready lung butter but always staying one step ahead of the naysayers, Frani P never sweats as ‘Mr Small Stuff’, ducking and diving with the goods to convince you of his chatty flow, particularly when ‘Golden’ shows he’s no Jonny-come-lately. Production from Turkish Dcypha and Marley D perfectly allows him to go wide, notably and aptly wielding Ian Dury’s rhythm stick as they go.





Look no further for beats and rhymes practised until perfect than Ill Effect’s advancement as ‘Loop Junkies. Never taking their position for granted as they take on the world, no doubt the trio have got skills and sonics for days, but half an hour is exhibition enough of what they’re about, making them a heavy tapedeck presence. Also a champion for the good old days without being a golden era bore, Dyzzi’s ‘Kids Back Then’ has got the taste and skill for coming-of-age nostalgia; of course, the soulful snaps that help paint the picture don’t hurt either, and the same goes for the DivSel emcee’s ability to go from dewy-eyed to dervish. One for the summer.

 Literally five minutes after dropping end-of-year cert ‘It Wasn’t Even Close’, Your Old Droog has the temerity to drop another end of year chart troubler. His means of ‘Transportation’ – “rather be a dope failure than a wack success” – takes the form of actual…er…modes of transport (‘My Plane’, ‘Train Love’ allowing himself to get a lil’ bit sentimental, ‘Taxi’ with Quelle Chris), remaining the smoothest source of scornful, so-what couplets and eyewitness accounts. “Half man, half crustacean, 100% asshole” – that’s how Dillon be selling ‘The Tails of Lobsterdamus’, the new face about town where men wanna shell out like him, women wanna peel him off. Doing straight-faced anthropomorphism going beyond the sea, slick rhymes dictate understatedly pimped out beats, entertaining you until he’s cashed out and squids in.





‘Plugs I Met’, restoring the argument of whether seven tracks is album length (etc etc), is Benny the Butcher starting off fairly fluidly, and then getting progressively heavier until bones start splintering. In a world of wiretaps, silencers, balaclavas and dry as a bone extortion knocking down your front door, no quarter is given from Black Thought, Pusha T, Jadakiss, 38 Spesh and Conway the Machine, making this a very dangerous gang-up to ignore.

The ‘Mobb Deep Remixes’ from DJ Duce shows respect to the classics (staples from ‘The Infamous’ and ‘Hell on Earth’) while sticking his own death rattle to the Prodigy & Havoc back catalogue, and ensuring the drama he brings is no small thing with a dozen alternatives meeting the reaper at the gates of Queensbridge.


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.





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.