Hip-Hop Roundup/Matt Oliver





Singles

A miniature singles round-up this month – blame it on the boogie – but a good pair of twofers all the same to kick off the latest referendum-ready Rapture & Verse. Ken Masters articulating like the clappers over a glitzy gala of a bossa nova loop is a very good thing indeed: hear now the sweet sound of ‘Fresh Air’. As part of the Badroaches team with Torb the Roach, he also sets sail on a mystic river as an ambassador of ‘Cosmic Viking Wizard Funk’, capable of administering bad juju. Open Mike Eagle continues to go from strength to strength, ‘What Happens When I Try to Relax’ a half dozen cracking open of his brick bodied skull that blasts arena-sized synths and shrunken beats equally projecting unique visions made gospel truth. Entertaining wordplay that’s as much about satisfying his own high standards in syllable practice. He then teams with Pan Amsterdam on the calmingly engrossing ‘No Snare’, a sharing and airing of respective kooks over a jazzy groove to be welcomed like a summer flashback.

 

Albums

Beneath the floorboards of ‘Mansion 38’, Jam Baxter orchestrates ‘Touching Scenes’, lo-fi gloom and scarred wit capable of exploding off the page. Appearances from Rag n Bone Man and Kate Tempest show the strength of Baxter’s blurred mind racing into HD – still no slouch when everything says otherwise – as he and Chemo on production ooze into every nook and cranny, handing you a surgeon’s blade to dissect the depth of their dark circles. A tightrope walk slumping against a pressure cooker.





Back in no time at all, Lee Scott continues to skewer the world, this time bringing the lung butter to the soiled surveillance camera sounds of Reklews as Hock Tu Down. Both exhibit punch-drunkardness on ‘Hock Tu 3’, like looking at the world through a spoon, yet are unputdownable: mind control by and for misfits and malevolent spirits – after all, “reality is what you make it, even if there’s no-one to corroborate it”. No need to read between the lines when CNT come to town, the Code Name Theory of Manage and Blitz insisting you cup an ear on ‘Sounds About Right!’ Beats and rhymes are soaked in honest Brit bitterness, mind’s eye doing double shifts on the beguiling ‘Need Guidance’, and the care with which they take their craft means their messages always carry in the right way.

‘The Post Apocalyptic Story Teller’ is a role where Chester P earns his golden handcuffs, casting end day tales and folk-angled parables fit for today’s diminishing civilisation. Long a master of vividly narrating from the no man’s land beyond the street corner, the mediaeval and the evil that men do will have you huddling round, but in full blast of a frosty Task Force reception. No slip-ups on D Tail’s ‘Happy Accident’, slick and swift grime-trained rhymes taking to hip-hop funk with impudence and asking some searching questions along the way. Toss a mic in his direction and he’ll always be ready to respond en masse: a final posse cut involving Ras Kass and Leaf Dog shows he’s got the goods. A compact cross section of instrumental despair and beats seeking emcees to bruise knuckles with, Nick Roberts dips into ‘False Consciousness’, with Dizzy Dustin, Pudgee tha Phat Bastard, Ash the Author and Cyrus Malachi taking advantage of when the producer isn’t longingly working the MPC with a wistful glint. No false moves made by anyone here.

Rugged but always smooth, Apollo Brown painting pictures with Joell Ortiz on ‘Mona Lisa’ is a great, late end of year candidate that’s reflective with a forked tongue and makes the stoop sofa-soft. Able to turn nasty on a sixpence (‘Cocaine Fingertips’ is as sharp as a Kruger manicure), there’s a lot of comfort to be taken from the union of two opposing authority figures exercising supreme quality control, transfixing you like you’re intimately eyeballing the pair’s much ogled muse.





Many parallels can be drawn from Masta Ace and Marco Polo’s ‘A Breukelen Story’, which save for tired skits piping up, is a similar exertion of concentrated strength. An immovable flow that has never let the former down, inimitably representin’, knowing the ‘ledge or reeling off what might have been, takes over production capitalising on a previous hook-up and taking in plenty of fresh, buzzing for autumn air, content on letting the words take the spotlight (even if Pharoahe Monch threatens to upstage everyone on final track ‘The Fight Song’).





The moreish ‘Pieces of a Man’ is Mick Jenkins knowing how to work a crowd. Powered by the woozy, a retreat nudging over into the club with keys constantly paddling, just when you think he’s coasting with the heat off, the Chicagoan plucks it out of the fire with a turn of phrase, concept, or one-liner more damaging than the casual ear can locate. “I be on my show and prove, not my show and tell” – persevere with it and the layers will reveal themselves. A mix of reluctant popstar, drifter hip-hop and traditional Midwest spin, deM atlaS tells the crowd to get lighters up in anticipation of jumping into them. Produced by Ant of Atmosphere, ‘Bad Actress’ is all showman, taming himself after exuberant opening exchanges. The wearing of multiple hats won’t be for everyone: the vulnerability, rap/rockstar/R&B whims, heart-to-hearts, including a remake of Mobb Deep’s ‘Where Your Heart At’, and development of a spectacle, could unlock a lot of new ears.

This month’s Ronseal album: ‘Grimey Life’ by Big Twins, a 15 track upkeep of realness delivered in shredded ghetto baritone. All the street consumption you could possibly ask for, flooded with blood, sweat and tears. Meanwhile in mid-apocalypse Ontario, Lee Reed’s ‘Before & Aftermath’ announces itself as a timebomb, an anti-establishment front row provocateur refusing to accept easy answers. Drums and funk kick down doors like the crooked figures in Reed’s crosshairs, with a twang dragging Your Old Droog and Vast Aire into the fire. Cherried by the all inclusive ‘Fuck Em’, you can’t spell renegade without the name Reed: burn speakers burn.





‘The Beat Tape Co-Op’ 10th anniversary compilation from 77 Rise rounds up 30 instrumental cameos and bite-sized boom bap bops, laced with soul slipping down the hourglass. The likes of Kuartz, Dr Drumah, Ben Boogz, Klim Beats and Profound79 put in the neck work and make their presence felt on a selection where it’s okay to touch that dial. ‘Dressed for CCTV’ by Aver avoids being a Hard-Fi tribute and gets knee-deep in instrumental murk glistening with a sharp film, dredging for drums and coming up with intriguing droplets of gold to create an atmosphere where emcees fear to tread, save for Cappo manning up on ‘Something from Nothing’. A classy retread of trip hop’s noir-ish particulars.





The spectre of the late Alias looms large on ‘Less is Orchestra’, enabling the supervillain flow of Doseone’s effusive battery acid gargles – scarier when he reaches dog whistle levels – with a cavernous, chrome-finished bunker of wires, pulses and logical mechanoid scurries. A game of good cap bad cop launching the Anticon equivalent of the bat signal.





Taking the street into the club and vice versa, Swizz Beatz’ strong ‘Poison’ brings the fuel, Lil Wayne, Giggs, Kendrick Lamar, 2 Chainz and Young Thug add the fire. It was never gonna be an album of modest contemplation (though quieter storms reserved for Nas and Pusha T don’t disrupt the sequence), but it’s still a pretty good, well condensed elbow sharpener with everyone on their game.

 

Look out for the Monolith Cocktail end of year album roundup coming soon, chock full of Rapture & Verse’s favourites from over the last 12 months.

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The essential Hip-Hop Review/Words: Matt Oliver





With the eight LP Eric B and Rakim vinyl reissue under our arm and tickets for both the B-Boy Championships (October, Kentish Town) and DMC World DJ Championship Finals (October, Camden, with the reigning champion being a stupefying 12 years old) in the back pocket, Rapture & Verse has a spring in its step and something special for sunburnt ears. South London producer Charles Edison, whose ‘My Name Is’, ‘Bitstorm’ and ‘Waking Up’ EP have done the business in this column down the years, lets us in on a sneak preview EP of five instrumentals from his forthcoming upcoming full length. Seamless with the sampler and as inventive as his surname demands, this exclusive preview of ‘Beats from the Seventh Floor’ reads between the lines of relaxation and tension, delivering head nodding from on high.




Singles/EPs

We love nothing more than the smell of ‘Sulphur’ in the morning. Britcore pioneers Gunshot return to set the record straight with a dramatic re-entry seizing a widescreen tracking shot and provocatively resonant lyricism. ‘2 Feel So Good’ by Tha 4orce and Poynt Blak is to acknowledge a morose head nodder looking for the change in seasons, before coming one time ‘4 The Mind & Soul’ with something to roll out red carpet lino for.





A reissue of classic Def Jux between Mr Lif and El-P brings back robotics from the lab and for the tracksuit at 45RPM, announcing the ‘Return of the B-Boy’. On his own version of Beast Mode, Mick Jenkins goes ‘Bruce Banner’ on an absolutely stone cold four minutes, taking his time before clicking into gear over a nervous lullaby. How about some hardcore? DJ Premier slamming pianos is a red rag to the bull that is Casanova, ‘Wut U Said?’ a certified dome cracker coating speakers in saliva and the kickback of a ton of guns. The ivories are quieter on Reks’ ‘Planz’, but the tirade is just as fierce, launching into ‘Bread and Roses’ with Shortfyuz with a sustained appetite for destruction.

Making headway through woozy neo-soul and underground cool, Blu, MED and Lojii supply quick on the draw rhymes for the star-dusted Oscillations project, seven tracks split between producers Dizz1, Swarvy and Teebs. Following the ‘Signs’ marked ‘snug coffee shop corner in Autumn’, Ace Clark breaks bread with Talib Kweli and Joell Oritz over some of the mellowest jazz on the menu. You probably couldn’t ask for a more Atmosphere track than ‘Make It All Better Again’, their requisite, relatable, days of our lives bitter sweetness getting lighters up and devotees swaying across the land. If you’ve ever wondered what the greatest hits of Slick Rick and Audio Two would sound like in an episode of Peanuts, wonder no more – Will C’s ‘Don’t Break Down’ re-houses a couple of old skool classics with folk-B-Boy whimsy.






Albums

Filled with gastro quotable, Scran Cartel nominate themselves as ‘Blue Plaque Candidates’. Master chefs MNSR Frites and Benny Diction stack up and snack on salivary stimulation, joined at the table by Oliver Sudden, Chemo, Morriarchi, Downstroke and more. Primarily smooth with a piquant palette rising from under the tongue, it’s a great, belt-loosening spread grilling you with much more than just a bunch of culinary one-liners.





Behind ‘The Purple Door’ you’ll find boss hogs Juga-Naut and Sonnyjim, spreading their rule over the Midlands and beyond with celebratory funk and status elevation prepared to take it outside when desired. Their usual, indomitable personas on the mic never skimp on Michelin-starred quality – a buffet of rhymes to return to, if you will – and they still aren’t the ones to test if you think they’re pushing their luck.





If you need sharp, accurate, dark and clean UK hip-hop, give the secret knock and ask for ‘617 Black Label’, where you’ll be met by Heavy Links’ Habitat. Moving like a safecracker slipping detection, Kuartz, Evil Ed, El Tel, DJ Obsolete and Cappo all keep a watch out for a rhymer whose strength is all in the stealth, smooth enough to make sure bad boys stay silent. ‘Crowns and Camo’ is the coat of arms for UK grafter Reds, an unapologetic spitter with an East Anglian ear for rocking clubs to their core. The album doesn’t get more complicated than that, posing crossover questions without dilution or losing any firepower, and riding basslines to turn spines to jelly. For as long as the sun stays out, this one will pose a threat. Man-machine rhymes and boom bap vectors mean a straight ahead onset of the Plague. ‘Where’s the World Gone?’ is the question of Xeno and Secondson, rising phoenix-like to dominate the skyline with a dominant distaste. Powerful stuff.

Napoleon da Legend and Giallo Point cause a ‘Coup D’Etat’, casual gangsterisms unflinching when reporting the unspeakable and the opulent, and the latter’s signature of taking soap opera themes down dark alleys until they’re shook for the rest of their days. ‘Societal Pressure’ starring Micall Parknsun, is the album’s significant turn for the worse. We still need a ‘Resolution’, so Paten Locke engineers a seven-track remix of 2017’s Perceptionists reunion, with an added bonus original. Putting Akrobatik and Mr Lif in the fresh new light of ‘Low Resolution’ sometimes sounds unerringly familiar – there’s a feeling the three have been discussing what’s left on Def Jux’s post-millennium to-do list. Additional subtle switch-ups create a high quality cross referencing.





For those that like their hip-hop on the verge of sleepwalking, Kev Brown offers you his ‘Homework’, the low-key exertions of a distracted doodler. Smoke filled listening booths are the target for retrained funk, sometimes done brusquely, other times with kid gloves, to the tutelage of a scholarly-sleepy voice “looking at the credits: if it says Kev Brown – get it”. The restless soul of Jeremiah Jae under his Daffi guise – fractured, hazy, clammy, intense, and unaffected – sharpens razors as night time therapy. A mind illuminated at the same it can shift backwards, processes and destabilises folk, funk, beats and pieces to a happy medium where he’d “rather be underrated than over-hyped”. Both are given a rude awakening by Q-Unique’s lesson in roach-stomping street cinema: ‘The Mechanic’ is all dramatic strings, drums of death and Arsonist threats never to be taken lightly.




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