Matt Olivers essential Hip-Hop Revue





Singles/EPs

Rapture & Verse’s Halloween prep starts with the usual cutting of holes in a bed sheet, a liberal squirt of ketchup, and a splash of ‘The Tonic 2’ EP across the chops. Dr Syntax and Pete Cannon guarantee a minimum 24 hour protection, examining avenues few dare to visit: the self-explanatory ‘Workinout’ and ‘Facial Hair’ are modern day anthems, stared down by the solemn midpoint warning ‘Oh’. A livener in seven easy supplements. Another duo displaying a healthy sickness, Rack Mode and Elliot Fresh are married to the game ‘Till Death Do Us Part’. Toughened funk with devils horns poking out, and rhymes draining biros with quick reflexes, vow in unison to give you six of the best.





When Mistah Bohze has the ‘Momentum’, he’s hard to stop, twisting through a booming synth shunt before lifting the lid on ‘Pharaoh Dynamics’, delivering snake charming with a death grip. Following a headhunter’s thirst with time to chill, the Midlands’ perma-blunt Late rides again on ‘Elevationz’, making sure his tacks are the brassiest to the sound of Juttla lining the apocalypse with palm trees. Swatting away string orchestras and Hanna-Barbera getaways, competition is defenceless against the renegade steamroller that is Little Simz’ ‘Offence’, pedal pushed down just as hard on ‘Boss’.





A twin takedown from Cimer Amor and Side Effect won’t rest until punks are in their place, ‘Write That Down’ and ‘Gangsta Talk’ nicely to the point en route to causing front row mayhem. ‘Well, Well, Well’ by Bronx Slang styles out the concept of wanting it all, helping themselves to the individual strengths of uncle Tom Cobley’s extended family as a rewindable hypothesis; come for the namechecking, stay for the swagger. Winter’s icy grip is manoeuvred puppet master-style by Yugen Blakrok, part outlaw part cyborg breaking civilisation down into ‘Carbon Form’. Fiercely underground, intimidating, but creating fascinating parables as she goes. ‘The Bone Collector’ by V Don is pure law-breaking music while trying to retain a respectable air, six tracks of fair means and foul carried out by Westside Gunn, Crimeapple and more. “Shave the hair off their fingers so nothing gets stuck on hammers” is a gangsta credential to aspire to.



Albums

The hotly tipped ‘Humble Pi’ divided between Homeboy Sandman and Edan may only be a miserly seven tracks long, but is a banquet of slaps that will become one of your five a day, and ultimately year. Sandman as people’s champ, underground avenger and backpack laureate, and Edan tying an extra double knot in the Madvillain tapestry, are a sixth sense-powered twin threat, embroiled in their own battle royale with each other to reach the summit.

Because ‘Home is Where the Art Is’, the easygoing Barney Artist helps put feet up, but with a darker edge waiting in the next room. For want of a better phrase, his is a rapper next door persona making easy progress to eardrums enjoying a lie-in, deepened when his heart and head begin skirmishing, with appearances from Tom Misch, Jordan Rakei and George the Poet sealing an excellent album of broad appeal.





A quick follow-up to this year’s ‘No Brainer’, Coops’ ‘Life in the Flesh’ continues to look at the world through the blinds; late night but wide awake, survival instincts to the fore and maintaining the momentum of his previous profile that balances retreating wisdom and patiently lying in wait. A master of overlapping the effortlessly tense and the testily comfortable, this is both shelter of and from the streets.

The Madison Washington dossier of ‘Facts’ compiles the personal, intellectual, challenging and sometimes just plain funky. One way or another the US-to-UK pair are gonna light a fire under you with their outpouring of ideas. “Equal parts west coast funk and desert trip-hop” – thanks to great beats from top to bottom from The Lasso, the always lyrical Lando Chill makes his point as a continued threat from whatever angle he examines ‘Black Ego’, though perhaps because of the scenery behind him, a (positively) different proposition from ‘For Mark, Your Son’.





Smooth, slick and possibly dangerous to know, Boog Brown pushes her sophisticated self-titled album at a speakeasy on the low, manned by Tom Caruana. The immediate coffee shop connotations are much more treacherous and ultimately stirring than a simple after hours slam – the Atlanta-via-Detroit emcee and producer feed off one another to create a dusky work of art streaked with comforting light.

Twiddling the dial from left to right for the perfect score of chopped up loops, hardcore head nods, needle fluffers and sunny stop-start soul, Jansport J gets ‘Low’ but ends up with an instrumental album on high. Tweaks of Redman and Al Green are the highlights of a roadtrip where sunglasses and chill are compulsory. That well known fact that nothing rhymes with ‘orange’ is good news for Chariman Maf’s ‘Ginger’, bounding in with a ten track instrumental set full of get-up-and-go and then smoothing it on out for headphone clientele. Funk and fun encourages biros to get scribbling if they’ve got the brio. It ain’t no fun if Illingsworth don’t get some, the some in question on ‘You’re No Fun’ being instrumentals laced with varying amounts of Detroit dustiness and leftism, and the occasional rhyme – Open Mike Eagle and Denmark Vessey temp on the mic – that flicks ears back into action.





A cracked, chainsmoked delivery between Jeezy and The Game seems ideal for Recognize Ali to enter the arid realms of suited and booting mobsterdom. The opposite is true, and ‘The Outlawed’ partly has the UK to blame – Farma Beats, Smellington Piff, El Ay and Da Fly Hooligan all contribute to his running wild into the china shop. Gradually the handbrake is applied, but Ali’s chokehold clamps down on all wannabe thugs and keeps squeezing. ‘Behold a Dark Horse’ by arch dehydrator Roc Marciano is in a similar bracket, a ride you should back once he’s “cocked a nine back like a hand jive”. For someone who claps on instinct – notwithstanding a dip into Chaka Khan on ‘Amethyst’ – he remains a deceivingly slippery character, transfixing you when weaving from ambassador reception to swinging 60s to street brawl.

Still holding the steadiest of lines for what seems like forever, Atmosphere load up on their indelible variables so ‘Mi Vida Local’ always offers something to cling onto. The persistent acoustic drizzle, the hope of cloud-breaking sunshine when an amp gets kicked up or a bottle smashes, the passive/aggressive set-plays modelled as passion/aggression – not to mention the downright sickly ‘Trim’ – preserve their position as both fulcrum and window to the world.

A tumultuous DJ Muggs on the boards, and B-Real and Sen Dog personifying cold-blooded calmness in the eye of the storm – or too stoned to be affected. Cypress Hill’s ‘Elephants on Acid’ is a psychedelic stampede magnified by hallucinations, incantations and Judgement Day dominating the calendar. Old habits obviously die hard – ‘Oh Na Na’ and ‘Crazy’ sound like ‘Insane in the Brain’ remixed by ‘Gravel Pit’ – but the saga that unfolds and breathes down the neck of their 90s heyday takes the band into a new dimension.

 

Looking good this month: Riz MC, Sa Roc and Shockwave with Andy Cooper.











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MATT OLIVER’S ESSENTIAL MONTHLY HIP-HOP REVIEW

 

A happy new year to all freshly affiliated and dyed-in-the-wool Rapture & Verse rapscallions, climbing off its seasonal sickbed by thinking Eminem’s ‘Revival’ would be the antidote (it isn’t, by an unimaginable distance), and surprised that in the era of health and safety, you can still buy a GZA ‘Liquid Swords’ reissue complete with mini toy weaponry. Hopefully last month’s comprehensive Monolith Cocktail round-ups have put you in the picture as to 2017’s ins and outs; while we catch up with December’s overspill, there’s always Skillz and Uncle Murda squabbling for your retrospective vote.






Singles/EPs

After worming his way into the inner circle of Madlib and DOOM, electronic/house superpower Four Tet doesn’t fluff his audition remixing ‘Madvillainy’, a satisfyingly clean alternative bringing its own worldly daredevilry to the original’s boggy waddling. ‘No Excuses’ asserts Big Cakes, and the seven, Queen’s English-get-the-money tracks don’t pull their punches, making a convincing argument to go for second helpings. More international assassination from Endemic Emerald sends his latest platoon into battle, with Scorzayzee and Tragedy among the stripes-earners, while his string sections get the streets surrounded, the granite-and-gasoline ‘Black Bag Operation’ taking the opportunity to dump rubbish.





Liquid refreshment from Moka Only & E.d.g.e. comes ‘Lucid’ to a fluorescent twittering of too cool-for-clubs synths. Noteworthy for the useful mantra that “rap always overgrown, the grass need a mow y’know, too abstract to be quotable”. The trife life sticks close to Muja Messiah, taking on Roc Marciano’s sweat-trickling gangster leisure time; ‘Saran Rap’ is a half dozen street codes with eyes wide open that would relax if the stakes weren’t so high. Illogic re-enters his astral plane to tell everyone about ‘The Beauty in Evolution’, fastening his seatbelt and hanging out the window with a mix of dubby, jazzy instrumentals and rhymes trying to keep a lid on sounding awed.

Straightforward instructional from Slim Thug throws itself into the front row as he sorts ‘Kingz & Bosses’ with Big KRIT, pleasingly muted in measuring for crowns and emperor’s robes. The sledgehammer sound of BigBob pulverising a piano allows Sadat X and Big Twins to carefully take aim and open fire on the enjoyably unequivocal

roach-stomper ‘The Truth’. When the streets are watching, it’s ‘All Eyes On Us’, with Jamo Gang – Ras Kass, El Gant and J57 – bristling at the wheel of a related, get down or lay down steamrollering.




Albums

Completing his Michigan trilogy, Dabrye’s ‘Three/Three’ invites over a glut of underground hip-hop firebrands, but taps a sign that reads ‘respect our neighbours’ every time one takes to the booth. A stylish, steady holding it down, passing pure hip-hop, neo-soul and electronic routings rarely trespassing into the reds, with DOOM, Guilty Simpson, Ghostface, Danny Brown, Nolan the Ninja and Jonwayne standing for a fine album that doesn’t shout so from the rooftops.





High Focus maximise their strength by mix-and-matching two of their topmost chefs souring their latest specials board. Never a duo for soft centres, Jam Baxter and Ed Scissor spray disarray to decorate ‘Laminated Cakes’, their gateaux filled with mercurial gall and grit, and with Ghosttown providing the tough base and sprinkle of hallucinogens that aren’t exactly melt in the mouth. As they make you head nod like there’s a guillotine blade eying up your scone, Pierce Artists are the ‘Kings Returning’ to a hard-backed throne. Unlike the nation’s cricketers, Elliot Fresh and Deeq determinedly dig in, don’t waft at anything airy-fairy and never take their eye off the ball, to Rack Mode keeping perfect line and length on the beats. Part superhero, part vicious dental plan, ‘Teeth Ledger’ has Datkid and Bailey Brown flexing the sort of infectiously perturbing superiority that comes easy. Hood rat rhymes do obnoxious as matter of fact, and beats shrug in the face of catastrophe while waiting for the night bus: both have got a garrison of goods to set wintry nights ablaze, anchored by the supreme head-trolling ‘Whos Dat’. Another slow release slug to your chest from Bisk, with Sam Zircon assisting the leech-like tactics, makes it rain with ‘Saucemoney’ – perfect for when the sun refuses to come up.

Oh No cherrypicking from cool Cali stronghold Now Again is a funk/soul think tank that sounds played by ear, and whose good-paced trolley dash of sounds masks meticulous programming. Keeping a queue of mic antagonists waiting while mentally composing a posse cut’s posse cut, the dustiness of ‘Oh No vs Now Again 3’ is dredged in gold and will reactivate your head. Cutting through early year frostiness is Pete Rock and his ‘Lost Sessions’ finding sunshine on the horizon. Of casual instrumental majesty, the MPC finds the balcony view to its liking once given plenty of breathing space. No need to pass the aux here. The first hip-hop signing by The White Stripes’ Jack White is inauspiciously named New York emcee SHIRT – sartorially scruffy (and a search engine’s nightmare), but with enough raw, nomadic swagger to have you recognising the ‘Pure Beauty’ within.





David Begun continues to meddle in the affairs of Nas and Madlib, ‘Nasimoto: The Even Further Adventures’ playing God with the Gods and bootlegging to a boss standard. Fresh perspectives that push all the right, corresponding buttons. The crux of Masta Ace’s ‘Son of Yvonne’ gets renovated by a host of European producers that do both proud to earn their place in the album’s family portrait. Funky on the low but full of that all important snap that makes Ace tick, the tight-knit promise to never from the beaten track claims a companion to complement and rival the original.

Playing street games and getting results, Religion’s ‘The Demo Reel’ rigs up cop themes crossing the wrong side of town until reality starts to distort. Mists paint the scene from the ground up and freaks come out at night for loops and kicks that will work your neck blue, allowed a seldom spring in its step. For those still walking around in a post-Christmas fug, ‘The Top Left: Skeleton Staff’ from Mistah Bohze will shake you by the collar and out of your resolution-dodging malaise. Bulky from first to last until you’re swamped, and including a crafty reinvention of ‘Kernkraft 400’, the Glasgow emcee ploughs through on his own can’t stop-won’t stop manifesto.





“This is not trap, we don’t mumble neither: closed mouths don’t get fed”. Redbaren 907 and Deep of 2 Hungry Boys are ‘Unbreakable’, and you soon believe them: a won’t flop beats and rhymes unit (‘Barz Flows and Delivery’ hammering the point home), dishing out a one-two you can reliably gain muscle to. With the globe circling the drain, KXNG Crooked presents blow by blow coverage from the disaster zone with a flow to make you put your foot through the TV. ‘Good vs Evil 2: The Red Empire’ is iron-fisted intensity not sugar-coating narratives (despite some carnal urges) for anyone; despite the bleak pictures he paints, you trust the KXNG, whose force relegates beats to a footnote, to repair the job in hand.



Mixtapes

Everything worth hearing from Jeru the Damaja – a higher 90s heyday than most – gets its laundry aired on the ‘Dirty Rotten Mixtape’, Chrome and Donnie Propa in charge of putting together the best wrathful mathematics going. On the surprisingly lightweight ‘Emperor Nehru’s New Groove’, giving brains not too much to worry about, Bishop Nehru is on cruise control when flaunting shiny wares for the club and lounge: smooth operations hanging at the shallow end. Bruse Wane declaring ‘The Batman Should’ve Been On It’ transitions between classic beat loans and original album prep, swooping like charity gala attendee by day before night shift vengeance takes over. The bat signal is fairly strong with this one.





No videos this month. Go catch up with a boxset instead.

You can check out all Matt’s past roundups here

And all his reviews/roundups/selections from 2017 here

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