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.





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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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