Hip-Hop Revue
Matt Oliver




Singles/EPs

Rapture & Verse is King, a wise man may have said – onward! Undimmed by the fact that ‘A Lot of People Tell Me I Have a Fake Guitar’, Morriarchi goes inside his astral plane for a gentle handful of spellcaster instrumentals drifting in its own funkular helix (even if one happens to be called ‘Veggie Farts’). ‘The Wave’s Coming’ warns Bristol’s Wish Master, who might offer you salvation but isn’t afraid to let go either, parallel parked with Buggsy and Tac to the Simiah-produced track that tightropes between dreamy and booby trapped.




Imaginary Other and Chuuwee’s rebirth of slick on ‘THE (Hawaiian Button Up)’ shows a smooth mack game when all around are losing it in the woollens aisle. The balance of confidence/arrogance from LA’s IQ brings melody with a hidden jagged edge following ‘Everywhere I Go’, and the same goes for Tha Truth’s ‘Cool With It’, cutting the tension with a barely concealed blade (and a great hook), despite declaring being “cool like the breeze on a warm summer’s eve” like it’s an Andrex vox pop.

 

Albums

‘Dusty’ will leave you feeling at ease with the mathematics of the inimitable Homeboy Sandman, that slightly kooky persona that’s actually just pure skills unfazed by tempo, and turning fleeting thoughts into elaborate dissections. Just when you’re thinking he’s coming in from a softer side, he goes absolutely nuts on pots-n-pans slam ‘Yes Iyah’, before heading to the just lovely ‘Picture on the Wall’ and the pretty sleazy, yet entirely forgivable, ‘Pussy’. Long may the cult of the Sandman continue.




Out the blue, Brother Ali’s ‘Secrets & Escapes’ produced by Evidence is a helluva early Christmas present, the near enough spontaneity of the recording sessions making the respective skills on display even more sickeningly good. You know how they do – wise, open-eyed rhymes, evocative slash ready-to-scrap beats – plus guest spots from Pharoahe Monch and Talib Kweli, and ghoulish artwork open to a thousand interpretations. How’s that? Give their gifts this season.




All that glitters is ‘Green & Gold’ when Mr Key and Greenwood Sharps combine for something that, in other hands, would be dour or boorish (the delivery mixing label mates Verb T and Ed Scissor) in letting fading memories slip away. The pair prudently raise themselves and those in earshot from a slump, chronicling slow but sure shoots of recovery and understanding, knowing they still have to put the work in to do so (being woke ain’t the one either). The mere seven tracks become an engrossing evening’s listening.

Red alert under a full moon: ‘The Creature from Beneath the Mainstream’ is Genesis Elijah’s perfect Halloween soundtrack, good and angst-ridden as he stomps the warpath straight to your front door, switching between fire-breather and whispering death on the creeping, skittering back story. Rewind ‘Haunted Trap House’ three times and expect to catch your last breath. A strong starting XI makes Reklews’ second squad of ‘Rap Type Beats’, bassy head shots splashed with a fear traceable to emcees flinching at the quality of gauntlet thrown down in front of them. Perfect for bleak midwinter forecasts.

Whenever Big Toast starts limbering up you know it’s not gonna be a fair fight, and with Strange Neighbour matching him punch for punch, the Tuff Boyz twosome splash off the top rope on ‘Bat Night’. Wading in while Oliver Sudden takes scalps on the boards with funk thicker than the stodgiest of winter stews, this is all girth, no gimmicks. Snowflakes, this really isn’t for you, though the eight track running time is the only mercy shown.




His usual dice game generating wisdom from an inward path, now attending to extra grown man business, and trigger-nometry taking casualties, including an interesting rework of Siouxsie and The Banshees, Klashnekoff’s ‘Iona’ is a welcome return to the forefront. An album epitomising the need to sleep with one eye (and two ears) open, and a model example of navigating life’s shark-infested waters without scoffing at vulnerability.

Hell bent on stuffing you into a locker while balancing a ghetto blaster on its shoulder, Uncommon Nasa and Kount Fif’s ‘City as School’ is the New York underground incarnate; at pains to not fit into ‘traditional’ parameters but making so much sense in doing so, where the post-apocalyptic is unerringly, unnervingly near to modern day. Blockbuster burners laid end to end as outlaws of the corridors, “trust the process, avoid the nonsense” at all costs.

On the subject of local representation, 21 tracks and 50 emcees later and you should have a pretty good idea of the Motor City sound according to Apollo Brown. The sepia-toned soul of ‘Sincerely, Detroit’ is seamlessly able to shake itself down and roll with force to stay on course, and everyone involved – from staple spokesmen Elzhi, Illa J and Royce da 5’9”, to project investors Boog Brown, Nolan the Ninja and Bronze Nazareth – takes their time so the intimated free-for-all is avoided. Pull on your headphones, get snug and let the accomplished Michigan craft leave you misty-eared as Brown hits the peak of his powers.




Admittedly/inevitably there are a bounty of guests, skits, questions as to its timing and whether there’s really enough of its ever eloquent protagonist to go around, but Gang Starr’s ‘One of the Best Yet’ is a respectful honouring of the Guru legacy. Business as usual from DJ Premier’s infinite stash of kicks and snares, chops and swoops is the ultimate case of if it ain’t broke, and the 2019 reboot find its direction through introspection without overturning too many applecarts.

“A dive into the complex dynamics of the eternal paper chase, about capitalism, greed and excess” – so kind of unsurprising that the piece de resistance of Crimeapple’s ‘Viridi Panem’ cites ‘All About the Benjamins’ like a grim business studies 101. Another to approach the day of reckoning like it’s a Sunday morning stroll, zombie relentlessness enabled by Buck Dudley’s production, the apple of your ear only takes half hour to save the world.




Stalley’s ‘Reflection of Self: The Head Trip’ isn’t quite as meditative as it suggests, but as a mini-album lolls nicely thanks to Jansport J’s clement, lightly fuggy soul, and Stalley’s ease on the mic when sorting those needing putting in their place. “You can try and box me in, but I’m a find my way out” indicates his ease of finding solutions when others struggle with the instructions.

Hip-Hop Revue: Matt Oliver





Singles/EPs

A bouquet of beats, Cupid-sent cuts, and rhymes to make your headboard rock – it’s the post-Valentine’s instalment of Rapture & Verse for all you horndogs. Legendary London Posse rhymer Bionic returns as the GreenCryptoKnight, showing you never lose your superpowers as he tears into Jazz T and Zygote’s face slapping, emerald-vinyled ‘Superman’, before adjusting the slicked back specs and tie look on the sombre ‘It Set In Stone’. Circling the drain and enjoying the sensation of tenterhooks snagging the skin, Press1, Sylla B and Dr Syntax face up to the facts of ‘Smartphone Zombies’, far gloomier than the amusing title insinuates. Taking you to down to ‘Suicide City’, where the grass is decidedly not greener and you can decide for yourself about the girls, Onoe Capone turns on the rapid fire with nothing to lose as the “bad guy that’s misunderstood”.





Bonus heat from Nolan the Ninja on the quiet storm ‘IMG’ slickly goes from casual retrospective to show-n-prove tying you up in knots. On some grimy underdog biz, Lee Ricks grits his teeth fully aware that ‘Life’s a Bitch’, fired up by being fed up, peering over the edge to BigBob’s fatefully wistful nodder. Similar grit out of necessity is displayed by the granite-carved David May, right on time when grinding hard on ‘Black Box’ with Lake Indigo pairing Celtic wonder with bass pushing the reds. Yamin Semali passionately defining what it means to be ‘Immortal’ comes with strings leaping from the speakers and a banquet of soul food for thought. Nothing but honest energy on seven amped tracks from DJ Nu-Mark, Slimkid3 and Austin Antoine creates a ‘TRDMRK’. Beats and rhymes loosen the screws on your speakers and make the front row spring-loaded, with Guilty Simpson and Dillon Cooper coming through for the jump-ups.






Albums

Round four of the Czarface chronicles, this time with Ghostface Killah in the guest hot seat. There are times when an isolated Tony Starks feels like a fourth wheel/fifth Beatle – 7L & Esoteric 1, Wu-Tang Clan 0 – but compared to some of his more recent long players his appetite on ‘Czarface Meets Ghostface’ is well up. In amongst the usual play-your-position hurricane of uppercut-landing beats and career-ending 16s from the cipher to the comic book store, is confirmation of what an amazingly consistent emcee Esoteric is. Don’t expect Czarface to relinquish their infinite lives status any time soon.





The unquenchable thirst for blood that motivates Ramson Badbonez, makes ‘Mic Day the 13th’ a date to both revere and fear. RB’s considered decapitations, referencing all your favourite madmen, accomplish carnage with the level-headedness of a double agent whose shift changes under a full moon. While beats go bump in the night, a pokerfaced accomplice of the slasher going about his business, it’s a very British campaign of murder-murder-kill-kill.





You are about to witness the strength of street knowledge. The ‘G.A.W.D.’ complex of Joker Starr is his usual bustling style putting an F word to what you heard, hitting you with a bunch of robustly educational reducers set up by Micall Parknsun with a Blaxploitative nod on the boards. Jack Jetson and Illinformed are the ushers to ‘Strange Cinema’, tuneful head nodders galore until necks feel swollen, and an impactful flow with very little histrionics, even when “I lost my mind, now I found it, but it’s missing bits”: a watertight combination. The latest round of two minute warnings from Bisk, sticky, lo-fi claustrophobia from a peak NYC housing project, makes you squint through the abrupt ‘Gunsmoke’: an absolutely deadly spell of fully clipped relaxation.





Your neckline firmly in his sights, Pitch 92 runs a tight ship in representing ‘3rd Culture’ with a steady hand at the wheel. The Manchester producer must’ve sprinkled some sort of emcee catnip in the booth however, as he brings out some excellent performances from Jehst, Kashmere, Sparkz, Fliptrix, Foreign Beggars, the Four Owls and more. While there’s no doubting that the guests would have come through, you have to give credit to Pitch on the boards for giving them the right and clean balance of canvas to do so.





Seethingly succinct and planning your downfall at his most matey, Rick Fury isn’t quiet in giving his targets what for, signalling the ‘Death of Autumn’ from the North East. Expertly manoeuvring soulful strike-outs from DJ ADS, in tune with the changing colour of the leaves and cannily reworking a trance classic on the album’s finale, Fury intertwines the mutual exclusivity of a simmering glare and a playful bounce to his rhymes, suggesting that if you make yourself comfortable, don’t do overdo it. An emcee able to cancel all challengers.

Boom bap, original rap: Bronx Slang’s self-titled album systematically sorts the wheat from the chaff. On paper their method is foolproof: high protein funk prone to espionage (and from surprise sources), mic-crumbling rhymes, 11 tracks, tag team performance, concepts and comment, plentiful lines to rewind…if all of this sounds overly nostalgic at pains to keep it real, Jerry Beeks and Miggs are more sages than saviours, proving you don’t have to settle for what’s supposedly trending. Proper hip-hop citizenship.





How do you like your eggs in the morning? Jazzy, sunny side up and with plenty of snap? Remulak’s plate of ‘Scrambled Eggs’ gets a dusting down and offers an instrumental challenge to any plucky master of ceremonies, doing very nicely for itself when you’re taking a break from putting on the Ritz and wearing spats with a swoosh. Most dapper, and no faking either. A decade’s worth of Oliver Sudden in 46 minutes is a fine flick through the racks that sails down like the first pint of summer. The ‘10 Year Mixtape’, put together by Downstroke and featuring assists from Luca Brazi, Sam Zircon and Ill Move Sporadic, is guaranteed to remove all accumulated crud from your ears: pretty much unskippable.

 

Presenting old skool rules from Positive K and MC Lyte, and the greatness of the Train Robbers.








Words: Matt Oliver

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