ALBUM REVIEW/Matt Oliver

Lyrics Born ‘Mobile Homies Season 1’

(Mobile Home Recordings)

Despite the title sounding something like a caravanning show found on Channel 5, Mobile Homies from Bay Area veteran Lyrics Born makes the most of lockdown restrictions as a collaborative collection fleshing out LB’s purpose-made podcast of the same name. Much more than just a make-do stopgap, it salutes the long established Lyrics Born mantra of performance being all about entertainment and extravaganza. No variant will hold him back, manoeuvring the live show experience as a soul/R&B spectacular where you can imagine a stage filled with backing singers and musicians, spotlights and catwalks, and the promise of good, clean fun or your money back; all the while looking more and more the sharp suited fly guy to rank him alongside the likes of Bruno Mars, Andre3000 and Anderson .Paak.  

Born has long held one of the most serious flows in the game, cultivating singsong flamboyance (“my shows are like a party for a bachelorette”) as a people’s champ with unquestionable underground-educated skills and a voice once sold as “like sandpaper dipped in maple syrup”. Here, his lowness (for want of a better description) into the mic is less a Chali 2na-style baritone (the stiffer delivery on ‘Misfits’ aside), but a rat-a-tat amplified whisper, an almost monotone, always chill, malleable flow from the deepest vocal chord that allows him to be cyborg-like, possessed by playing games with syllables. Contrarily, it also enables the persona of a dead-eyed charmer sans ego or sleaze, his silver-tongued devilry akin to the Fonz clicking his fingers. 

Amongst the lovey-dovey expressions where heartthrob-served butter wouldn’t melt – back and forthing with himself on the Netflix & Chill-ready ‘Everyday Love’ with Prince Paul providing perky foreplay on production; cutting in on the super polished, Con Brio-lead performances of ‘Sundown’ and ‘Mistakes’ causing ‘Hey Ya’! levels of hysteria, possibly involving underwear removal – is the seething racism exposé of ‘Anti’. A tensely humid, low rider ball of high pressure agitation, brought to the fore from behind the pandemic smokescreen and pierced by Cutso’s wheezing siren infuriating like a fly out of swatting reach, it packs a chorus that intelligently dares you to holler back from the front row. Crucially in the face of such provocation, LB’s flow, taking his cue from Dr Dre’s ‘The Watcher’, is masterful in never losing its cool, its points further rammed home by Shing02, Bohan Phoenix and Dilated PeoplesRakaa on the remix. 

In terms of routine it’s almost like LB asking for the house lights to be turned on and the band to hold fire, with the final track remix providing the encore so you definitely won’t forget the message; the savagery of this uncensored PSA under a blood red spotlight a showstopper without stopping the show dead. While not quite a case of the show must go on, ‘This Song’s Delicious’ with Sitcom Dad and Dan the Automator arrives from the Paul Barman school of jaunty verbosity doing chucklesome show-n-prove, developed from Netflix band Hello Peril from the film Always Be My Maybe. ‘Desperada’ takes the feeling of sand between your toes into the club, and ‘My City’, displaying wistful hometown pride with enough matriarchal room for interpretation, poignantly features his late Soulsides comrade and Blackalicious lifer Gift of Gab.

Enter another pertinent state-of-the-world address, this one packed with Instagram filters fiending for those thumbs ups. Over a nifty first generation grime production that Ghetts, Kano or Taz would have rinsed, ‘Enough About Me’ gets trending to the tune of crowds showing pixellated appreciation while literally keeping the action at arm’s length. Guests The Grouch and Eligh attempt to differentiate between projected and actual reality; LB does the opposite, going into overdrive like a big bucks hype machine (“I don’t want privacy, I want all y’all to see/selfie-selfie-selfie, I’m my own paparazzi”)and knowing the only way to avoid fading into obscurity is to dive in twice as hard.

While the zoom call intermissions with his collaborators quickly become skippable, the sound is so rich and accomplished (as standard), with impressive divergence, that even if the album wasn’t completely conceived over Microsoft Teams, it’s a great demonstration of how Lyrics Born can play second fiddle before stealing the show, and solidifying his claim as a great entertainer still remaining underrated.

 

ALBUM REVIEW/MATT OLIVER

Our resident hip-hop lexicon and expert Matt Oliver is back with a new review. Matt’s been busy with his own music pr business of late, but been selecting choice cuts form the hip-hop scene for the Monolith Cocktail’s monthly playlists. We’re glad to have him back on writing duties with this review of the recent UK rap duo of Dubbledge and Forest DLG.

Dubbledge & Forest DLG ‘Ten Toes Down’
(Potent Funk) 10th February 2022

By definition Ten Toes Down means to totally commit to something, and Watford emcee Dubbledge has always shown devotion to the home cause, an energiser helping mangle the angles of hip-hop as part of LDZ and Problem Child and showing off all his resplendent showmanship as ‘The Richest Man In Babylon’. Quite how Ten Toes Down became a lost album is a mystery; one assumes the standard suspect of industry foul play was at work to deny Dubbledge another chance to blow your house down, though a couple of dust-offs within a compact package suggest a reconfiguration of his geezer-ish cunning done as a wink and a smile and living by the seat of his pants. His is the sort of flow that stores cheekfuls of rhymes akin to an iconic trumpet player, gargling them about the place and working every last facial muscle before leaving the front row festooned in comedic phlegm and flavour.  

It’s this force of personality, providing the sort of unsubtle putdowns still worthy of an opponent’s applause, which loves nothing more than the spotlight being turned on full whack, but knowing the prove must always back the show. The closing track ‘Your Mum’ is ready to take the mick, but Dubbledge and his stretchy syllables get away with it by including some parental value not to be taken for granted: the man has layers. On what it takes to be a ‘Soopa Gangsta’, Dubbledge put his spin on Big Pun’s most famous lines about Italian culture, and pulls another fast one by being more knowledge of self than guns and furs stereotypes.  

‘Taking Libs’ continues his studies into the male-female occupancy of Venus and Mars (“I buy you fish and chips, you should be happy”) – the persona can have the flippancy of a 70s sitcom and pique a PC interest, but that’s entertainment. The album’s centrepiece, the diary of extortion that forms ‘Itchy Itchy’ (previously ‘The Phil Mitchell Crackhead Song’), looks like being the album’s weightiest material; except it’s delivered so that heavy addiction comes off as cheeky chappy tomfoolery, including giving crackheads a shout out on the outro. While you’re not exactly rooting for him as he ducks and dives to fund his habit, it’s more comic strip than public service confessional – and we’re alright with that.  

Dubbledge doing damage (“I ain’t trying to be something that I’m not” is verification, if needed, straight out the gate), bears many technicalities: it’s all in the timing of pauses, the theatrical fade aways mid-conversation, the accentuation of pay-off lines on every fourth/eighth/sixteenth bar (including the ‘aw yeaaaaah’s that pepper ‘Chess’, an Amen-break wrecking ball re-sourced from 2011’s Chase & Status/Tinie Tempah collaboration ‘Hitz’), and the pointing of the mic crowd-wards for feedback, before he runs down to your funny bone. Obviously, bravado by the bucketload helps as well: the posse cut with Kyza, Micall Parknsun and TBear, the Englishmen of the belly dancing ‘Mad Dogs’ bumrushing crews out through the fire exit, is a classic case of in-for-a-penny impudence. For all the posturing putting a finger to lips, who wouldn’t be moved by it’s to-the-window, to-the-wall hook of ‘we’re the bollocks!”  

All this weight has the right backer: Forest DLG, the newest alias of producer’s producer Chemo/Telemachus, loads up ten moments of loudness spanning rip-n-run club bangers, neck grabs heading into the red, heavy synth power (‘Tear Dem Apart’ – again the title tells nothing like the whole story), and the title track re-enacting a Lock Stock car chase. On ‘Lend a N A Pencil’, Dubbledge peacocks “while I’m standing on a tightrope, one toe balancing/in between the forces of good and evil like Anakin”, while FDLG adjusts a bass frequency back and forth like a bored studio nerd. It’s only on ‘Awkward’, cartwheeling between folk, psychedelia and Big Brovaz’ ‘Nu Flow’, when the producer has a bash at putting on a night on the tiles for his muse to caper across. As much as it’s the album’s sore thumb, it perfectly frames D’s soul-bearing performance. 

Never reduced to anything cartoonish despite circling some slapstick bum notes and hormones ruling head, Dubbledge puts on a proper show. Ten years or so on hold hasn’t deadened the impact of Ten Toes Down, and though there are perhaps few surprises given his work in the intervening years, those experiencing his spectacle for the first time have a cult hero to give a big hand to.   

ALBUM REVIEW/DOMINIC VALVONA

Uncommon Nasa  ‘Only Child’
(Uncommon Records)  6th August 2021

Encompassing the local and surrounding areas of the city he’s never left, the leftfield candid hip-hop artist Uncommon Nasa takes a poignant look back at his roots on his sixth studio album, Only Child. For a rap artist known for their open delivery, this latest soliloquy and sagacious lyrical roll is possibly the most personal yet.

Now into his early forties (the release date is actually the day after Nasa’s 43rd birthday) and as the slurred and slowed down sample on the album track ‘Your Hands will Turn To Rust’ remarks, “I’m the kind of a guy who is now in that ageing late thirty, early forty bracket in which suddenly there is a tremendous bittersweet poignant feeling about wanting to go back to another time…” And so it is the same for Nasa: dispensing wisdom, the short tales of those who made an impact on his life, and the growing pains, memories of those formative years on both Long Island and Staten Island (where he still lives).

The album title describes Nasa’s unique perspective, growing up without siblings; spending a lot of time alone but developing a rich, cerebral imagination, lyrical skills and an eclectic taste in music. Now decades on, and with his long time partner the open-minded reflective rapper runs, meanders and drops lines about all the connections and ‘what ifs?’ About the tropes that so many of us in a similar age bracket (that’s me: the only child) either agonize over or ponder. With no children of his own (again, that’s also me), the lineage stops when Nasa leaves this mortal coil (God forbid!). Although the musical legacy and his view of the world will live on: “If I die, just see it as I did”.

Nasa flies solo on this album: and all the better for it. So many hip-hop artists fill their work with umpteen cameos – the bread and butter of so many emcees, hoping to appeal to a multiple of fans. Only Child is however produced by the Baltimore ‘beat-placer’ Messiah Musik , who’s lent his trade to Mach-Hommy’s ‘Pray For Haiti’ and cuts by Billy Woods and Quelle Chris. Messiah has worked with Nasa before of course, on the 2014 release, New York Telephone. He now provides a highly atmospheric, often psychedelic, moody and mysterious cosmic soundscape on this brilliant epiphany.  Against Nasa’s intelligent trains of consciousness that production proves a congruous fit; subtle, minimal at times, with the most evocative of leftfield jazzy-prog touches. The elemental particle opener, ‘Quark Strangeness In The Hour Of Chaos’, for instance has that echo-y atmosphere of harmonic pining jazzy-prog looseness (bordering on Pink Floyd), as Nasa’s strung-out and just as loose inner thoughts drip and starkly limber up. It actually reminded me a little of Sex And Violence era BDP, with its almost foreboding unveiling of thoughts from a dark tech dystopia.

Already picked up by Monolith Cocktail collaborator Matt Oliver (who also included Nasa’s Kount Fif produced 2019 album, City As School, in our choice albums list) for our monthly revue playlist, precursor single ‘U86’ features some reworked Southeast Asian or Japanese soundtrack; the Oriental bed for a track about tuning into the localized TV station of the title, which offered a window into a whole world of music for a young Nasa, including Tears For Fears. Not shy in conveying his feelings, Nasa raps, “Tears For Fears, I cried when I heard that song, I don’t know why I listened to it for so long.” By the time we reach the Run The Jewels mirage title-track the production has changed to embrace a lunar Peruvian panpipe! Later on, the theme music from some 70s detective or thriller series, accompanied by crunched turning over drum breaks, wraps itself around another album single, ‘Brooklyn Soup’: a psychogeography like walk in the boroughs.

That eclectic ear for a sample, break continues with ‘Vincent Crane’; a discovery that Nasa implores as, “just one example of things you should, might know.” The fateful travails of the bi-polar Crane, who spent most of his life in and out of clinics after suffering a mental breakdown during his first tour of the USA with the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown in 1968, permeated an evocative songbook, which decades later left an indelible mark upon Nasa. Before a tragic overdose in 1989, Crane would collaborate with Brown on a “deep cut” album and set up Atomic Rooster with a pre supergroup ELP Carl Palmer. I think Nasa uses a short piano break from Atomic’s Made In England LP (the introduction before ‘Breathless’) as he waxes lyrical about not only Crane but the common trajectory of all music genres in general over time: “Turns out that if you give a genre a few decades, the same roads are sought.”

Only Child is a mature, often bittersweet, review of a life lived and the characters that made it what it was and is; from Nasa’s parents to the uncompromising figure of ‘Metal Mike’). Nasa goes deep; entangled in a multitude of slipstreamed thoughts and mixed feelings; observations and reflections on the realties of middle age in a society that doesn’t ever want to comprehend their own deaths, let alone grow old. Certain memories pop up and prove relevant in this process, from his mother’s repeated echoing warnings (“If you touch that fence, your hand’s will turn to rust”) to the more innocuous details of his Brooklyn diorama.  

It’s not just age that prays on the mind, but the unprecedented times in which we all find ourselves; sixteen months on after the initial Covid lockdowns and fear prevailed miasma of a virus determining how we live. This proves a good as any time to take stock and reflect; something Nasa does with dexterous skill and a cerebral half spoken winding brilliance (close in tone and brilliance to Aesop Rock). Nasa’s just claimed a top spot on the hip-hop pyramid with one of the best albums in 2021.

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

EP REVIEW/MATT OLIVER

Illman ‘Ugly Days’
(Potent Funk) 18th February 2021

Should any global implosion occur – and right now that’s not a very big should – the mic will remain the sole property of Illaman. Of noted livewires Problem Child and Pengshui, Illaman, troubled and tightly wound before falling back, reaches a crossroads of riding out the apocalypse and wondering where it all went wrong; but where demons are treated like a pen pal and ignorance is a useful defence mechanism, he never lets on as to whether Ugly Days is catharsis, cry for help or just a shrug to deal with the matter. After all, there remain “so many questions, not many answers”.

Right-hand man Norm Oddity plugs into an electrified vista that those with the world on their mind and shoulders can take solace from, simultaneously triggering itchy souls into taking action, unblinking in the eye of the storm. For headphones and hoods under low light, “these emotions run rife when you’ve spent your whole life trying”, the breakbeats of ‘Everything Bless?’ stalking Illaman to scuttle down dark alleys. Unapologetic in its vulnerability and bruised introspection, the title track is aware that situations could slide even further, the guesting DRS providing an even more numb, dead eyed view as electronic shoots of optimism are shushed down.

On the nobility of ‘OK’, promoting a positive hook as doom takes a breather, Illaman boldly puts his backbone into it: a low-key rousing of the troops speaking up for the outsider (“make some noise for yourself fam, go celebrate your weirdness”), even if the message comes through gritted teeth. “I stay strong like ox, stay on course when you flop/cos all them little battles is what you remember at the top” is a lesson crossing the cipher into the real world, ahead of ‘Universe’ re-upping cause for cautious cheer. A lo-fi headswim with a montage of life lessons flashing before Illaman’s ears, it represents the EP causing and curing insomnia, and the orator’s substance intake both blocking the bigger picture and boosting confidence in a bleak midst.

The psychological profiling of eerie closer ‘Way Home’ is another to split itself: this time between self-help insight and unreachable scratch, Norm Oddity peers through the blinds in a sole instance of the producer perhaps losing faith while Illaman dismisses any fairytale ending. Austere and wide open, allowing for time to breathe and explore, Oddity represents the spaced out in both the extra terrestrial and mind-altering sense, offering unspoken yet meaningful encouragement that’s not without its moments of claustrophobia: take Illaman out of the equation and you have a rich half dozen of brain teasers before bedtime. The emcee’s forcefulness, conviction, anger and erudition, standing as the last man of reason out of hiding, makes him both untouchable (as both man and emcee) and as exposed as everyone else. Never proclaiming to be a saviour, it’s this everyman sharing of hopes and fears that moulds Ugly Days into a tome for all modern existence. Matt Oliver

Matt Oliver joined the Monolith Cocktail team over five years ago, contributing the leading Hip-Hop column in the UK. In recent years Matt has selected tracks for the blog’s Monthly Playlist Revue and written one-off reviews. You can see his professional practice as a dab hand at biographies and newsletters, blurbs long and short, liner notes and promotional texts, and putting words to the promotion of singles/EPs, albums/compilations, and upcoming/established artists/DJs/producers/events on his portfolio-style website

Apart from the Monolith Cocktail Matt has written features & reviews in print and online for Seven/DMC Update, Hip-Hop Connection, Breakin Point, Rime Magazine (US), Undercover Magazine, One Week to Live, IDJ, Remix (US), FACT, Clash, BigShot (US), Mrblunt.com (US), Worlddj.com, Datatransmission.co.uk.

Playlist/Dominic Valvona/Brian “Bordello” Shea/Matt Oliver





For those of you that have only just joined us as new followers and readers, our former behemoth Quarterly Playlist Revue is now no more! With a massive increase in submissions month-on-month, we’ve decided to go monthly instead in 2020. The June playlist carries on from where the popular quarterly left off; picking out the choice tracks that represent the Monolith Cocktail’s eclectic output – from all the most essential new Hip-Hop cuts to the most dynamic music from across the globe. New releases and the best of reissues have been chosen by me, Dominic Valvona, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea and Matt Oliver.

Tracklist In Full:


Thiago Nassif  ‘Soar Estranho’
Freak Heat Waves  ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’
Lithics  ‘Hands’
Ammar 808 ft. Susha  ‘Marivere Gati’
Bab L’ Bluz  ‘Gnawa Beat’
The Koreatown Oddity ft. Taz Arnold  ‘Ginkabiloba’ 
Koma Saxo  ‘Koma Mate’
Wish Master  ‘Write Pages’
Gee Bag, Illinformed  ‘I Can Be (Sam Krats Remix)’
Gorilla Twins  ‘Highs & Lows’
Jeffrey Lewis  ‘Keep It Chill In The East Village’
Armand Hammer  ‘Slew Foot’
Public Enemy  ‘State Of The Union’
Run The Jewels  ‘Yankee And The Brave (ep.4)’
Gaul Plus  ‘Church Of The Motorway’
Tamburi Neri  ‘Indio’
Ty, Durrty Goodz  ‘The Real Ones’
Fierro Ex Machina  ‘A Sail Of All Tears’
Skyzoo  ‘Turning 10’
Kahil El’Zabar ft. David Murray  ‘Necktar’
Afel Bocoum  ‘Avion’
Etienne de la Sayette  ‘Safari Kamer’
The Lancashire Hustlers  ‘Stuck In The Middle Of A Week’
Scarlet’s Well  ‘Sweetmeat’
Campbell Sibthorpe  ‘Good Lord’
Westerman  ‘Drawbridge’
The Fiery Furnaces  ‘Down At The So And So On Somewhere’
Kutiman  ‘Copasavana’
Caleb Landry Jones  ‘The Great I Am’
Bedd  ‘You Have Nice Things’
The Original Magnetic Light Parade  ‘Confusion Reigns’
Cosse  ‘Sun Forget Me’
Bananagun  ‘Modern Day Problems’
Salem Trials  ‘Head On Rong’
Lucidvox  ‘Runaway’
HighSchool  ‘Frosting’
Jon Hassell  ‘Fearless’

All our monthly playlists so far in 2020

 

 

 

 


Album Review/Matt Oliver




Ill Move Sporadic    ‘Drug Corpse II (Body Disposal)’
(Starch Records)   Album/Available Now

“You never know when you might need to know skills/in body disposal, it’s no frills” – Necro, ‘Dead Body Disposal’, 2001


Just like volume one, but more drugged up and expecting more cadavers on the slab. The patent of narcotics and necrosis from IMS pair One Boss and Ben 81 have delighted a bedevilled Monolith Cocktail, with their leasehold alongside Tenchoo of ‘Panic Room 9’, and the Big Toast-helmed ‘You Are Not Special’, whose irate, Question Time shutdown could get a nation to stay indoors with no why or wherefore. Favouring raw over horrorcore and retaining much of their regular hitmen on the mic, the London-Bristol-Manchester connect entertain without attempting too much keep-it-realism. There’s whiplash in the midst, horror to unfurl and behold, and larger than life tropes to encounter (the sleeve is a beast as well, accelerating the levels of volume one’s gnarly shtick both visually and for what the next 40+ minutes stand for), but there’s control to the themes so they don’t become either OTT or a pastiche of what it means to be authentic.

Forcing you onto the ropes with the kind of bass-pinned boom bap that paves a warpath at every turn, the Sporadic sadists pound pavements with a Godzilla-sized plate, charming a natural cruddyness from ageing but real deal equipment: Joey Menza is such a beneficiary on ‘The Wake’ while a ghost train sounds off in the wrong direction. Witnessing the macabre remains in IMS’ laboratory, the lab here houses your archetypal collection of eerily lit fluids in beakers – so Biz Markie cover sleeves of yore and the video to Ludacris’ ‘The Potion’, but with more of a closed circuit autopsy vibe brazenly letting you in on its dirty little secrets. The space invader skitter on opening track ‘Agro’ straight away suggests that something wicked this way comes, standard set by the effusive Ash the Author; and ‘Drug Slur’, directed by the shady as fuck Strange Neighbour (“the anger in danger”), and ‘Witch Hunt’, lined with voodoo sonar to make ouija boards jump, have got white chalk outlines running through its brain once a full moon comes into view.

The damning toxicology report for ‘Drug Corpse’ means its participants come armed for battle, microphone cocked, rage in check, with a Britcore blaze of glory in its sights. That old skool UK rat-a-tat is never better illustrated by some of the cipher-splitting couplets Tenchoo reels off when returning to pour a measure of ‘Snake Venom’ (“I’ve been creative before action figures/before tracks like Michael Jackson ‘Thriller’/before Dwight Yorke played for Aston Villa /before Marathon bars got revamped to Snickers”). Theme treating ‘Any Style Killer’ as a martial arts sensei prompts him to “treat an emcee like a fish finger dinner, I’ll batter them with lyrics I deliver”: again, pleasing in targeting the fine line between game-for-a-laugh comic book brags and career-ending death blows. Only when Tenchoo closes the album by calling out the phenom of ‘Poser Rap’, speaking out from the claustrophobic land of the gravedigger, do the jabs seek a common enemy, rather than round-housing anyone within a million mile radius. But throughout you can tell IMS are banking on their headhunters to get their hands and minds dirty until they’ve all developed a thousand mile stare, rather than treat the booth like a pitstop.

Suffice to say there’s little room for respite, but then have you checked the album’s title or looked at that cover reimagining the best of Iron Maiden? Vignettes pinpointing the blasé horrors of substance misuse don’t help either. The jazzier piano licks of ‘Out for the Count’, with Oliver Reese going all in, have a near-‘Illmatic’ degree of chill to them, and when it’s not creating foul play to a Bunsen glare, ‘Writer Block’ thuggishly yet handsomely hits the streets, daily operations manoeuvred by Reem Remi. The slick back and forth between Strange Neighbour and the ever dangerous Gee Bag on ‘Tabasco’ retreats slightly, but sharpens the knife edge on which the album balances: the classic trope of implied gore on the boards maximising the damage. Accessible in knowing there’s getting dumb and dumbing it down, IMS taking victims to the trash compactor is night bus business where no-one in their right mind would suggest knocking the volume down a touch.




Matt Oliver:

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. Up until recently Matt wrote the UK’s premier Hip-Hop column for the Monolith Cocktail. He’s now contributing the odd article/review for us.

 

SINGLE REVIEW
Words: Matt Oliver




Gunshot  ‘Burn Cycle’
(Underground United)  Single/28th February 2020


Responsible for scene-defining material as ‘Patriot Games’ and ‘Battle Creek Brawl’, London roughnecks Gunshot brandished the best of Britcore classification at a time when UK hip-hop was the most niche of homegrown genres. Since their 90s heyday they’ve been largely dormant, though a whiff of ‘Sulphur’ caught the nostrils of Rapture & Verse in the summer of 2018, championed for provocatively resonant lyricism as if they’d never been away, to the sound of all hell breaking loose, scrambling capital city helicopters as they rose with a Godzilla grip.

In these times where strife spawns from every angle, there’s no better time for Gunshot to recalibrate their crosshairs with new track ‘Burn Cycle’. Featuring turntable assistance from DMC champion DJ Woody and engineered by Scratch PervertsPrime Cuts, the fire in which Gunshot burn stews in ‘Sulphur’ residue. Monstrous disaster movie horns and danger zone strings threaten to burst from your megaplex and grab you by the throat, and vocals matter of factly ride out the maelstrom, reveling in the fatalistic thrill of the chase in telling Satan to get behind them. Gunshot haven’t lost their volume, and ‘Burn Cycle’ leaves scorch marks across speakers in a thoroughly old skool, guts and glory fashion; released on Underground United, and marking Judgment Day as February 28th.




Of interest from the Archives


Gunshot ‘Sulphur’ Review (August 2018)

Golden Age of UK Hip-Hop


Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

PLAYLIST SPECIAL 
COMPILED: Dominic Valvona, Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea and Gianluigi Marsibilio
ARTWORK: Gianluigi Marsibilio 




From an abundance of sources, via a myriad of social media platforms and messaging services, even accosted when buying a coffee from a barristo-musician, the Quarterly Revue is expanding constantly to accommodate a reasonable spread that best represents the Monolith Cocktail’s raison d’etre.

As you will hear for yourselves, new releases and the best of reissues plucked from the team – that’s me, Dominic Valvona, and Matt Oliver, Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea, Andrew C. Kidd and Gianluigi Marsibilio (who also put together the playlist artwork) – rub shoulders in a continuous musical journey.

The final playlist of 2019 is no less eclectic and frantic, with electrifried peregrinations from Mali next to the best new hip-hop cuts and a wealth of post-punk, souk rock, jazz, noise, indie and the avant-garde.


That tracklist in full:

Automatic  ‘Too Much Money’
Dead Rituals  ‘Closer’
Comet Gain  ‘The Girl With The Melted Mind And Her Fear Of The Open Door’
BRONCHO  ‘Boys Got To Go’
SUO  ‘Honey I’m Down’
Pocket Knife  ‘Manger Constructeur’
Prince Rama  ‘F.A.T.E (Bought Us Together)’
Cate Le Bon & Bradford Cox  ‘Fireman’
Elizabeth Joan Kelly  ‘Baleen Executioner’
Bear With Me  ‘Cry’
Max Andrzejewski’s HUTTE  ‘Little Red Robin Hood Hits The Road’
Tapan Meets Generation Taragalte ‘Yogi Yamahssar’
Junis Paul  ‘Baker’s Dozen’
Invisible System  ‘Diarabi’
Homeboy Sandman  ‘Yes Iyah’
Guilty Simpson & Phat Kat  ‘Sharking’
Iftin Band  ‘Il Ooy Aniga’
Kalbata ft. TIGRIS  ‘Tamera’
The Budos Band  ‘Old Engine Oil’
Aziza Brahim  ‘Hada Jil’
Atomic Forest  ‘Life Is Anew’
Klashnekoff ft. K9 & Ricko Capito  ‘The Road Is Long’
Chris Orrick & The Lasso  ‘No Place Is Safe’
Blockhead  ‘Spicy Peppercorn’
Willie Scott & The Birmingham Spirituals  ‘Keep Your Faith To The Sky’
Jehst & Confucius MC  ‘Autumn Nights’
Xenia Rubinos  ‘DIOSA’
Genesis Elijah  ‘Haunted Trap House’
Rico James & Santos  ‘New York Cut’
Hiach Ber Na  ‘Another Human Brain’
Mike Patton & Jean-Claude Vannier  ‘Cold Sun Warm Beer’
TELGATE  ‘Cherrytight’
Land Of OOO  ‘Waiting For The Whales (Radio Edit)’
Big Thief  ‘Not’
Gary Davenport ‘True Freedom’
Northwest  ‘The Day’
The Cold Spells  ‘I Hate It When You’re Sad’
Mick Harvey & Christopher Richard Barker  ‘A Secret Hidden Message’
Boa Morte  ‘Sleep/Before The Landslide’
Vola Tila  ‘All Alone’
Owen Tromans  ‘Burying The Moon King’
The Good Ones  ‘My Wife Is As Beautiful As A Sunset’
Dub Chieftain  ‘Enter The Chieftain’
Provincials  ‘Cat’s Cradle’
Right Hand Left Hand  ‘White Sands’
Ringfinger  ‘Burning’
Giant Swan  ‘YFPHNT’
Rafiki Jazz  ‘My Heart My Home Home (Shallow Brown/Light of Guidance/The Settlers Wife/Shedemati)’


PREVIOUS QUARTERLIES




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

Front page news in hip-hop this month has been the unexpected return of Gang Starr – whether it needed a guest spot from J Cole or not, ‘Family and Loyalty’ is nicely nostalgic and respectful, pure Guru wisdom about what matters most, and DJ Premier bringing boom bap sparkle, making you sigh with both contentment and for what once was.

 Rodney P roughing up the right path reveals ‘The Next Chapter’, at his influential best and calling the tune to Urban Monk extending carnival season. The surprise return of Tommy Evans wants you to feel his ‘Flow (H20)’, hosting a drowsy, frilly-collared sway with a killer hook and his clear-minded navigation of gentle waves.





Some modest Trevvy Trev production, boom bap jabbing at you rather than going for the all-out roundhouse, allows San Man & MC Small World to stroll freely and get the coolness of their deadliness to set up an old skool prowl of authority on the five track ‘EP’. The music may be of a smooth funk vintage, but Dark Lo pulls the pin to set the record straight on ‘American Made’ and exerts sheer street control on ‘Ripped Apart’ with Benny the Butcher. Catch him if you can – Nodoz is ‘All Ready Up’, “staying woke ‘til the white sheet cover my eyes”, the early bird fiercely catching Will C’s smooth funk with a magical mystery tale to tell.






Albums

‘Retropolitan’ rolls with a capital R as “a love letter and a wakeup call to the city” from Skyzoo and Pete Rock, a well suited duo speculators must secretly have been hoping would get together, and whose Big Apple toughness comes with polished corners, epitomising the concrete jungle encasing the big city of dreams. Bustling and ‘bout it but barely breaking sweat, it’s an exemplary expo of sights and sounds, achieving easy listening when the pair’s objective is anything but.

Now sporting a short back and sides and Colgate smile and aligning himself with Q-Tip as executive producer, the energy of Danny Brown stays undiminished on ‘uknowhatimsayin¿ ’, but this time around you can tell he’s given more thought as to which wet square pegs should go in which live round holes. Paul White, Flying Lotus, JPEGMAFIA and Run the Jewels are all part of a medium reset, updating the livewire’s instincts that still come through loud, clear and uncouth (“I ignore a whore, like an email from LinkedIn”).





“I may never rock the Garden, but I did plant the seed, and it’s far from Autumn” – Von Pea, with his Pusha T-ish rasp, declares ‘City for Sale’ but also mi casa su casa, endlessly funky with production baked in sunshine and snappy cypherisms penning local postcards about how hood the hood really is right now.





The ever likely lads Dr Syntax and Pete Cannon are back to break their unique brand of bread until they’ve defined ‘Wallop’, chatting solemnly over tea and biscuits before giving it some jump-up, bass-mainlining welly. Whatever the mood of your favourite plain English rapper and wildcard producer combo, they leave you feeling invigorated from all the angles they cover.





Bending your ear with his usual best of British, Kid Acne’s South Yorkshire styling receives a boost from Illinois’ Spectacular Diagnostics, pulling ‘Have a Word’ from fuggy pillars to raw and whip-smart posts. Another time capsule of references tripping off the tongue, that continued sense of Acne picking up the mic and diving straight into the close-to-home anarchy with no warm up, sustains his latest keeper of the faith as flavoursome and full of unfettered character, shared with members of New Kingdom, Juga-Naut and Juice Aleem.

Ocean Wisdom’s extensive lung squeezer ‘Big Talk’ has got the mouth to go with the trousers, unstoppably menacing when riding jittery danger zone trappers rarely feeling the need to pull the handbrake. Assists from Dizzee Rascal, P Money, Ghetts, Akala, Freddie Gibbs and Fatboy Slim underline the star quality finding six million more ways to end careers at the same rate of words per minute.

When the long stretch of ‘Eagle Court’ is in session, CMPND trio Wundrop, Kemastry and Vitamin G invest in deep bass shudders of trap/drill genealogy that you can somehow find solitude in, and disgust-registering rhymes consistently keeping heads down while speaking up for bad boys moving in silence. Probably ineffective in daylight hours, a different beast when the graveyard shift ticks by, banging like a gavel in the hand of the Grim Reaper.

Livewire rhymes with clean means of execution from VersesBang advocate ‘Cardigans & Calories’, taking over tough/rubbery bass steppers and sending the fortunes of foes into hiding. Most unexpected is the appearance of D12’s Bizarre on the concluding ‘W.E.I.R.D.O.’, showing that rap/grime is not a funny old game. Junior Disprol’s ‘Def Valley’ is like a hip-hop game of Tough Mudder, gruffly ravaging a tricky selection of beats (yacht rockers to blips-n-bleeps to pots-n-pans, drum machine brawlers) with the unfazed, warpaint-daubed mindset of no-one else is gonna manage it, so it may as well be the Dead Residents emcee.





The LA addicts fiending for static that are Clipping are back to confirm ‘There Existed an Addiction to Blood’, an oxymoron where no-one can hear you scream in space until its engine room sucks you in and spits you out. The trio continue to give braincells a thrashing but still love a good hook, with emcee Daveed Diggs’ style in charge of the captain’s log recited by a sentient streetwise super-computer, taking Benny the Butcher, El Camino and La Chat along for the ride.





The heavy burdens of Big Turks gang Rome Streetz, Jamal Gasol and Lord Juco handle dangerous day-to-days to Ro Data’s expressive Turkish folk skills. Inducing a hush as they step in the place and where spotting weakness can be cataclysmic, this it tough Mafioso styling holding a certain cinematic exotica until the heavies on the mic – few grand gestures = time is money – begin their rearranging. Clinical, allowing for one traditional Turkish jig to conclude.

An invite to ‘The Gold Room’ from SadhuGold prepares ears for heavy instrumentalism straining towards the grey area of your DAB, too focussed on trip hop toil and a certain prog rock/gangsta determination so as to avoid playing the strung out chestnut. Slithering and curling itself around late night like a serpent ready for its chokehold moment, plucky emcees will flinch at the Philly producer’s muddy Midas touch.

‘Complicate Your Life With Violence’ suggest L’Orange and Jeremiah Jae, the folklore of old war stories and wild westerns mined by the former, schooled by a 5 o’clock shadow of a faintly numb flow keeping an ear to the street belonging to the latter. An expert in throwing you for a loop in its disregard for boom bap boundaries, seems to house a cast of hundreds when in reality it’s a good old fashioned (uniquely telepathic) MC-producer two-for. Proof that violence can solve matters.

Zilla Rocca and Curly Castro could tell you what Grift Company are all about, but then they’d probably have to kill you: ‘Too Many Secrets’ takes true school to the bank with a stick-up kid swagger. Giving it all they’ve got by using the 32 minute duration as a ticking time bomb to their savagery roaming the streets, it’s a slick and dangerous operation, pushing underground cinema full of proper hip-hop spirit.