Hip-Hop Revue
Words: Matt Oliver





Singles

The summer into autumn changeover is upon us, so here’s Rapture & Verse packed with all new stationery for term time. The tang of Joey Paro’s ‘Victory Gin’, charming you with Illinformed’s sweeping strings before stout flavours are brought out, serves four shots of Bristol cream capable of dumping you on your backside when Eric the Red, Smellington Piff, Datkid and Res One chip in. An EP spraying like winner’s champagne. Four tracks of Rodney P, Ty and Blak Twang stamping their authority is ‘The KingDem’ reminding everyone of UK hip-hop’s rightful sovereignty; steered by presence most will never achieve (“man are OG, shoulda know me”), and with the ‘Kingstep’ switch into drum & bass guaranteeing a multiple carnival float pile-up. More elite elder statesman status from Blade continues to roar from strength to strength, ‘Dark Friends’ vanquishing enemies from the belltower and ‘Make It Connect’ staging a smooth and deadly old skool takedown. For an elbow sharpener, head to Denzel Himself’s ‘Birdie’, live and direct from London’s crucible with a blue touch paper hook.





DZ The Unknown bringing the ‘Thunder Slap’ with Celph Titled, M-Dot, Esoteric and Big Shug stands up for all crime rhyme Houdini Gs, rounding on C-Lance’s Gotham brass beating you into bloody pulp fiction. In contrast, Bishop Nehru and Brady Watt’s ‘The Real Book’ has got your back when coffee either eases you into the weekend or is your bargaining chip to extend the evening. Five smooth, strong aromas. Assuming things go well, J Lately’s ‘Run’ brings the cosmos into line when you’re blissfully between sound asleep and waking up.






Albums

Long owning one of UK hip-hop’s best poker faces, whether up, down or in between (“I just wanna smoke blunts, chillin’ in the bathtub”), Verb T posing ‘A Question of Time’ is his umpteenth delivery of lyrical intricacy with his feet up. The production of Pitch 92 – neo-soulful, sharply jazzed, occasionally exotic, always generously drummed – runs in parallel, the album’s calming influence matched by its best foot forward getting shit done. Grown man hip-hop in the business of casual downtime that just happens to see off those that can’t handle ‘Time’ on their hands.

Blackburn-repping bard Bill Shakes gets quizzical on ‘Eh?’, making convincing arguments on shaky ground, the down-at-heel with the dossers vibe making the bravado work harder – ‘Once Upon a Time in Blackburn’ does his best Slick Rick – and getting the strange realities, born out of the local day-to-day, to slap. One to listen to by the spark of a lighter.

Mikill Pane’s ‘The Night Elm on Mare Street’ is no video nasty, cutting through dry ice and keyboards of a certain dystopian/romantic vintage. Overfeeding punchlines like Gremlins after dark, the patent lyrical agility and care with words is entertainingly nostalgic, and dealing with a whole host of first worlders against banks of VHS-ready synth-pop pulses gives the album its distinction. Don’t sleep. As the ‘Heart Break Kid’, Rick Fury hits with prizefighter accuracy despite looking into wrestling federation glam and with the slouch of someone who’s downed tools. Working harder than the languid North East verbs appear, the soulful beats that Fury hangs his namedrops, home comforts and passive-aggressive coin flips on, sound carefully handpicked from a dusty VIP reserve, adding to the man and myth.

Expect party-hardy funk and frolics from Chali 2na and Krafty Kuts at your peril. When ‘Adventures of a Reluctant Superhero’ seems geared towards cartwheeling breaks and lyrical calisthenics, reinforced by ‘Guard the Fort’ and the sleeve/title, the dominant powers are a variety of tempos – KK releasing simple, neck-aware energies – and flows in thought (covert life coach ‘Feel the Power’) that make incisions: i.e., 2na doing what 2na does. Victory assured.





Two albums that are rough and rugged, but know the game enough to spruce up the raw. Elevating his status to ‘GITU (Greatest in the Universe)’, Chris Rivers doesn’t lose sight of the road ahead, and where the title and look-at-me connotations run deeper. The Big Pun bloodline has never run truer; capable of reading the room so lighter crossover moments share space with ripsnorters to rattle the place. Overall, a polished player with reach. Switch the accessible trap to boom-bap clean enough to eat off, and you have Joell Ortiz’ ‘Monday’ running alongside. Strong armed wistfulness (if that’s a thing), it’s a case of the rhyme animal finding a comfortable lane to put his priorities in order with open eyes, making one particularly good point on ‘Screens’ lamenting the tech-obsessed generation’s refusal to enjoy the fresh air.





Straight shooting from Rapsody earns a promotion to first lady on ‘Eve’, looking to emulate heroes and icons and wanting to be mentioned in the same breath. Making soft touches that much sharper, mixing up Phil Collins and Wu-Tang stashes as she goes, an unflinching belief system sees off the ill-equipped (“ain’t an emcee on this earth that make me feel afraid”), not so much striking a chord as demolishing it with style and sass. Queen Latifah joins the update of the ladies first manifesto from someone who comes “like Left Eye with the matches”.

The celebrated return of Little Brother – funky, soulful and with a killer side eye – is like they’ve never been away. Despite the absence of 9th Wonder, Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh’s proclamation of ‘May the Lord Watch You’ shines summery light over all. Effortless and erudite (“20-20 ain’t shit without foresight”), LB still have the remedy for when your last nerve has been worked over. Two essential elements Blu and Damu the Fudgemunk abide by are ‘Ground & Water’. You already know which other two they come through with, declaring at eight tracks once they’ve refreshed heads but also left in some necessary dirty backwash as well. Therefore, moving crowds, no mistakes allowed, and more than once, Damu giving up the goods to just step. A combination that was never in doubt re-ignites those in need of an enthusiasm boost.

Long a protestor of hip-hop being him against the world, Ras Kass’ ‘Soul on Ice 2’ is in the mood for a high score body count, maximising velocity on every single word as if it’s his last. Shattering myths and ciphers and perfect for two cents worth on the current state of the world, the backing of Diamond D, Snoop, Cee-Lo, JUSTICE League and Immortal Technique allows for valuable variation without dilution of the destruction.





A slimline serving of chintzy hors d’oeuvres and comfortable linens from Alchemist invites heavyweights such as Benny the Butcher, Meyhem Lauren, Boldy James and Action Bronson to scarf down the funk schmaltz and schmooze of ‘Yacht Rock 2’. Your entry aboard is non-refundable, though the imagery of rappers networking in floral shirts with snifter in hand while the band plays on is very believable.

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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