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.





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.

Matt Oliver’s Essential Hip-Hop Review




So, it turns out that 50 Cent isn’t a bitcoin millionaire after all. And that Talib Kweli found about the Black Star album reunion on the internet, like the rest of us. So Rapture & Verse has had its fingers burnt while attempting to keep ‘em on the pulse. We’ve been consoling ourselves instead with the possibility of that zillion dollar Wu-Tang album being relisted on eBay – we’re more likely to bid on that than go for a Record Store day reissue of Cam’ron’s finest hour – and that a trip to Busta Rhymes Island (a legitimate map location, not a Flipmode Squad theme park) could be just the job to escape this frightful weather.






Singles/EPs

Del the Funky Homosapien and Amp Live – not in the roles of Nicky Campbell and Carol Smillie – wheel up the ‘Wheel of Fortune’, a banger that pleasingly doesn’t travel straight up and down as the club dictates. Music to fry by, ‘Fajita Effect’ is the Doppelgangaz letting loose another dollop of that ‘Dopp Hopp’, East-to-West funk that’ll make you guard your grill. MED and Guilty Simpson pledge ‘Loyalty’ with a set of easygoing back-and-forths nudging you to fling your windows wide open, save for ‘Face Down’ making you eat mat.





‘Donkey Punch!’ from Wundrop & Kemastry is here to make an ass of us all, an unsteady hallucination turned into actual fact. More Juga-Naut for you on ‘Found Objects’ means more East Midlands elitism, striking blows and a pose over half-inched favourites and rocking some of his own wares with a dissertation worth of references to chew over. The right honourable Harvs le Toad gives the airwaves some zing with ivory tinkler ‘Minty Fresh’, Vitamin G and Louis Loan tipping their hat to a beatsmith taking his jazz all the way to Walford.



Pragmatic in the face of joy, lo-fi curio ‘Plus One’ by Pan Amsterdam balances spring-has-sprung strings with a deadweight flow locked between Jonwayne and Count Bass D. Killer horns lift the firing Bishop Nehru up to the ‘Rooftops’, and ‘The Mood’ lifted by Smoke DZA featuring Joey Bada$$ would be relegated to just another trapper by numbers were it not saved by a lovely ice cream van riff wafting over the top. Back with a new set of scalpels, Dr OctagonKool Keith, Q-Bert and Dan the Automator – prescribe a one-way ticket to ‘Area 54’, full of that ‘cosmetic, kinetic, ultramagnetic” good stuff measuring you for a bodybag.




Albums

Calming yet still able to speak up, Ty’s ‘A Work of Heart’ almost feels like a magic carpet ride over the capital’s skyline, especially with singles ‘Brixton Baby’ and ‘Eyes Open’. Or the navigating of London backstreets like it’s a gambol though the countryside, despite there always being potholes en route. Or set adrift on memory bliss before stubbing its toe. You get the idea, so come and spread your arms if you really need a hug.

Apathy’s continued research into finding six million new ways for you to pop your clogs, means ‘The Widow’s Son’ is a fourteen round fight for your life (the title track calling in a favour from He-Man). Producers DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Buckwild, Nottz and Stu Bangas spread out in a bid to keep up with punchlines and wordplay battling into the fantastical. Remember, “while you rocking man-buns, I’m cocking handguns”. The second Prhyme instalment of Premier and Royce 5’9” continues their restoration job of hip-hop integrity. It still might not be enough for hardcore dream team assemblers, yet there are far worse concepts than an emcee extending his hot streak right from the off, and the producer richly rounding out the boom bap rat-a-tat, without either stuttering in stride.





Black Milk confidently advises you to catch his ‘Fever’, smooth neo-soul style that keeps your ear pressed hard to the speaker, and whose live band wisdom is velvety enough to give you a universally appealing education that cuts through the smoke. 2018 has another seat filled for best of reservations come Christmas.

It’s rare for an instrumental album/beat tape to sound so luxurious, but Calvin Valentine isn’t skimping when putting his feet up in the ‘Plush Seats’, 20, sub two minute silk cuts of soul and funk to have you glued to your pew. On the clunkier but no less funkier side, Exile’s excerpt in the ‘Baker’s Dozen’ series chops away to great effect, treating the MPC like a punch bag and still able to get smooth with it. ‘Sunlight Grace/O\Moonlight Vibes’ tells you all you need to know about Sai Wai, a pulse-steadying emcee keeping fires burning once jazz has closed shop for the day and has a date with a long hot bath in mind. Good for what ails you.





Still sounding like they’re working on Her Majesty’s Secret Service and still not giving the game away, The Herbaliser’s ‘Bring Out the Sound’ mixes lavish funk escapades with hip-hop involving peak-time Rodney P and beats styled as B-boy informants. Also eating away at hip-hop’s wider possibilities, Cut Chemist steps up to add songs and scope to his signature turntable torque. Edan, Mr Lif, Chali 2na, Myka 9 and Biz Markie fulfil mic duties as wings are spread into dusty, enquiring indie-dance and electronica that helps build an intriguing album that’s more a fluid soundclash than dazed collision.

Germany’s DJ Obsolete lays down jazzy failsafes in the field of pleasantly mature, springtime-in-the-90s boom bap, with features from Blabbermouf, Gee Bag, Warpath and Nomadic. ‘The Mandela Effect’ pays careful attention to expectations of the headnodders panel, and keeps it swift and to the point. Inviting you to wallow with them in sour times, the dejection of Dove Rock and Jackson Jones’ ‘A Pretty Way of Saying Ugly Things’ points loops downwards and posts spiritedly accepting lyrics peering over the fence, way too smart for being moored in the back of beyond. Gritty, windswept drama on a countdown to D-day, you shouldn’t expect anything else from the John Does also known as The Incredible Disappearing Man. On their eponymous album, grimly determined rhymes keep their head, buffeted and taunted by beats bound by the hands of fate.

For those up for some “unapologetic nerdcore boom bap schizophrenia”, Dngr Eyelnd open ‘A Lovely Room of DEATH’, a destination plastered in warning signs yet one where the madness is kept methodical, an intimidator honouring beats and rhymes protocol by arguing that “if this ain’t real hip-hop, then Taylor Swift is classic rock”. Make your reservation now. The tumultuously grungy Moodie Black and their symbol for ‘Lucas Acid’ fill the moshpit with feedback and threats, death rattles and loud, industrial spite; not a place for smiley faces. ‘Bulletproof Luh’ comes cultish – an at-odds flow from Mach Hommy stone-facedly seeks a ride or die chick, over far more adventurous, self-produced sampledelic beats.






Mixtapes

He’s been there, done that, got the T-shirt and now has the Presidential cap to match. DJ Yoda’s ‘Make Mixtapes Great Again’ is his usual long shot of heavyweight hip-hop, TV and pop nostalgia, declassified secret weapons and mischief closing the gaps in between. Expect Prodigy in combat with Bob Holness, KRS-One duetting with Bobby Brown, Paul Barman taking a sleigh ride, a 128K version of ‘Forgot about Dre’, Huey Lewis and The News, and so on and so on.

This month’s moving pictures: C.A.M. takes to the streets, Quelle Chris & Jean Grae take it to the arcade, 4orce and King Kashmere take a hike, and the late Craig Mack shows who’s boss.













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