HIP-HOP REVUE
Words: Matt Oliver




Welcome to the latest Rapture & Verse – if you don’t like some of the opinions expressed, don’t worry, VAR has probably got your back. Financial management and futures planning from the eloquently frank Charles Edison breaks it down to ‘Bricks’, striking a chord for those trying to keep their head above water and a roof over it. The guru-like linkage of Chong Wizard summons a mix of voices and beatsmiths to ‘The Soul Stone’, six tracks worth of soulful bumps with criminal connections, ground down by headliners Vic Spencer, El Ay, Juga-Naut, Vandal Savage and Stack Skrilla. ‘Cypher Sore Eyes’ is boom-bap balm for the ears from the game face of Nottingham’s Louis Cypher, getting stuck in and hounding the supplies of DJ Severe, Kastanza and Pete 1st Blood. A six-track EP that’s got soul and a will to win.





An EP of energy spikes and crashes, either frantically running for its life or staggering back so what’ll be will be, ‘Defo Not Normal’ is the badge of honour worn by the twitchy Bang On when prompted and prodded by Reklewz. Will put your speakers in a cobra clutch, whatever direction it’s moving in. “Outlook = miserable, forecast = kill ‘em all” – so say the Delusionists, keeping grounded from their position in the ‘Clouds’. Warnings of caution, carefully, smartly conveyed, make them the responsible choice. A classic sunup-to-sundown beat from Ded Tebiase – slightly stoned, but bassy enough to ring around the borough – allows Ash the Author the maximum means to ‘Transmit’ loud and clear.






Albums

Gawd Status is not a crown that lies heavy with Joker Starr and King Kashmere, ‘Firmamentum’ a rolling thunder of articulate rage and a fiercely tribal shakedown rewriting the Blaxploitation manifesto. The Iguana Man, an absolute banshee on the boards, appears in a more advisory, all-seeing role on the mic, while Joker Starr is at the front, warring so that no man is safe, allowing for occasional leave of reality. Militant pride that’ll uproot those sitting on the fence, including a silky smooth soul intermission playing its position, at a scandalously slim eight tracks long it’s a saga that must run and run. Absolutely boomin’.





Ronnie Bosh has both the no-nonsense name and gameplan of the glory days of East End hard cases, taking great disdainful chunks out of this debut ‘All People Expect’. Setting rhymes in stone with no right of reply, Bosh is perfectly aware that there’s no need to overthink matters or get too technical, yet is never economical with the truth, squeezing the mic in a considered accumulation of pressure. Jazzy head shots and drowsier dips care of Dirty Dike, complete the definition of raw and uncut.

Announcing his album arrival with the pretty outrageous ‘FCK Boy!’, Mr Muthaf*ckin’ eXquire delivers on his promises of a wild ride, armed with a bunch of spanners to hurl work-wards. Just as disruptive is his shrewd taste for narrative, hitting home without promising happy endings. Satisfying your ignorant itch and also reducing dancefloors to bloody smithereens, it’s a surprisingly, satisfyingly well-rounded album where the bite backs up the bark.





Reconvening with Madlib on Etch-a-Sketch (well, not quite) and Freddie Gibbs toting his usual gangsta trappings, the much hyped ‘Bandana’ exploits the sweet spot of Lord Quas’ soul raids and loop manoeuvres as peacekeeper/mostly silent partner in the face of Gibbs’ tirades – not that he needs too much direction to vent anyway. Open to discussion, and that’s before appearances from Anderson Paak, Pusha T, Killer Mike, Yasiin Bey and Black Thought, ‘Bandana’ kind of wings it, mostly cementing their inexplicable chemistry made bespoke.

Tread carefully should you receive directions to and from the Delivery Room, whose eponymous album rolls out the red carpet to a house of horrors and takes uncomplicated swings like a headhunter test-driving a new axe. Sometimes funky in amongst perpetual pulverisation, the Scottish crew reach a rowdy peak as ‘Break Loose’ chucks Flat Eric and The Prodigy into the moshpit. Hocking rhymes like kerb-ready lung butter but always staying one step ahead of the naysayers, Frani P never sweats as ‘Mr Small Stuff’, ducking and diving with the goods to convince you of his chatty flow, particularly when ‘Golden’ shows he’s no Jonny-come-lately. Production from Turkish Dcypha and Marley D perfectly allows him to go wide, notably and aptly wielding Ian Dury’s rhythm stick as they go.





Look no further for beats and rhymes practised until perfect than Ill Effect’s advancement as ‘Loop Junkies. Never taking their position for granted as they take on the world, no doubt the trio have got skills and sonics for days, but half an hour is exhibition enough of what they’re about, making them a heavy tapedeck presence. Also a champion for the good old days without being a golden era bore, Dyzzi’s ‘Kids Back Then’ has got the taste and skill for coming-of-age nostalgia; of course, the soulful snaps that help paint the picture don’t hurt either, and the same goes for the DivSel emcee’s ability to go from dewy-eyed to dervish. One for the summer.

 Literally five minutes after dropping end-of-year cert ‘It Wasn’t Even Close’, Your Old Droog has the temerity to drop another end of year chart troubler. His means of ‘Transportation’ – “rather be a dope failure than a wack success” – takes the form of actual…er…modes of transport (‘My Plane’, ‘Train Love’ allowing himself to get a lil’ bit sentimental, ‘Taxi’ with Quelle Chris), remaining the smoothest source of scornful, so-what couplets and eyewitness accounts. “Half man, half crustacean, 100% asshole” – that’s how Dillon be selling ‘The Tails of Lobsterdamus’, the new face about town where men wanna shell out like him, women wanna peel him off. Doing straight-faced anthropomorphism going beyond the sea, slick rhymes dictate understatedly pimped out beats, entertaining you until he’s cashed out and squids in.





‘Plugs I Met’, restoring the argument of whether seven tracks is album length (etc etc), is Benny the Butcher starting off fairly fluidly, and then getting progressively heavier until bones start splintering. In a world of wiretaps, silencers, balaclavas and dry as a bone extortion knocking down your front door, no quarter is given from Black Thought, Pusha T, Jadakiss, 38 Spesh and Conway the Machine, making this a very dangerous gang-up to ignore.

The ‘Mobb Deep Remixes’ from DJ Duce shows respect to the classics (staples from ‘The Infamous’ and ‘Hell on Earth’) while sticking his own death rattle to the Prodigy & Havoc back catalogue, and ensuring the drama he brings is no small thing with a dozen alternatives meeting the reaper at the gates of Queensbridge.


Hip-Hop Revue: Matt Oliver




Singles/EPs

Welcome to March’s Rapture & Verse, writers of extraordinary introductions and this month beginning with champions of champions The Kingdem – the improbably heavyweight trio of Rodney P, Blak Twang and Ty – getting down to ‘The Conversation’. Due to the use of “Diplo-styled dolphin vocal loops” it’s not as big a rumpus as anticipated, but certainly works as a summery, elder statesman roundtable. ‘Peep the EP’ and ye shall find BVA shifting with the knuckle-cracking belligerence of a schoolmaster, four tracks getting stuck in with Leaf Dog and Illinformed bringing fire while turning mythical pages. A job-doer not messing around. Ever been told to cheer up, because it might never happen? Illaman is the one to take umbrage with the ‘Give Us a Smile’ EP, pairing a brass neck with a steel stomach and thick skin, getting motivated over beats on the brink and pulling you from ear to ear.





A sympathetic Handbook listens to Supreme Sol being dealt rough hands and rougher handling on ‘Talk Show Host’, a fine, immersive transatlantic collaboration sustaining levels of vivid sourness on ‘Con Consciousness’. Another UK to US brainstorm has London’s Dolenz grinding gears for a typically dour Guilty Simpson on the interesting ‘Pull’, an edgy, industrial-themed click and spark soundtracking the last days of Detroit autonomy, brought into the light by a Darkhouse Family remix.



Ronnie Bosh gives it ‘100%’, sure to make locals edgy once he’s stepped in the place and barged his way to the front with the air of a new, non-shit-taking sheriff in town. Six tracks of ‘Serious Waffle’ is Jimmy Danger getting mouthy on an EP that goes with beats, boasts, bangers and beatings. Dr Syntax, Dirty Dike and Skuff pass through to witness this particular dangerman mashing ‘em down with a sneer you’ll give in to. Snatching the mic with an extended middle finger, Datkid’s ‘Crud Addict’ is two minutes 45 seconds of boorish wind-up merchantry aiming at the front row, a neck wringer where Leaf Dog tinkles the ivories into a catastrophe. Turning the vapour of neo-soul instrumentalism into a significant aphrodisiac, Talos’ onomatopoeic ‘Iridescent’ is a five-track stargazer tweaking the template to keep ears devoted.

The languid attraction of ‘Door Down’ from Chiedu Oraka and Fila Brazillia legend Steve Cobby will knock down a lot of…er…doors when the sun gets fully into position: of cool and not a little cunning. Instrumental soul that’s all in the fingertips, FAIL.WAV celebrates ‘Failuary’ with an eight-sided set of touch-of-a-button smoothness making advances towards your headphones, bringing together far out and warming sounds. Drink ‘Flat Tummy Tea’. Wear a ‘Bandana’. Listen to Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, a car chase clearing the lane, followed by bossing the club as the walls drip psychedelics. Wiki drops jewels over the trap-not-trap, boom-or-bust of ‘Cheat Code’, an aggressive player collecting every bonus. El Camino and Benny the Butcher aren’t on ‘Venice Beach’ to relax, creating a sludgy sandstorm with monstrous, last breath strings from Dirty Diggs.






Albums

On ‘A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night’, Blu and Oh No mosey across the West Coast to capture the hustles and bustle as a frontline tour guide mapping out all the no-go areas and places to tap into local electricity. Blu rhymes his ass off, resetting himself when on the verge of catching his own tail as the album develops into a Big L-style heist, and Oh No’s funk soundtrack ducks and dives with similar equilibrium, closing the gap between resplendent and kerbside like a GTA dial twiddle.





Enthusiastically leaving dead air in their wake, Clear Soul Forces are anything but ‘Still’ in their welcome to Detroit, bumpy funk dislodging the dust and doing the road trip experience with tracks to cruise to while getting the whole convoy to jump in. A party album on close-knit terms. Chicago’s WateRR and UK stalwart Farmabeats open up a joint venture: ‘The Dispensary’ mostly deals in lows of gutter-bathed rhymes chewing up a psych-laced sound saying that the summer of love is over, and sometimes darker still. A potent strain. The thrill of the ‘Chase’ is that Aaron May has a casually cool, J Cole-style flow to woo you with, the Houston rhymer needing under half an hour to convince you big things are imminent. Patrons of lazy days and sticky nights should sign up for this immediately.





Home cooking from Choosey and Exile serves ‘Black Beans’ as nuggets of gold, a unifier without any grand gestures, capturing the essence of swapping stories and cautionary tales across a crowded dinner table and reminding you not to forget your manners. The comforts of soulful Cali ear butter, the mantra of “trying to break the cycle, like I’m squeezing on handlebars”, and rhymes of a valued familiarity without looking to make new friends, has eyes on a top 10 spot come the end of the year.

SOL Development lay bare ‘The SOL of Black Folk’, a live outfit laying the state of the world on a bed of sensitive musicianship – from coy to rousing – and leaving no hot topic untouched. A readymade spectacle away from the stereo, they honour the formula of raw, eyewitness rhymes and uplifting, educational soul hooks and exclamations, strident (and sometimes grungy) enough to turns nods of agreement into pro-active support. Elaquent’s ‘Blessing in Disguise’, a warm instrumental album painting sunnier climes, guides you down the straight and narrow of a neo-brick road ideal for dinner parties and picturesque picnics, drifting without fading past your ears.

With the cloying hue and scent of deadly nightshade heavy in the air, Sadistik tending to ‘Haunted Gardens’ is a classic in tainted soul catharsis. The passive/aggressive survival, functioning via the need to be numb – “I live and die every day, I’m so versatile” – makes for a doom-laden, backwoods champion when his sub-gothic poetry and demeanour wants to be anything but iconic.





As hirsute superheroes with long-established powers of deduction, the Epic Beard Men, funky bad-asses B Dolan and Sage Francis, entertain when their teasing becomes a punishment of the ignorant. ‘This Was Supposed To Be Fun’ is a prophetic title where the pair buddy up before stopping on a sixpence to admonish the ills around them. The diminishing art of the mic swap is alive and well here, rocking out from Rhode Island through the Midwest. With his status as ‘Destituent’ marking him like a red dot to the forehead, merciful/avenging angel Sole sprints to the centre of the volcano from word one. Running against oddly appropriate 80s synths and rawk, battle-hardened symphonies dragged through a silver screen apocalypse like they used to make, typically fluid, inventive wordplay and a level head belie the inevitability of the worst case scenario as the underground breathlessly spills over.


Words/Selection: Matt Oliver

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