ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVIEW: WORDS: MATT OLIVER





What a blockbuster month in hip-hop it’s been… Snoop setting the world’s biggest gin and juice record. Eminem and Nicki Minaj reportedly going steady. 50 Cent against Ja Rule, episode #89. Seven tracks being the new 18 tracks plus intro, outro and skits, plus bonus disc.

And there’s also been Pusha T versus Drake: ‘Daytona’ is a significant, title belt-claiming blow that’ll take some recovering from – the latter’s ‘Scorpion’ is imminent, with the additional angle of Martin Shkreli weighing in. Kanye’s ‘Ye’ poses more questions than answers, which is precisely what makes the man, while Nas & Kanye’s ‘Nasir’ has its moments, but falls short of what the dream team billing promises and certainly needs more room than the running length du jour. This is before we’ve even had time to take on Kid Cudi & Kanye’s ‘Kids See Ghosts’, or attempted to try and keep up with The Carters.

 

Singles/EPs

Dead Residents’ ‘Style Terrorist #1’ weighs an absolute ton, a clunky renegade barking like a sergeant major wearing influences as badges of honour. Heist vibes in full effect when Mr Brown sets a tripwire and infra red assault course and Confucius MC and Jehst come abseiling in through windows, all in the name of protecting ‘The Art-form part 2’, warning that “the ultimate high is the overdose”. One man’s lazy day on the river is another’s circled by sharks – Benofficial’s ‘Machine Gun Benny’ perfects the casual-smarting look. On the edge of grime and trap, VersesBang is sonically and sartorially sharp with seven tracker ‘Dressed to Kill…Myself’, well-paced so as to let listeners take a peek behind the big time persona (“I need to take control, like playing FIFA when it ain’t my go”).





After destroying airwaves with one of the freestyles of recent times, Black Thought rises above all of the aforementioned hullaballoo with the six track ‘Streams of Thought’. Augmented by 9th Wonder’s telepathy, soulfully shaded but a no-go zone for suckers, it’s an absolute lesson in politics, autobiography and pure battle-hardened craftsmanship that number one spots are reserved for. Parading the glamour life before denting it hard, Conway the Machine and Sonnyjim, with business-like savagery, cause ‘Death by Misadventure’, professional professors in the science of not flinching when stakes get high. To pianos that go left where ‘Still DRE’ went right, Blank Face and Tools Beastly ride the streets on ‘Gunslinger’, advising against feeling lucky. Trademark street cinema from Endemic Emerald joins with French generals 87 Escadron for the war report ‘Mercenaires’, army fatigue gruffness driving through the eye of the storm with Ruste Juxx and Tragedy resuming support. Add Apollo Brown carefully stirring emotions with boom bap going deep in thought, to Locksmith laying bare introspection, ideas and education, and the answer of ‘No Question’ is empathetic and quietly emphatic.




Albums

This year, Ramson Badbonez is ‘Jason Bonez’. That’s not Jason of the Bourne Identity, nor the Argonaut organiser or even the one-time Scott Robinson, but the mask-wearing blood and guts specialist who as with everything he does, doesn’t take his foot off the gas from the first unsheathing. Here to carve open nine swashbuckling tracks, wringing the house of horror hitman spiel out hard, there’s a new patron saint for whenever the 13th Friday of the month rolls around.





The restless sound of Rye Shabby is to ‘Die Shabby’. Worldly pressures that build up around him are absorbed by the protection of a dark, eerie glow, lyrically economical with energy but never the truth. With Verb T writing out prescriptions that enhance the dilapidated, empty experience, sling it on during the dead of night and find it how it envelopes the room, bringing silhouettes to life and an unspoken feel for consolation.

We may be a bit late on this one, but with new special editions launched and then swiped off shelves, Crimeapple and Big Ghost are the crime family with ‘nuff shots to share. ‘Aguardiente’ is a 100% proof of ferocious rhymes and slick stories making you believe everything spoken about every goon, scam and threat (the hook to ‘Five Chechnyans’ will make you laugh when it probably shouldn’t), to the tune of soul-infused onlookers and accomplices that either look the other way or are in too deep. Music to stash goods and tint windows by.





Neat and tidy true school enthusiasts who have the golden age running through them like a stick of rock, New York’s Penpals crew keep the underground on the level when penning ‘To Whom It May Concern’. Their zeal for technical perfection/pseudo-nerdery means rocking the boat extends to shouting out John Cleese, but the likes of ‘On the Roof’ are just what your garden party and fly school reunion needs. A few listens in and thou shalt not return to sender.

Time for some hip-hop corporal punishment to keep the next generation in line: Bumpy Knuckles is the elected elder statesman who won’t bend to socially mediated conventions. ‘Pop Duke’ is produced by Nottz knocking heads together, and has Chuck D, Kool G Rap and Biz Markie showing there’s no substitute for experience and a carefully sharpened stick in the mud that creditably, doesn’t ramble on.

In it to win it. Fake it til you make it. ‘Thieving as Long as I’m Breathing’. The world according to blasé boosters and old skool aestheticians Career Crooks, savvy Philly pair Zilla Rocca and Small Professor emptying a swag bag of doting remixes plus their own version of how to hold the hip-hop underground to ransom like gentlemen bandits. Do not be scared to check or scared to look. ‘Paranoid City’ by Isaac Roberts, previously known as Sleaze da Don, and Sonnyjim, is another to get repackaged by respectful well-wishers. Remixing new life into the pair’s doyens at the top table diary, Illinformed, Kelakovski, Smugii, Kosyne and the headliners themselves put up a very fine set of variations still keeping it tight knit.





Tom Caruana unveils volume six of his always exceptional ‘Rough Versions’ remix series with a collection of super funky Biggie revisions that elevate classics to new levels, made like the Son of Sam man was the real brains behind Bad Boy all along. The equally notorious David Begun is also at it again with a slice and dice job of Mobb Deep and Dr Octagon. Even if you think the format is tired (and there’s not much wrong when linking core QBC epitaphs to the ghoulish underground), the artwork alone to ‘Dr OctoMobb’ deserves a bony-fingered round of applause.





Bored of the World Cup? To finish, here’s the one man army that is Aesop Rock.




Matt Oliver

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MATT OLIVER’S ESSENTIAL MONTHLY HIP-HOP ROUNDUP





Singles/EPs

With Rapture & Verse writing letters to Santa asking for Record Store Day specials from Prodigy, Dilla, Three6Mafia, Latyrx and a not-safe-for-turntables Christmas ice breaker from Kool Keith, the long held preconception that bad boys move in silence proves to be nothing but fake news. To the tune of stink-eye jazz, a warning shot causing whiplash is Ocean Wisdom maintaining ‘Eye Contact’, flowing comfortably before reaching his trademark warp speed without loss of clarity. Fresh hell from Onoe Caponoe unsheathes a similar typhoon tongue, taking the form of ‘Pennywize’ to a trap hammer horror thrown under the bus with the kitchen sink. Res One’s clinical and dangerous ‘Preach Nothing’ ensures you’ll burn in hell, Vicious Creep producing a funeral hymn remembering a Wild West shoot out. Beads jangling, consider the bird well and truly flipped when Dabbla goes ‘Flying’ – only first class, of course. Even the proper Professor Elemental is sent into a tailspin when James Flamestar turns ‘Knock Knock’ into a sub-EDM battering ram.





Bring your bludgeoned ears to the house of Handbook, who’ll look after you (and many an emcee) with the soulfully strong instrumentals ‘Holding You’/’Nightlife’. MrE simmers down and lights up with ‘Fairy Tale’, a well executed storyteller twisting bedtime favourites and fables into a pointed Bronx lullaby. But if you’re sitting comfortably to Beatnick Dee & Allen Poe’s ‘Composure’ EP, the LA-Kentucky match-up will pull the seat from under you, soulful for body and brain, with a conscience prepared to do double shifts. Fearing the worst when a club track called ‘Opulence’ with a poolside sleeve is cued, K Gaines leads the flashy set a merry dance with funk and flow setting and nailing simple targets.

One of Sage Francis’ signature fact-finding devastations gets a re-up, ‘Hoofprints in the Sand’ remixed by SonOfKarl as homely calm tries to keep the wolves from the door. Coating bar after bar in blood, KXNG Crooked & Royce 5’9” dispense ‘Truth’, ruthlessly bursting the bubble of bleary trap whose race sounds run. One of DJ Premier’s back pocket boom bappers gets A$AP Ferg to reclaim ‘Our Streets’, a nice beats and rhymes combination operating at about 75% and still eliminating imitators and New York naysayers in their droves. Another DOOM special team – metal-faced sagging meeting the street-carbonated Westside Gunn – comes more underground than a mole’s metro system, on the picture disc payday ‘Gorilla Monsoon’/‘2 Stings’.






Albums

Cappo, Juga-Naut and Vandal Savage power up again as valued vehicle of vengeance VVV, using the pointed end of the dunce cap to gut opposition on ‘Bozo Boyz’. Wearing Nottingham swagbasco like its rockstar cologne, the trio take apart prowling club beats powered by the high beams of an 80s sportscar, a wink and a nod helping slice through lingering gunsmoke.





Reading last rites on ‘2000BD’, Babylon Dead are the governing body of Illinformed, in bedevilled form on the boards, and Jman, riding dirty with ragga rawness on the mic. An uncompromising last days scorch that can you make jump and shout as much as sending you cowering to the corner. The ever bloodshot Bisk and his supply of dropped out hip-hop continues unabated, the typically fitful ‘Fly Sh!t’ and his affiliation of anything but tranquil tranquilizers, Morriarchi, Lee Scott, Sam Zircon and Drae da Skimask, dealing in lo-fi at extreme pressure. Back for seconds, DJ Format and Abdominal adjust the napkin for ‘Still Hungry: The Remixes’, eight extra courses of funkiness that you don’t even have to tip the dynamic duo for.





We’ve all thought it – Armand van Helden and Jan Hammer would make a toothpaste-selling dream team. For now, it’s Armand Hammer leaving Chelsea smiles, New York duo Elucid and Billy Woods heading to ‘Rome’ as underground gladiators whose coat of arms reads “I’m the solution, I’m the condition, I’m a symptom”. Dense, sprawling heat, headed by Messiah Musik and August Fanon on some press-record-and-go business, ‘Rome’ becomes a coliseum-sized battle when reality and ill illusions converge.

The dapper delights of L’Orange’s ‘The Ordinary Man’, instrumental top hat and tails with the creases kept in, create an evocative performance capturing in black and white a concerto producer forming his own magic circle. Right hand men drop in on the mic – Blu, Elzhi, Del, Oddisee – to flank a fantastic sample archive wearing a slightly world-weary pose, from a producer whose trick-from-sleeve ratio remains visionary.





Bringing bangers from the Balkans to Boston, Mr Lif runs with Brass Menažeri for an album of oompah-pa power. ‘Resilient’ sees Lif’s customary nose for a cautionary tale and willingness to occupy outside space, woven to a backdrop of massive horns and cosmopolitan live musicianship let off the leash. Hearty but no novelty, the odd couple/fantasy lineup raises smiles and earns respect.

D4rksid3’s ‘The Dark Tape’ is an envoy of gloom, but slick with it, nestling in hip-hop’s recesses but keeping it moving and able to scoop victory from the jaws of defeat. What starts as groggy gangsterism sparks into life when Meyhem Lauren & DJ Muggs strike gold in uncovering ‘Gems from the Equinox’, a shady, honour-shattering set that with Roc Marciano Action Bronson, Conway, and Mr MFN eXquire in tow, gets into the groove of steam rollering suckers stoopid. Music to out-train Rocky to, Stoneface’s ‘The Stone Age’ runs strictly on rugged terrain on his way to affirmation, quiet storms dive-bombing off clifftops. Do not listen if you’re not up for the fight.



“Boom bap be the music of choice, baritone be the range of the voice”: on an album called ‘Back to the Basics (The Boom Bap)’, the demands of LS Camp are pretty plain. Defenders of the faith who sail smoothly through beats and rhymes, without viewing the world through rose (or golden) tinted glasses. Talking of smooth, Blu & Exile’s ‘In The Beginning: Before the Heavens’ is a prequel talking a lot of sense as it sits atop its predecessor like California cream on top of flavourful pie.

 

Mixtapes

Accomplished enough to be an album in its own right, Sampa the Great’s ‘Birds and The Bee9’ brings to mind the best of Bahamadia. As much as a relaxant as a pricker of ears, global vibes and soulful, gossamer licks consistently dropping shamanic B-girl jewels, confirm one-to-watch status. Chris Read reruns the fun of The Pharcyde’s ‘Bizarre Ride II…’ with a 25th anniversary mix giving you 48 minutes of all the band’s celebrated, accelerated funk and foibles, plus the finger food in between.



On this week’s Gogglebox: Chester P’s premonitions, Rye Shabby’s hometown tour, and Rapsody’s ascension.










Look out for Rapture & Verse’s picks of the year in Monolith Cocktail’s comprehensive 2017 round up, coming soon.


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