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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MATT OLIVER’S ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVIEW




Rapture & Verse’s March hares are made up of dirt-slinging duo Remy Ma and Nicki Minaj (naturally, Foxy Brown then has her two penneth worth as well), Snoop blurring the line between life and art when it comes to America’s next top president, Joey Badass having a John Lennon-style, ‘Bigger than Jesus’ moment, Tupac ‘memorabilia’ reaching unhealthy new levels, and a right flash-looking reissue of Kool Keith and Dan the Automator’s trailblazing weirdo ‘Dr Octagonecologyst’ (when an Easter egg just won’t do). All topped with Will I Am appearing in a new video with the realest of the Rovers Return, Liz McDonald.

Talib Kweli joins the UK B-Boy World Championships with an April performance (probably not as a contestant…well, you never know). Big Daddy Kane reiterates he’s still got juice with a London appearance in May bound to bring in scores of hip-hop nostalgics; and home-grown old skool originals London Posse go on a wee road trip to tell all the current gun finger spitters how slang should really sound. Also upcoming on these shores – DJ Q-Bert, Masta Ace and Jedi Mind Tricks, all making it rain like an April shower.






Singles/EPs

A teeny-tiny singles selection this month starts with a quintet of instrumentals seeing who’s big enough to plug a mic in. Urban Click’s ‘Half Past Two’ does boom bap that keeps time and plants seeds of doubt; just enough fear factor to have you looking over your shoulder mid head-nod, until ‘Payback’ brings the hatchet into full view. In need of an assertive, affirmative funk jam with a worldview to cause roadblocks? Rob Cave’s singsong exasperation telling you ‘Hold Your Head’ is that very jam. Follow that with a remix of Mista Sinista’s ‘Life Without Fear’, another partier making a point with Worldarama, Illa Ghee & Chordz Cordero wrapping up Eitan Noyze’s bulbous funker. Milano Constantine gets grimy on the belt-loosening ‘Rasclart’, with Conway and Big Twins helping extort DJ Skizz’ mob skanking.






Albums

Action packed storytelling kicks off Your Old Droog’s triumphant ‘Packs’, that languid NY flow quickly working a number of hustles and stakes-high dice games, all with a penchant for humour and words to the wise stashed in the trunk. From go-slows to arse kicks, adopting the same readiness for and awareness of when the streets come calling, and with Danny Brown, Edan and Heems on his team, YOD perfects the unfathomable: a varied album with no time to waste or room for error. 14 silk cuts, if you will.

With a flow somewhere between honey dipped and Seattle high, Porter Ray’s seesaw twang that’s always laidback in a perpetual state of motion grounds spacey, floaty forecasts replacing low riders with ambient parachute jumps. ‘Watercolor’ is vaporous but tangible gangsta living from under the stars with a creditable amount of earnestness, with Ray’s role as some kind of avenging angel leaving his mark on you, one way or another.





UK crews control this month starts with the Gatecrasherz getting parties jumping and scrawling their names all over the VIP list on ‘Uninvited’. A more patient unit than expected, inasmuch as each emcee queues obediently before showing ill discipline on the mic (in turn letting you pick your own distinctively-twanged rapper like you’re swapping stickers), a broadside of bumping beats (including ‘2-3 Break’ playing out like a choose-your-own-adventure book), gets doors off hinges.

 

Steady Rock and Oliver Sudden push flavour in your ear with ‘Preservatives’. The BBP reliability always plays the game the right way, spanning humble brags, straight shots, living as they live it, tales told while getting ‘em in and beats getting bobbleheaded on life’s dashboard. What you hear is what you get. Amos & Kaz’ ‘Year of the Ram’ justifies all natural assumptions of locking horns and being capable of a battering. Forceful personality dominates business, pleasure and pain; these two are up for a scrap, or at least a good pantsing, after their knowledge has driven its way down your ear canal. Granville Sessions power through without pretension on ‘Monument’, demanding a captive amphitheatre rather than threatening the front row. A forthright manifesto playing no games makes for a well regimented campaign.

 

After the ‘Barrydockalypse’, Joe Dirt is the last real rapper alive on an album that’s a pessimist’s paradise. Repping Squid Ninjaz by showing strong survival instincts, keeping composure is paramount on a great, stomach-unsettling set for those getting kicks out of losing themselves past the wrong side of the tracks. Safe to say Jam Baxter’s ‘Mansion 38’ is not surrounded by a postcard-perfect white picket fence; half cut, whip smart, and hoovering up Chemo’s top-to-bottom production so that the pair sink until they strike the gold of rock bottom. Ultimate, grungy outlaw hip-hop, putting the trap in trapdoor.





As a flipside, Dabbla barfs out bonus project ‘Chapsville’ (location: London twinned with Tennessee and Thunderdome), spraying obnoxiously hot bars at water cannon pressure while DJ Frosty twists the shapeshfiting landscapes around him. Leaf Dog’s ‘Dyslexic Disciple’ is a proper UK hip-hop knees-up, awash with weed and scuffles always likely to break out because it’s all family. Funk and blues buck like a bronco, plucky and bullish rhymes will step to a mic whatever the weather, Kool Keith drops by to diss you without you realising, and a grand finale of a giant posse cut lands the knockout blow.





Oddisee is his usual engaging self on ‘The Iceberg’. With music as crisp as freshly plucked Romaine, effortlessly upping the pace when the time’s right, the personal becomes appealing so that you can’t help but pore over eloquent diary entries where the ink never runs dry. Ultimately you agree with his clearly made points of view as Oddisee is becoming the master of his own destiny who could make takeaway menus or the phone book sound compelling. From the supple to the ambitious/exhaustive, Beans releases three albums simultaneously (!) – ‘Wolves of the World’, ‘Love Me Tonight’ and ‘HAAST’ – as well as an accompanying novel. Fantastical seat of your pants scenarios and breathless narratives seemingly doing real life and politics in fast forward even if caught in traffic, the Anti-Pop Consortium alumni loves the feel of a fine tooth comb throughout.

NYC’s El Michels Affair have reached the same level of dynasty as their Staten Island source of inspiration. Back covering another batch of Wu-Tang Clan trademarks in an irrepressible, funk and soul, live band experience, ‘Return to the 37th Chamber’ repeats their craft of cultish kung-fu cabaret rewriting the scrolls of Shaolin methodology. Though they dart in as quickly as they sneak out, they’re politely nuthin’ to fuck wit’ when you’re trying to name that tune.

 

A jawbreaker flow meets boom-bap control; ZoTheJerk and Frost Gamble’s ‘Black Beach’ makes strong statements, showing Detroit determination to put things right – or at least stay vigilant – in a world full of buck-passing. A good combination that cruises before T-boning ya. Fuelled by hard liquor and blackmarket diesel, TOPR’s ‘Afterlife of the Party’ is a 13 track brawl finding “epiphanies in heresy, poetry in vulgarity”, kicking down doors and spitting wisdom with the force of a slammed down shot glass. Even at its calmest, there’s only one (albeit methodical) trajectory, justifying arguments and rabble rousing as a hard-bitten B-boy. The usual safe-breaking, toothpick-chewing, phone-tapping vibes from Roc Marciano plots ‘Rosebudd’s Revenge’, a seedy shoulder-brusher putting its kingpin in a familiar position of power, to the sound of a soul jukebox watching trife life go by.





Hosting a sophisticated dinner party but still putting fresh kicks on the table, Dr Drumah runs a tight ship of instrumentals passing round cigar-n-scotch jazz and choice samples keeping ears attracted late on. ‘90’s Mindz’ is precisely put together, a showcase of simple pleasures that’s got plenty of mileage. Once that’s soiree’s over and done with, head over to Vital’s ‘Pieces of Time’ for pretty much more of the same; hard shells with soft centres and golden age hues, in an easy access network of neck work. Argentinean Gas-Lab boasts an international cast to take you ahead of the sunrise on the soul dejeuner ‘Fusion’, all piano keys and horns applying shine to respectful spit. ‘Rise N Shine’ shakes the bottle and wakes a little Samba in Spaniard Alex Rocks, an easygoing beatsmith who gets his US guests licking their lips from the stoop. With a squeeze of bossa funk in the mix as well, it sticks to the script enough for soft tops and sunloungers to start folding themselves back.





Welcoming your retinas this month: Open Mike Eagle turns superhero, Joey Badass pledges allegiance, Knowledge Nick gives a thumbs down, and Ash the Author keeps on track.














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