Essential Hip-Hop Revue: Words: Matt Oliver





Singles/EPs

The bunting’s down, the facepaint has been ruined by teardrops, the class of 2018 failed to graduate…but worry not, Rapture & Verse is here to wipe the World Cup slate clean. Starting with some jazz to get horizontal to from Talos, with Coops stopping by and making the ‘Lowlight’ EP one to reach for when your soul needs a spritz of aftersun. Cross the Final Boss and expect to get your crash helmet cracked through the seat of your pants on the intriguing ‘Renegade’, a juddering slalom mixing joypad sci-fi and rock ready to brawl, piloted by a maverick on the verge of dangerous. ‘Est 92’ has Farma and Remus putting in a diverse five-track shift and pushing chips off the old block the size of boulders that shatter the mirror dividing fantasy and reality.





Doing what he does best with all of his strong arm steadiness, Rasco’s ‘Where the Heart’s At’ stomps down, a rugged size 9 carrying a little club favour to it thanks to Tom Caruana. Unashamedly summary, The Aztext will have you a blast once ‘Everyday Sun’ hits your speakers; the honeyed hook, the pianos and horns, and rhymes rolling up their sleeves, get parasols popping. Get yourself to the low-rider showroom as well and demand a Sean Elliot paint job while you’re at it, ‘Big Boy’ a funky-assed baller blasted with Southern rays and Big Sant on the passenger side. Madison Washington continue their hot streak with the laidback ‘No Cliché’, an after-party groove with the right amount of nous behind it.




Albums

Take a look ‘Under the Patio’ and you’ll find the excellent return of The Last Skeptik, stumping up a string of vibing, dusky beats that never fade to black, understated in their genre reach. Star turns around the honeypot from Bonkaz, Mikill Pane, Cosmo, Kojey Radical and plenty more feed off the unseen electricity that eventually overloads into a sneering punk climax. An album simmering down the summer’s sticky restlessness, but Skeptik’s lot ain’t soft by a long stretch.

Micall Parknsun and Mr Thing are unequivocal on ‘Finish What We Started’, mainstays trusted with hip-hop restoration and consumed by the decency of “this is real, this is raw, this ain’t pop shit”. Park-E’s unmistakable stony flow draining stamina from challengers, and Thing adjusting the degrees of boom bap drama – including scheming countdowns and old skool windmills landing like a haymaker – have all the answers for those exaggerating hip-hop’s downfall.





‘Sugar Like Salt’ is the taste of Louis VI. A cunning operator sounding a little like Loyle Carner, the Londoner flavours the album just as the title says by working jazz angles and stories from midnight into the sunshine, and smarts from both sides of the equation. Hazy, but a firer on all cylinders. A third round of ‘Blackcurrent Jazz’ has Funky DL reaching his usual pro-jazz professionalism. Smoothness shaking out all the strains of the day comes with some refreshing twists on love and life, and even when the album’s at its most down in the mouth, the funky def lyrics can raise spirits and get a toe tapped.





Roll up roll up, Vanderslice is offering you the chance to grab ‘The Best Album Money Can Buy’. Ghostface, Freddie Gibbs, Prodigy, Slug and Evidence on guest duties up the exchange rate of the producer’s skinny set, a mob playground slash foreign film dub with Vic Spencer’s ‘Bone Museum’ the heaviest on the door, and rubbed up the wrong way by J-Zone crashing a ‘Chevrolet’.

You only have to skim through past R&V columns to see old skool institutions coming a cropper in the modern game. AG isn’t one to stumble, ensuring ‘The Taste of AMbrosia’ doesn’t lose any of that DITC flavour. “For mature rap devotees who’ve grown tired of contemporary rhymesayer laziness”, sounds like corporate blurb: “the flow is so simple but the words are so heavy” is AG chasing artificial additives out of town.

After last month’s explosion of seven track elitism, we should probably give a mention to Drake’s ‘Scorpion’. The good quality moments and educated/cryptic referencing are overcome by the usual sing-song peacocking (you don’t judge a battle by Drake out-singing Pusha T), and a tracklisting that’s in itself seems like a direct response to his competitors’ funsize selections. That hasn’t stopped it selling/streaming by the squillion, so what do we know.

Don’t expect ‘Therapeutic’ by A Minus and Chanes to take you somewhere New Age. Do expect plenty of that ol’ Detroit drowse button to blow you on course, smog soul and rhymes keeping upright but never uptight and with some good plots to pore over. One to spend time on the couch with. An even bigger smoke break with levels submerged until eyes turn red, MIKE’s ‘Renaissance Man’, with a Guilty Simpson-esque swagger, teeters through heavy cloud cover, an unfazed baritone dragging the lapse-hop project up by its bootlaces. Roughness around the edges that can still strike a chord with the keep it realists. No nonsense, WYSIWYG, Ronseal hip-hop from Scoob Rock – ‘Be You’ is his uncomplicated proclamation, and he follows his own advice with a weathered, hoarse flow dipping into a patois that maintains a snake-like squeeze on the beats. Will stare you down, administer a one punch TKO before continuing about his day.

L’Orange continues his long and successful run of collaborative albums with ‘Marlowe’, in partnership with fellow North Carolinan Solemn Brigham. As usual the producer’s beats are full of character, detailing colourful scenarios, surprise witnesses and funkiness found in every archive discovery. Brigham clamps the mic from the get-go and is an imperious ringleader to the circus, challenging but never difficult. Both excel in never revealing what’s steaming around the next corner, even when you’ve grabbed your tooth comb for the umpteenth time.






Mixtapes/remix LPs

Fans have thought it; purists have wished for it, speculators have theorized it – a whole album of Nas rhyming over DJ Premier beats. Shortee Blitz and Turkish Dcypha give you a taste of what might have been (and what still could be), their dexterous, catalogue-cherry picking ‘NaSir’ mash-up supplying enough theoretical bangers to get petitioners for the real thing hot under the collar. Not to be outdone, the Steel Town Sounds Crew remix their own Nas favourites, prepared to push out the boat and up the risk factor (as well as keep the peace) with a collection of familiarities and the lesser picked – worth a listen on a name your price basis. Golden agers wanting some of that DITC TNT for the ear are in luck as well. Donnie Propa steps back up to the mixtape plate for a ‘Diggin in the Crate Cave’ double sider, Big L, Fat Joe, OC and co replayed in all their suede Timbs and sleigh bells finery. 90s quality to make your jeans that lil’ bit baggier.

Two DOOM features to gaze at: one with DJ Muggs and Freddie Gibbs, the other overseeing the Youth of the Apocalypse. Plus Wiki and Your Old Droog hit the city.










Words: Matt Oliver


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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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