THE ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVIEW
WORDS: MATT OLIVER





Singles/EPs

Another day, another dollar – or if you’re Ghostface, a denomination of your own cryptocurrency – and Rapture & Verse starts October by blowing its pumpkin fund on black magic to make featherweight crews levitate. ‘Rhymes to the East’ by Sampa the Great is a great slice of mystical hip-hop forcing you to use your illusion. ‘Heads Up Eyes Open’ is the posture adopted by Talib Kweli, telling the truth with trademark conviction, bringing the “facts versus the facsimile” to a jazzy room-filling mood boost, cross referenced by Rick Ross.

 





Cloudy slickness from Young RJ goes through the ‘Motion’, drowse drawing from Jay Dee and shaken up with nimble lyrics as his album approaches the throne. ChanHays’ bounce and bubble nibbles at the stone faced Cool Kids on ‘New Bag’, acting as if they’re too cool to be related to the quirky soul chops. Draped in what can only be described as crime strings, Rediculus remixes Recognize Ali’s ‘Season of the Rebel’ and regulates music to watch your step by. Prince Po and Pawz1 bottle ‘The Raw Essence’ and saturate the streets like they’re pouring a lil liquor, and Rez4Real and Skyzoo ride such waves with gusto, boom bap wailer ‘Stick N Move’ defined by Cookin’ Soul’s central spectre tricking and treating the hairs on the backs of necks. Showing off undefeatable finishing moves, Yinka Diz takes the belt of ‘Mr Perfect’ with trap scissoring through the club like a peacocking wrestler asking ‘who do you love?’

 

Funk speedsters The Allergies challenge Andy Cooper to a remix race on ‘Blast Off’ before sprinting off on ‘You Got Power’, both coming with their own dizzying troupe of high kickers and baton twirlers. Savvy goes axe shredding with his signature flow, because it’s ‘The Only Way I Know’, rock-rap carefully measuring its run-up to the front five rows. Prince Po has been unearthing remixes for new project ‘The Redux’, ranging from MC Paul Barman’s networking exasperations, DOOM, Wordsworth and Chubb Rock navigating urgent chops and changes, and De La Soul easing back.




Albums

Now’s the time of year when albums start creeping up on the blindside of end-of-year assessors. Detroit’s Nolan the Ninja, a dervish occasionally drifting into a Big L twang, comes with the dopest dragon punch. The currency of ‘Yen’ trades on aggressive, eyeballing rhymes to get you bouncing, and beats strategically picking their punches, whether they be soul-powered or sent in to slug it out.


Taking a trip to ‘South City’, livewire London pair Too Many Ts bring power to the people with an electricity hip-hop crowds would be remiss to keep to themselves. A little cheek going a long way and craziness staying certified PG, Leon Rhymes and Standaloft shut down the show arm in arm, doing block party rockin’ (‘Hang Tight’ is something like a phenomenon) and jump-up audience ignition.

Setting you up for the day is one of UK hip-hop’s most reliable. The ever obliging Verb T finds a perfect ally in producer Pitch 92 for ‘Good Evening’, a leisurely, watertight LP that breaks down the day to day – the system, vices, and the people lost to both – and sets your mind at rest as your neck sweats it. With the elite onside as well – Kashmere, Jehst, Ocean Wisdom, Fliptrix – this one can and will go all night long.

In charge of a landscape both dense and set adrift, Upfront rascally rattles through the A-Z on ‘Lettermorphosis’. The cause for mass head down huddles bobbing from beneath hoods, the Bristol rhymer values every syllable when pitching between Ocean Wisdom, Dabbla and Frisco. Summed up in the line “got a grip so tight when I write that my mic hand’s bleeding”, Upfront’ll make you think from underneath the stockpile of verbs you’re buried under. Ded Tebiase has a ‘Landspeed’ record, his means of travel an unapologetic golden age sound – horns, sleighbells and low cuts of bass that can only be listened to in carparks by the pack load – that laces up grit-caked Timbs and wears them like comfy slippers. Kelz, Sir Beans OBE, Ash the Author and Benaddict come along for a ride perfect for the pending autumn-winter changeover.





“’Apocalypse Trent represents Nottingham’s new wave of rap music, or not”: so say the inscrutable VVV crew, lead by Cappo, Juga-Naut and Vandal Savage. A not entirely serious collection of synth loungers, skittering, bare bones club beats, off-the-tops and lyrical mind boggles trained to be dope, that’s not to say there isn’t freshness within. Knowing exactly what’s going on, the thin line between attacking and appreciating the state of play puts the rewind button to work.





The meeting of Slaine and Termanology was always going to be a backstreet brawl. Uncompromising is the word tattooed across ‘Anti-Hero’, duty bound to hammer nails into coffins and treating ciphers like cage matches. To their credit they do add some clear-headed perspectives amidst the constant of calling it as they see it. Bun B, Everlast, Evidence, Psycho Les and lll Bill are amongst those egging them on. In their roles of hammer and sickle, Apathy and OC drum home their own history lesson of ‘Perestroika’. Apathy’s signature going for throats and OC maintaining DITC dignity, conduct subzero hostilities looking to conscript captive audiences, the Soviet shtick ratting out defectors in a second. “Broadcasting for those behind enemy lines”, this is blunt with a capital B.

Calm and dignified in a world hugging the down slope, CunninLynguists present ‘Rose Azuro Njano’; funk and blues taking to the stage and taking responsibility to provide both salvation and eloquent discussion, standing up without sugar-coating it. When pushing ‘Music I Wanna Make’, John Reilly comes up with a respect earner, him and Rediculus on production taking no shortcuts with beats and bars built to stick around.




Thavius Beck’s gravitational pull on ‘Technol OG’ vaporises dancefloors, with dictionaries a close second. Blasting out descrambled sonic challenges to rip glitterballs off their axis in 30 minutes, Beck’s seasoned interstellar highwayman act, available on amazing-looking gold vinyl, grabs the game by the balls as if the whole world is in his hands.

Guided by Jonwayne to the brink and back on the boards, a bluesy wait for psychedelics to take effect, Danny Watts has the ability to take a look around before sounding like one of hip-hop’s coldest. Watts shifting his peripheral vision can be your best friend and worst enemy, as well as his own when cruising and concealing turmoil. Houston’s Watts is a champion, and another threat to the end of year monopoly.




The million dollar Wu-Tang sound gets caught in familiar post-dynasty malaise when Masta Killa asserts ‘Loyalty is Royalty’. Despite a lot of clansmen coming through – Method Man, RZA, GZA, Inspectah Deck, Cappadonna – it’s an album rooted in indifference. Even bigger shrugs are reserved for PMD’s ‘Business Mentality’. Swamped in guests – Ace Brav and RJ da Realst should really be co-headliners – and rugged beats overwhelming the solitary smooth ones, this business lacks legs to move up the ladder. An Erick Sermon appearance on the prescient ‘The Real is Gone’ fails to provide a saving grace on a project playing catch-up.

As angels and demons battle for room on his shoulders, Denzil Porter details the ‘Semantics of Mr Porter’ with Kendrick Lamar/Big Sean sensibilities, digitally precise roughhousing, mainstream accessibility with beats and hooks to hang onto, and developed narratives you might not expect after blustery opening exchanges. A new volume of ‘The Good Book’ from the collar-poppin’ Alchemst & Budgie turns the booth into a confessional for a lengthy second sermon, unofficially defined by the former reaching out to the recognised underground and the latter introducing a flock to follow up on. Flipping religious recordings and soundbites into an immaculately packaged soul-soaked baptism, Royce 5’9″, Westside Gunn & Conway, Meyhem Lauren, Durag Dynasty, Your Old Droog, Evidence and Jeremiah Jae are part of the mass chewing on titbits and spreading thoughts to take home.

 

Mixtapes

Your first stop for a commemorative throwdown, Hellee Hooper gives it some golden age largesse with Diamond D’s ‘Stunts, Blunts and Hip-Hop’ given a 25-year salute. Comprised of the usual congratulatory handshake of source material, samples and remixes, you’ll struggle to find a funkier 55 minutes this year.


Nowt on telly? Try Skipp Whitman’s shopping channel, Chairman Maf’s anarchist cookbook and Murs rewriting the classics.











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ESSENTIAL HIP-HOP REVUE
WORDS: MATT OLIVER




Singles/EPs

As the seasons change and a slightly woollier wardrobe comes into view, Rapture & Verse notes that Danny Brown has got his trademark gap tooth grin fixed, Flavor Flav is reportedly suing Chuck D in a royalty dispute, and that one-off, zillion dollar Wu-Tang album is now an eBay listing (brand new with tags, one careful owner). Representing the sound of such events slowly going haywire, Bisk & Goosewater go bobbing for battery acid beats on ‘bsidegoosevol.1’ and ‘Cream Soda’: witch doctors looking at hip-hop through the rear view mirror in pursuit of the ultimate boom bap hangover. Pete Cannon’s Luna C instrumental issuing a ‘Reality Check’ chases Roots Manuva’s ‘Witness’ down a back alley while leading a marching band on the run from banditos. With a hook having a go because it knows it’s hard enough, VersesBang’s ‘What You Think’ brings Gutta along for a ride of grimy, ghoulish trap bending everything and everyone out of shape. Walking in a London wonderland, Ty’s ‘Brixton Baby’ represents his home postcode with a feathery eyewitness account.





‘Live from the Iron Curtain’, Apathy & OC have ways of making you speak as they turn the square red, the latter upstaging the former by a nose on a funky headhunter. In their roles of ‘Wounded Healer’ and ’Galvanometer’, Opio and Homeboy Sandman prize open ears with their own medicating methods and win out with a selection of alternatives. You can’t argue with someone whose “repertoire can unhinge a reservoir”. Sandman then reprises his critter-hop role alongside Aesop Rock as ‘Triple Fat Lice’: five tracks of entertaining, endlessly quotable, maverick termite surrealism. Go ‘head and let them lay eggs in your speakers.





Don’t look down when clipping begin to ripple, ‘The Deep’ dealing in the loneliness of the life aquatic but then quickening its stroke as it potently starts to smell blood from a mile away. Jeru the Damaja and The Beatnuts’ Psycho Les as the Funky Pandas are an odd couple task force getting the job done on the stunner snythed ‘Dope Dealer’. Tuck in your napkin for Dillon and Diamond D’s ‘Black Tie Affair’: five courses you’ll easily find room for, including moreish first person script flipper ‘Femme Fatale’.


Albums

The smooth sound of your last lava lamp bubble popping, rhyme regulator Bendaddict, soul chanteuse Ella Mae and closing time producer Slim explore the properties of ‘Teal’. More than just a neo-soul filing, the trio, with nods to Jehst and Erykah Badu, happen on a chemistry wrapping a collective arm around you that autumnal types will lap up.  Dying embers hip-hop, producing plenty of heat and warmth.

A duo playing the game their own way, The Jones Brothers’ ‘Roughs with the Smooth’ is Joker Starr and AnyWay Tha God catching themselves between suave crime-solving bonnet sliders, street teachers for the people, and old London town hatchet men you shouldn’t unlock your door to. El Ay’s funk and soul is the real linchpin, providing the album’s expensively suited drama while barely breaking sweat. The ‘Two Man Band’ of Ash the Author and Krang puts the mic in a full nelson and gives ears a lesson they won’t forget in a hurry. While ATA treats the first ten rows to eight tracks of full on phlegm throttle, Krang mixes up rockers and twinkles, as the pair’s styles play off one another in a time honoured beats-and-rhymes system. Anything but two-bob.





It’s a typical day in the office for Action Bronson when he starts stacking his new brand of ‘Blue Chips 7000’. Force of personality plays a comic book hero only normally found in fan fiction, wielding outrageous one liners, a Rick Ross collabo and yacht-shot funkiness that he’s either feeling or oblivious too. All of which equates to Bronson’s autopilot mode still yielding plenty of listener gains, putting hip-hop pedestrians in their place.

Handing around a helping of ‘Anchovies’, Planet Asia and Apollo Brown join forces to divide and conquer.  The former’s world-weathered flow is constantly jabbing, poking and irking you, prepared to argue whether night follows day. The latter gently rocks back and forth, unconcerned with arguing the toss upon inhaling old vinyl dust, asleep with one eye open so you never write him off. A soul go-slow with cat-like reflexes.

Next to alter the axis of those thinking they don’t like hip-hop is Grieves. Melodic and chart friendly without overdoing the softener, the Seattle emcee reaches into the realms of Mac Miller and Brother Ali on ‘Running Wild’ with lightness of flow that can still mean something to make him Rhymesayers through and through. Swedish producer Chords is in his corner, laying down sun-blushed synths and live funk using a most modern urban lounge filter.

Confused about ‘The World Today’? Wordsworth’s your man for a concise breakdown, articulating the everyday as a keynote speaker and bringing enough entertainment to steady the undiluted truths. Sam Brown on production clocks in with exactly what the emcee needs: chest beaters, daggers to the heart, and, as per Wordsworth’s flow carrying a spirited edge pledging “holy matrimony with the audience”, assurances that everything’s gonna be alright even when the chips are down.





Northern dramatists Ceiling Demons bring an interesting thespian element to the game on ‘Nil’, a folk-influenced performance quaffing from a psychedelic cauldron. Rhymes are recitals (but not your oik-ish street poet, think more Ed Scissor & Lamplighter educated by Blackadder), and beats paint pictures of royalty trying to resist the ravages of dread and paranoia, rather than just throwing the emcees a loop. Living and dying by their definition of the dark arts, this will greatly benefit your gramophone.

Wiki’s observation that there’re ‘No Mountains in Manhattan’ should land him a top 10 spot come the end of the year. An aggressive flow that the Ratking member fine tunes into a melodic, sometimes mindful set of skewers, has the keys to a fertile carnival of sound that’s a long way from the candy floss and celebration remit, plus spots from Ghostface and Your Old Droog. Sending out an S-O-S of licks, plucks, squalls and keys, live quartet Son of Sam have got the goods to get a bevy of celebrated underground heroes on board. The team assembled to ascend ‘Cinder Hill’ – J-Live, Masta Ace, Sadat X, Prince Po, Guilty Simpson,  Soundsci and more – keeps the hip-hop band template fresh, funky and nimble at every turn, though rather for the great outdoors, they build a fortress of solitude that’s all killer and “raw like Eddie in a leather suit”.





Another month, another heist involving Giallo Point, this time fronted by the plucky PhybaOptikz, a babyface assassin in a pair of Air Max charged with half inching the ‘Voynich Manuscript’. As ever the beats’ mob connections go all the way to the top, with Farma G and Sonnyjim accessories to the firm. Brandishing the jolliest of hockey sticks, noble B-boys Elemental and Dr Syntax are the voice of The Menagerie, a four man funtime team of English pleasantries going hunting for the ‘Odd Beast’. Crystal clear conversation set to super spiffy beats putting the awe in roaring 40s, only step to these toffs if you think you’ve got the teeth to tackle their upper crust.

Ready to smack the monocle off your boat, Legion of Goon’s ‘Project Goon’ plonks the truth out there with a smash and grab of double ‘ard bastard beats and rhymes that are “British like fish and chips” and certified to give you spine splints. Stig of the Dump and Stu the Don blaze up to leave you fearing the beard. Not quite on Stephen King’s coattails but not without steps into darkness, Blockhead’s ‘Funeral Balloons’ signify an instrumental set of trip hop distinctions creating a loop-clearing cross section to challenge any mic contraption.





Blinders to take a peek at this month, from Stylz & Wells, Verb T and Gift of Gab.












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