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

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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