As 2012 preps its best of the year runners and riders, it’s been all eyes on Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Good Kid M.A.A.D. City’ since we last spoke. The flow kind of sounds on the verge of a sharp, gum-popping intake of breath, or the trigger three quarters of the way to being pulled, before breaking out into a greasily slick swagger mixed with an eyes-open eloquence (in spite of ‘Backseat Freestyle’ opening up into what can only be described as a Cookie Monster impression). The sleazily addictive ‘Swimming Pools’ is at the front of lazy day flutters and slumps (‘Poetic Justice’ with Drake) turned into come-up-for-coffee beelines, before pulling on a mask of trap blasts and well-woven tales breaking out into a cold sweat on Compton’s streets. Dr Dre as executive producer proves this is a big deal.
Anyone who’s followed the career of Melanin 9 knows that the Londoner is forever heavy like lead, operating on the bristles of inner city hells and concrete jungles blocking all exits. The album ‘Magna Carta’ is typical of his intelligent hooliganism, physical with the weight of his blackly vivid words that as per ‘Cosmos’, are the product of a surroundings-hardened mindstate. ‘Organised Democracy’ is Mobb Deep’s ‘Cradle to the Grave’ done ten times, well, graver, while ‘Colour Blind’ spits the darkest politics to attack the spiritual. Realigning with his Triple Darkness fam and having Roc Marciano pass through over end-of-days jazz and smoked out & tinted boom-bap, pop rap will simply shit itself.
Another warpath warhead too hard to handle is Vinnie Paz, decreeing all should bow down before the ‘God of the Serengeti’. The Jedi Mind Tricker and Heavy Metal King, with his “45 calibre flow”, absolutely chews up beats fed with a fear of losing fingers by DJ Premier, Marco Polo and a string of head-banging henchmen. Scarface, Tragedy, RA the Rugged Man and Kool G Rap are on ammunition assistance leading the Sicilian’s massed ranks of rebounders, and any moments stepping off the gas, such as the likes of ‘Last Breath’, have the good grace to allow you one last Hail Mary. Never mess with anyone who stays “on point like a pencil sharpener”.
Rapture & Verse apologises for its tardiness towards a couple of releases that got shoved to the side last time out. Ralph Rip Shit and Lemonface’s ‘Post Crisis: Life After 30’ is a spick and span extended play, clear-cut, name-dropping rhymes jazz-stepping on ‘Spanish Ass’ and skipping down the streets of ‘Pumpin’ before getting increasingly bristly as the package progresses, and letting the Dutch producer who is clearly big on letting drums take the lead, collect his thoughts with some additional, blues-dyed instrumentals. Main Attraktionz’ ‘Bossalinis & Fooliyones’ is a hazy Oakland swagger of show and prove softened when caught in the mists of what’s being referred to as ‘cloud rap’ – synthetically fluffy and sounding like a place where thugs disconnect. Not for everyone, what with Squadda B and Mondre MAN rhyming with heavy eyelids given the surroundings, but the easy funking gives it a better-than-most shot at widescale appeal.
What else is fresh for picking off the grapevine? Take your pick from Kid Rock’s son Robert James Ritchie Jr launching a rap career, or, as per the habit of mismatches this year, Miley Cyrus knocking about with Pharrell and Tyler the Creator perhaps. Spinning more sanely on the rumour mill, El-P is to release an instrumental accompaniment to ‘Cancer 4 Cure’, this month’s cover star Nas will have ‘Illmatic’ brought back as a deluxe edition target for time capsules, going with the Wu-Tang’s latest souped up package of the month – this one is RZA’s ‘The Man with the Iron Fists’ - and ?uestlove is to put the ‘kids don’t know their history’ gripe into practice by teaching ‘classic album courses’ at NYU. Hip-hop won’t leave home without its camcorder at the moment as Stones Throw take you behind the scenes of Peanut Butter Wolf world: ‘Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton’ is an insight that can hardly fail to be honest, especially with PBW’s previous form on the Stones Throw 101 compilation, though asking for heads to chip in for extra production costs is either the shrewdest of fan appeals or a slap in the face for long-time followers.
Will C’s ‘Eli’s Prism’, a retro-leaning beats and rhymes showcase whetting appetites brought up on golden-dusted drum loops, psychedelic drip-feeds and humble/magnificent lyrical snap, features Raydar Ellis, 7L & Esoteric and Blacastan helping out on a quality boombox blast. Hipsters, get your heads clumped in a Boston B-boy stance. Z-Trip’s London-rocking ‘Sound & Vision’ may have missed the Olympics boat and given Danny Boyle something to think about with its shellacking of an intro, but is a mosh-ready, balls out mash-up veering into the unpredictable with the twiddling action of an impatient radio listener, from the Pistols to Public Enemy, Bowie to dubstepped Bob Marley. Could be a laugh come New Year’s. Wiz Khalifa’s ‘Cabin Fever 2’ mixtape strolls through with so-what brags and tokes on the go-slow – who knew he owned so many cars and jewels? The sort of trap music boasting until it sounds bored with its own wealth, in parts it is sneakily appealing with its what-you-see-is-what-you-get methodology.
No they’re not a Christmas gift system wishing its senders good tidings, but London crew and studio squatters Thank You Machine offer the smooth and soul-blessed with something ziggy on the ‘Between the Lines’ EP, with added Jehst and Jyager chip-ins. Christened by the same riddler, Numbers Not Names are a US-UK-France alliance grinding their way through opaque hip-hop trials and instrumental grudges, industrially-coated and not for those with a happy pills prescription. ‘What’s the Price?’ is an LP worth a punt if you’re one of the us-versus-them coalition who enjoys the rusted plains of the leftfield underground. Yungun aka Essa makes a welcome return by declaring ‘Time for Something New!’; while catching you off guard with a starting cocktail of busy broken beat, the flow is as irrepressible as ever, the Waajeed-produced ‘Panache’ making you dig out your copies of ‘The Essance’ again, followed by a hook-up with Skinnyman and Inspectah Deck and some typical grown man smoothness.
This month’s prizes for your eyes are: MF Doom on an art attack, Robust redirecting from Wigan Casino, Dee-1 laying down the ghetto gospel, Hint & Profisee inviting you to a chin-wag, and Yung Chamberlain reppin’ Milwaukee over a classic, dinky riff boom.
Words by Matt Oliver