Rapture & Verse flies down the chimney, makes a grab for the mince pies and stuffs stockings with introductory titbits and tales of Cannibal Ox reuniting, Das Racist parting ways, Lil Wayne considering retirement, Cash Money Records breaking the 500 million song sales mark, Dr Dre officially being very rich indeed, and DJ Nu-Mark unveiling one of the greatest looking USB plug-ins of all time. As for this cover image... regardless of whether The Game is a massive fan of the Lethal Weapon series, whoever was heading the art direction on this, ahem, semi-official-looking compilation needs to put Photoshop classes on their Christmas list.
Assuming you’ve been well behaved this year, help yourself to these mixtape and album treats. Roc Marciano is every bit the gangster on ‘Reloaded’, slickly stroking a moggy from his leather chair on some chew-on-that shit, over beats between emotional funk investment and the soundtrack to a mobsters playground. ‘Pistolier’, thanks to The Alchemist, reaches a do-or-die intensity, and ‘76’ makes a banger out of 10CC. Gutter-spattered, but never found looking or sounding anything less than sharp. Ras Kass’ ‘The Barmageddon Mixtape’ is predictably uncompromising – a beast of a guestlist, including Snoop, Evidence, Crooked I and Kendrick Lamar, agree that the only way to get things done is through a 23-track pile-on , with a from-nowhere bonus of crushing Prince’s ‘1999’. BoB has continued to prove that crossing over comes easy, so his ‘Fuck Em We Ball’ mixtape, a series of trap sluggers, shows he can sieve out the sugar and bang heads just as easily. Murs & 9th Wonder’s ‘The Final Adventure’ rides into the sunset as a crisp, soul-washed, tag-team tome true to telepathy (‘Dance With Me’ a classic Murs storyteller); in tune with Clash’s recent MPC feature, here’s 9th making beat construction look peasy.
On we go with Micall Parknsun’s ‘Me Myself and Akai’, one man and his machine bossing things with the unwavering reality that only staying true to yourself will get you anywhere. A career high from The Working Class Dad - ‘Grade & Liquor’ is serious, ‘Money in the Bag’ is a harum-scarum stick-up - putting prime bumpers against his signature lyricism with nose to the grindstone. Homegrown exiles DJ DSK and Gobshite introduce ‘The Dark Passenger’, the quintessential UK angle of sturdy boom-bap organisation and speak-your-mind flare-ups on the mic (the title track disposing of your favourite pop-rap messiahs), which does a job for bandcamp browsers. Sage Francis and Theory 77’s ‘Death Mix’ is a quick, free of charge combat of US/UK turntablism and freedom of speech, and the gravel-gargling Dutch crew Dope D.O.D. ride any style – surefire boom-bap standards rudely offered out by dubstep and industrial eruptions - like they spend their time taming mechanical bulls with a few springs loose on the scalding ‘Branded’. Fierce and focused (and on Duck Down Records no less), if your knowledge of orange-coloured hip-hop only goes as far as DJ Sven and Miker G of ‘Holiday Rap’ infamy, knuckle down and get your noggin knocked all over the shop by “the inmates that spit hate”.
HLI’s London to Birmingham space base houses the ‘Omniglyph’ package, all vectored synths, sci-fi anxiety, random gravity, rapid-fire robotics on the mic and an impressive beam-up of collaborators and remixers in Juice Aleem, Kashmere, Thavius Beck and Mike Ladd. Turns out that the Wu-Tang/D-Block merger is far from a stuffy old boys movement, sounding energised in their joining forces as ‘Wu Block’ redrafts street codes and knowledge over red carpet, payday funk with a necessary sprinkling of dirt and distrust. Not a game-changer, but an agreeable assertion of authority from the old pros. Brooklyn/Baltimore re-connection Constant Deviants are out in short sleeves and baggy shorts for the ‘Diamond’ LP, a chunky beats and rhymes observance with rugged edges and rhymer M.I. exercising a realness between Brother Ali and RA the Rugged Man.
Should you be after a playlist to drown out The Queen’s speech with, start with Duke Slammer getting square-brained with Diagnostik80 on the pixel bouncer ‘What Four?’. Speech Debelle’s dusky, classically backstreet dirge ‘Live for the Message’ is one for when the sleigh bells die down, and packs a punchy posse for the re-fix with Akala, Genesis Elijah and DELS amongst the joiners-in. Whoisparadise, MCD and J the Exodus buy thinking caps for everyone, pushing Black History on ‘247/365’, Ruthless and Jay Flames’ ‘Voodoo King’ is a guitar-burning, Jigga-sampling standout from the ‘Say Something EP’, and Roots Manuva’s minimalist ice-pick ‘Natural’ kicks up nastily from the forthcoming ‘Banana Skank’ EP. For some instrumentalism to huddle around, Handbook’s ‘Assortment’ has an easygoing glow coming out of York that leaps into life on ‘Alone’. Very useful head-nodding clobber, looping itself in the shop window. For a spot of road rap, the street and book smarts of Mic Righteous’ upcoming ‘Open Mic’ EP are an emotionally charged setting of a Kent-bred stall, peeking at mainstream possibilities while holding down a grimy bread and butter. Arguably 2012’s most addictive swaggerer, Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Swimming Pools’, gets the jets turned on it by Mighty Mi and Slugworth and their use of Major Lazer-style synths that are like lighting the brandy butter on an Xmas pudding. Also a bit more on the recently mentioned Jae Mann, who has a very useful ability to bully lung-squeezing grime rushes when not holding down laid-back rockers and trap threats in a Wiley-esque twang – ‘#Ava Word’ is a free download that you should take the man up on.
Time for a well deserved eggnog break. Have a gander at Saigon teaching lessons, Dr Syntax slumming it, Task Force spiralling, a public service announcement from KRS-ONE, RA the Rugged Man & Mac Lethal’s Christmas message, and a monster mash-up from Mister Jason. Also, stay tuned for some very important people wrapping up hip-hop in 2012 with the nimbleness of a workshop elf.
Merry Christmas one and all!
Words by Matt Oliver