‘LMPD’ is a startling opener to Simz' new masterpiece 'Stillness In Wonderland' — she’s got a band together as good as Badu on ‘Ankh’ but there’s something bleaker about what they create for Simz here, both lush as a picture-postcard but shot through with the rainy grit of this dirty auld isle. So even though the lyrics seek spiritual connection with Nina Simone and Maya Angelou there’s no faux-Americanisms ever in Simz music, there’s the charting of a black British female space that’s uniquely Simz’ and previously almost entirely unmapped. Simz Music is the only genre this fits in. Must be a star by the year's end or UK music's racism and sexism is confirmed for all time.
'A Protagonist Life: Unscrambling Africa'
While we’re in the windy-city do try and tap into this nutter’s discography on Bandcamp. There’s over 150 drops on there but this, his latest, demonstrates a knack for addictively monomaniacal boombap production and verbals that combine a Wu-style unstoppable surrealism with sporadic agit-prop interrogations of orientalism, colonialism and the endless tendrils of racism’s growth and spread. You don’t want to get cornered by this guy though you might want to subscribe to his newsletter. Make sure you know where the exits are.
'Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often'
Mello Music Group
2013’s stunning 'Ghost At The Finish Line' and last year’s 'Lullabies For The Broken Brain' should’ve hipped you that QC is one of the most riveting voices and visions in US hip-hop this decade — this new drop is sparser, sharper, like a step back from a big-band brashness to a tight little quartet. He’s got the same kind of unhinged freedom of thought as a Kool Keith but there’s none of the hysteria or extremity, just a gentle street-level bemusement that suits the downtempo vibe perfectly. A reminder that the steel-mesh need not always be rattled by volume, can also be spoken to with the gentleness of a dictaphone diary or an intercom into a rubber-room. Outsider-music that happens to be hip-hop.
KAZI & MADLIB
Kazi and Madlib recorded the 'Blackmarket Seminar' album way back in 1996 but it’s remained entirely unreleased until now — unfathomable given how Madlib’s profile has grown so much since but deeply gratifying that Below System are finally giving it the remaster and release it deserves. Yes, this title-track is from deep in the phantom ‘golden age’ but truth be told it sounds anything but dated. Kazi’s raw talent and Madlib’s developing skills find themselves in perfect symbiosis — the result is a track that’s dark, grainy, deeply funky and could’ve been recorded last week. Get drenched.
'Coolie High Is Life'
Nigh-on 20 years since ‘Uptown Saturday Night’ first blew our minds with Camp Lo’s unique walk and talk — the 'On The Way Uptown' collection of demos and rarities from their early years impossibly manages to build the intrigue about this great lost zenith of '90s hip-hop. This is the highlight. Ski on the beats and loops and that remarkable singularity of sound is there from the off, Sonny Cheeba and Geechi Suede already discovering their utterly idiosyncratic way with fucked-up syntax and word-wrangling. Alongside Das Efx, a reminder of a time when oddity of sound and vision was prized by B-Boys. Essential.
'Slow Your Roll'
Timely reish of a long-disappeared 2004 corker from this LA three-piece: think the terpsichorean twistedness of a Pharcyde combined with the thoughtful darkness of the criminally forgotten second Dream Warriors album ‘Subliminal Simulation’. Unlike so many of the West Coast’s noughties retronauts ‘Slow Your Roll’ doesn’t just retrieve old motifs (like say Ugly Duckling and Jurassic 5 did), it takes on the spirit of late '80s/early '90s Native-Tongues hip-hop and finds its own supremely wobbly way of walking forth. Boy howdy it immediately.
VIC SPENCER X BIG GHOST LTD.
'The Ghost Of Living'
The diametrical opposite to Chief Keef presents another side to Chi-town hip-hop: 'The Ghost Of Living' is a collaboration with Big Ghost Ltd, a producer best known thus far for his work with Westside Gunn and Conway on the astonishing 'Griselda’s Ghost' from last year. This is Spencer’s second drop in two months after November’s startling 'St Gregory' mixtape. Great sonics from Big Ghost, crisp murkage shot through with a real vintage jazzy tone and Vic spends much of his time infuriating any other rapper within earshot. Cop it as soon as you can.
Mello Music Group
Woah — if last year’s utterly divine ‘Alwasta’ set was proof that Brooklyn’s Oddissee was a lot less interested in underground appeal than he was in taking conscious rap overground again then ‘The Iceberg’ doesn’t just crossover, it stakes out its own turf with lines deep as oceans and beats so immediate you could almost call them radio-friendly. Hats off to him, and MMG for crafting such exquisite pop without the overthink that so often accompanies underground hip0hop. No reason on Earth this can’t be the year Oddissee becomes a star.
Sneaking out near the end of 2016 this engrossing cassette-only release could be seen as an equally great companion piece to that other instrumental hip-hop masterpiece of last year, The Gaslamp Killer’s astonishing 'Instrumentalepathy'. The kind of crepuscular, odd, time-sig fuckery you suspect Boards Of Canada would make if they were asked to create a hip-hop. You won’t even think about sellotaping over the holes. Superb.