High Focus Records
"Fat like an elephant's knacker". On the quiet I reckon Ocean Wisdom's 'Chaos 93' might just be the most lyrically-engaging and dazzling album that stable have given us yet. The man has SKILLS, fast, furious, ferocious, funny-as-fuck skills so natural that HF are going to be pulling tracks off to highlight every damn chance they get. 'One Take', like the rest of the album, features fantastic production from Dirty Dike, here hitching a frabjous flute-guitar jazz whorl to a solid cruising beat and then having the good sense to keep things minimal (gorgeous strings the only addition), so you have space to concentrate on OW's trails of consciousness. Already a contender for debut LP of the year. Get hip.
'Clean (feat Tory Lanez)'
In case you need guidance, a word in your shell-like. The bottom half of the internet is just as bad on supposedly hip-hop 'friendly' sites. The comments sections are places where insight is rare, consensus exerts influence, but they're a useful index of prevailing opinion. Autotune is not an issue anymore. Never even mentioned. StupidGenius would be SO much better without it. I like this Massachusetts duo's production and rhymes. They work with OG Maco, which is a good sign. This is the highlight of their 'Gamechangers' mixtape, but sheesh... the autotune everywhere, so ubiquitous we're now reaching a point where new US hip-hop sounds weird/retro without it. There are still tracks I dig it on, 'Clean' being one of them but it's that ubiquity that worries me. Willing to admit these are the complaints of an old man but I wonder whether rap has disappeared into pop already.
Kanye West feat. Kendrick Lamarr
'No More Parties In L.A'
Kanye and Kendrick's first ever collaboration, and more than worth the wait. Madlib is in on production and the result is one of the highlights of the year already. Kendrick's verse is a doozie but in a weird way I prefer Kanye's takeover — paranoid, jumpy, sketchy, malformed, 'turbo thoughts'. Behind all this id-warfare, Madlib drapes a thrumming kaleidoscope of funk, duf fx and soul dazzle that sounds like a devestating alternative to the encroaching retroism of autotune (that's the weird thing with hip-hop — in a few years autotune will doubtless sound utterly out of date). The test being, if you weren't told it was Kanye, would you listen again? Yes, without a doubt. The voice, and the words still hit with a truth. Essential.
Top Dawg Entertainment
"When I listen to the deacon say it I'm pullin' over/I've been prayin' with the reefer head, yeah/in the valley, meditatin'..." Nice booming jazz sound, heavy-hitting upright bass, a lick of Curtis, a non-stop mind and mouth in motion, a chorus that then brilliantly absconds into a near dream-state of fucked-upness, eyes heavy-lidded looking out of a car window at the rain and neon. TDE can't help themselves (do check out Ali's Throwback TDE Mixes on Soundcloud won't you, they're awesome) which makes the sporadic, sparse nature of their output a refreshing change from the glut being provided elsewhere. Hopefully from that album he promised last year. Unmissable and unmistakeable.
That many people have done one now it can only be a matter of time until it's MY turn to do a Drake diss-track. Run-of-the-mill as these have become, I'm still digging 'War Pain' if only cos it sounds so tough — perfect chassis-rumbling riddims and nothing but a drone of string, a sense of druggy doom providing the backdrop to Meek's sky-high slander and rage. It's tall as the hotel room it comes from. Meek's a rapper I never listen to lounging, or repeatedly, but the moment I hear a track it's frequently compelling — and this one actually has some limited replay value. Wins the round on points.
'Weathered/Now See Me/Tiny Sunset/Bluey'
It's odd. Though I tend to be doubtful of rapper's motives when they only rap over old-sounding music, I have no such querulous questions of motive when it comes to producers. Totally understand why they'd want to avoid the autotune trap-hell of current mainstream hip-hop production and dig back into loops and smoky beats — more often than not, they sound better. Mr Brown here drops a scintillating, utterly dated yet utterly ace four-track 7" on the inestimable King Underground and every single track is a delight, from the ravishing crepuscular funk of 'Weathered', the bumping heavy bass clarinet-laden 'Now See Me' and the gorgeous coda of 'Tiny Sunset' and 'Bluey', like Gil & Miles ditched Macero and gave Marley Marl a call. Sweet sounds.