Ill Communication: Edition No.2
Mixtapes and the attendant culture have long been a part of hip-hop. In the hyper accelerated world of 2013 they are perhaps more important than they ever have been. There remains no better platform for new artists to get themselves noticed than placing a mixtape of all their choicest cuts online and waiting for the adulation to roll in. It's an approach that served A$AP Rocky very well with a major label deal with Sony Music following his extremely well received mixtape Live Love A$AP. Rocky's debut album proper which was released earlier this month may have been disappointingly patchy in comparison to his striking online debut but nonetheless the online mixtape had served its purpose well, it successfully positioned a genuinely new breakthrough hip-hop star.
As January concludes and we head into February, we have already enjoyed a number of excellent mixtapes. Perhaps the single best piece of music to emerge in January though was a new track from a forthcoming mixtape by Julian Malone. Malone is a rapper and producer who can do it all. Hailing from Chicago, Malone made his name in 2012 as a member of idiosyncratic Chicago collectives Brkf$t Club and 2008ighties. Brkf$t Club's 2012 debut single 'The Following' is a brilliantly inventive piece which samples Brooklyn indie band Grizzly Bear, an indication that Malone is a producer and rapper who is entirely unconcerned with prevailing hip-hop trends.
Now signed to esteemed label Stones Throw, Malone is subtly crafting some of the classiest and most satisfying hip-hop around, rich in texture and musical dexterity. '7 Milli' was the first track unveiled ahead of his forthcoming diff.rnt mixtape and if that track's beguiling smokey soul was not enough he has arguably bettered it with 'Give An Eff'. The beat here is slowed down to a submerged somnambulant lurch while Malone's rhymes and flow provide the striking contrast. This is the sound of someone at the very peak of his powers. Expect to hear a lot more from Julian Malone in the very near future.
New York rapper Le1F has already established himself as someone taking hip-hop to a very different and intriguing place. Leaving behind any notion of a classic sound Le1F is more content venturing into more electronic and abstract pastures. Some of the beats on his latest mixtape Fly Zone are mind-bendingly brilliant. You can't quite place the sound but at times, it is breathlessly exciting. On the jittery airbending produced by LOLGurlz, Le1F positions himself as something akin to rap's mad scientists as he raps: "I'm an alchemist playing with these elements" before chastising his audience who are more concerned with his sexuality, "I am whatever you say I am, stop worrying how gay I am, or how gay I'm not." The rest of the tracks veer wildly from trap rave club bangers to slightly unsettling, slow-burning warped lullabies, as on Pocahontas featuring Kitty Pryde where Le1F's vocals are ever so slightly creepy and brilliantly sleazy. Fly Zone helps to confirm Le1F's as one of contemporary hip-hop's most compelling and unique voices.
Elsewhere, there have been notable mixtapes from Gunplay, Rockie Fresh and Raekwon that are all very much worth exploration. On a home-grown tip Tape One by Edinburgh trio Young Fathers is a significant progression. Finally, given a full release on Anticon it is 8 tracks of deep and dark dystopian hip-hop, the party vibe of their earliest material has given way to paranoia and brimming tension. Check out the albums highlight 'Rumbling', queasy to the point of collapse it is a subtly menacing evocation of the doleful mundanity of a Britain trapped in the grip of recession and the tensions that it provokes. It's great to hear one of the UK's best hip-hop talents finally reaching a wider audience.
Finally for this month a couple of sweet and soulful jams. Sacramento rapper Chuuwee is very raw and rough around the edges but 'World Is Mine', produced by Beat 4 Clothes, is a real joy. Piano, strings and lovely soulful horns combine to make a wonderfully uplifting track.
Equally as soulful is 'N The Traffic' a collaboration by Droop-E, J Stalin and, most surprisingly, electro pop artist Nite Jewel. It is an utterly gorgeous slow jam, dreamy, reflective and quite lovely.
The past month has been rather a tumultuous time for hip-hop. It has been a month that has featured three very different landmark hip-hop releases. Kanye West's much anticipated Yeezus astounded and disgusted in almost equal measure. With trademark hubris and a complete disregard for convention, Kanye delivered a dense, sonically thrilling album that sounded like hip-hop from another planet. At times, it sounds brutal and primeval. Kanye's voice sounds permanently on edge and fevered. [read more]
In something of a left over from last month that was unfortunately superseded by the not inconsiderable presence of Ghostface Killah, comes Kool AD and Kass Overall who have joined forces as Kool & Kass for the supremely good mixtape Peaceful Solutions. This month Ill Communication also explores Underworld Dust Funk/Kool & Kass/Tony Touch/Thurz/Spec Boogie and Young Fathers. [read more]
Hip-Hop's astonishing rise to prominence as arguably the preeminent musical and cultural phenomenon of the late 80s and 90s was founded on the importance of collectives. Scenes coalesced around key figures and labels. From the Dr Dre led West Coast G Funk sound, to the East Coast milieu centred around The Notorious B.I.G and carried on by the likes of Jay-Z. [read more]
The relationship between rapper and producer is at the heart of almost all great hip-hop. The symbiotic ability of producers to align their beats perfectly with some of hip-hop's most talented and expressive rhyme exponents has given us a long list of notable partnerships throughout hip-hop's history. From Eric B and Rakim to El-P and Killer Mike rap partnerships have an innate sense of power and grace. In this same esteemed lineage comes Low Fidelity, High Quality by Ta-Ku and Rashaan Ahmad. [read more]