Normally, this column is more concerned with underground, unheralded and experimental exponents of hip-hop. Sometimes though, there are records by legendary figures that are impossible to ignore. The new record by Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge is one of those records.
Twelve Reasons To Die is without doubt one of the hip-hop LPs of the year so far. Executive produced and narrated by RZA and entirely arranged, produced and composed by Adrian Younge, a visionary LA based psychedelic soul producer, it is a concept album that subverts hip-hop's traditional norms into something far greater and grander. Ghostface Killah has always been one of hip-hop's foremost storytellers and the albums conceptual theme sees him taking on the character of Tony Starkes. Starkes is an enforcer for DeLuca crime family in 1960s Italy. Starkes is murdered by the family after flouting their rule and falling in love with the daughter of the family's head. As told by the portentous narration Starkes' remains are melted in vinyl and are pressed in 12 LPs that when played together result in the resurrection of the fabled Ghostface Killah as told in the brilliantly referential album highlight 'Rise Of The Ghostface Killah'. Ghostface's desire for revenge and redemption characterises the album's stunning final half.
The secret of Twelve Reasons To Die's success is that it is a hip-hop LP that sounds quite unlike anything else. It's more musical, more refined and beautifully compelling. The album represents Younge's first foray into rap production and he brings an array of soulful sounds and skilful musicianship to complement Ghostface's intense rhymes. Younge's film composing background allows him to give each song a stirring sense of grandeur whether it's through using rousing horns, organs and string sections or paring thing's back to a malevolent and sinister hum each song creates its own unique atmosphere. This is an album influenced equally by Wu-Tang and Morricone. The album features the usual array of Wu-Tang members and affiliates with appearances from U-God, Masta Killa, Cappadonna and Inspectah Deck. However, it's a guest appearance from William Hart, vocalist with legendary LA soul group The Delfonics, which is most arresting. His high tremulous voice coupled with piercing organ gives 'Enemies All Around Me' a haunting quality.
The relationship between Ghostface and the assorted rappers rhymes and Younge's peerless arrangements are what marks Twelve Reasons To Die out as a landmark release. Everything here is carefully considered and expertly realised. It's a joy to hear an ambitious hip-hop LP that sounds so organic. There are no computerised beats here or futuristic flourishes. This is a hip-hop LP of dizzying ambition.
Carrying on the theme of returning legendary figures is Run The Jewels. The relationship between Killer Mike and EL-P had already been established wonderfully on last year's outstanding EL-P produced Killer Mike album R.A.P. Music. On 'Get It', they take that relationship and brutally take it on to the next level. Over a dirty punishing electronic beat the two rappers exchange two verses of the most visceral and intense hip-hop you could care to find. These are two men at the very peak of their powers. It's a base level aggression that distils the primal thrill of hip-hop and rhyme into three intense minutes. The final verse from EL-P expertly sums up Run The Jewel’s opening salvo: "Some men are meant for the light to be shined outta shitty talking, ya'll better off trying to hide like the yay in a little pocket, we're overly fucking awesome / they watch and adopt our concepts the squawk at the Run the Jewels squad, we skin 'em then cop a coffin." The duo, who take their name after a line in LL Cool J's Cheesy Rat Blues, promise a free downloadable LP this summer. In addition to this they are touring across the US with Despot and Kool AD. An outstanding line up if ever there was one.
Elsewhere this month, much championed by Ill Communication Chicago resident Chance The Rapper has released his long anticipated mixtape Acid Rap. Featuring contributions from Action Bronson, Ab-Soul, and Childish Gambino, it highlights Chance's boundless personality and his desire to make weirded out idiosyncratic hip-hop that is still eminently accessible. NaNa featuring Action Bronson is one of the mixtape's prime cuts.
Finally, for this month comes 'Yacht Lash' by Harry Fraud. Featuring Earl Sweatshirt and Riff Raff it's a quite brilliant example of why the Brooklyn producer is in such high demand. That swirling mix of strung out trippy ambience and jittery percussion provides the backing for an excellent Earl verse before the whole thing picks up a gear upon Riff Raff's jumped-up entrance. The track will appear on a forthcoming 5-track EP entitled Scion A/V Presents: High Tide, which will be released on 7th May (Editors Note: Download it here).
Head here to read the previous edition of Ill Communication.