It seems like anyone can make hip hop today; it's pretty much everywhere and it's arguably the most popular genre on the planet. You get dance artists producing songs for rappers (A-Trak) and you get arty rock singer songwriters featuring on rappers albums (St. Vincent). It's a genre that can be crossed over to very easily, however, just because it can be done easily doesn't mean to say it's always going to be good. Ideas are one thing but turning those ideas into a great output is not normally achieved. This brings us to Quakers, a hip-hop project fronted by Geoff Barrow of Portishead fame, he is helped in production by long time collaborators Ashley Anderson (Katalyst) and Stuart Matthews (7-Stu-7). The three of them have managed to rope together 35 MC's from around the world to feature on this release which is 41 songs deep (skits included). Sayings like “twos company threes a crowd” or “too many cooks spoil the broth” are not to be used here as Barrow has pulled off an old school hip-hop release with sturdy roots from the underground scene.
The rappers used for Quakers are not household names or the hottest new things on the block, these are just guys (and one girl) who are hungry to wax lyrical on tracks. You may have heard of a few of them (Dead Prez, Aloe Blacc, Guilty Simpson), but the majority are new MC's looking for a start. Apparently Barrows trawled through the internet and emailed potential collaborators for this project and didn't even tell them about his musical past. They didn't jump aboard the project for money, they did it to showcase their skills. No sing-a-long hooks are used by anyone, these are just straight freestyle verses full of memorable one liners that you'll repeat to yourself when you listen to the album more and more.
The formula of production has an underground feel to it. Beats are heavy in bass and have thunderous snare hits, there is also a common use of samples throughout the album which a preferably orchestral or spoken ones. You don't get the feeling that the same beat is being recycled from one rapper to the next, so it's hard to pin down a particular style that Barrow and company have used for Quakers. However you get the feeling between the three of them, they know their hip-hop, and have been following it for a very long time. You get that golden age feeling in some tracks ('What Chew Want') and you get g-funk in others ('Smoke'). It's a wonderfully crafted blend of styles.
One complaint about Quakers can be that it could have been halved, album length-wise, and then the songs could have been longer. There is no doubt that the quality is there in every song, but when looking at the tracklisting and seeing 41 songs, it can be quite off putting. This also makes each track very short, and there are times when you're just starting to get into a song and then it finishes. You barely have enough time to appreciate an MC's flow or lyrical content as songs are over as quickly as they've begun. This is sometimes quite irritating as there are a lot of talented underground rappers contributing to the album which you want to hear more of, but unfortunately don't.
You need to think of Quakers as more of a mixtape then a full album. It's like a mixtape without DJ Kayslay screaming down the microphone at every intro and outro of a song. Quakers was a hip hop experiment created by Barrow and company for fun, and its actually turned out to be pretty special. It's a collection of songs created for true fans of hip hop, it's for those people who still play Paid In Full in the CD player of their car, or the people who still believe KRS-One will always be unbeatable in battle mode. This is recommended for purists of the genre, a fun throwback which won't be imitated again this year.