February 22nd- Gaika- Security

Security is the 2nd album from Brixton MC Gaika and the second album he has released for free after previous effort Machine.

 Gaika’s sound is a sound of darkness taking in a mix of grime, dancehall, time stretched vocals and deep bass. Lyrically he sets out to portray the dark underside of London alongside lust and emotion.

 The opening spoken word intro followed by the exceptional GKZ with its slowed down trap drum rolls and dancehall vocals are as an exciting start to any album released this year. Both tracks plunge you into a London of darkness where getting drunk as fuck is a way to deal with the horrors and violence that surround you.

 Throughout the album Gaika employs vocoders and auto-tuned vocals to brilliant effect distorting and twisting his vocals into something which again reflects the darkness of the city around him and the stories he is telling.  These techniques are brilliantly in effect on the dancehall inspired and lust driven Buta, which features MC Serocee and is perhaps one of the strongest tracks on Security.

 Meanwhile White Picket Fences deals with wealth inequality, lack of political representation and social injustice, it’s a stark closing track to the album and takes on many of the lyrical themes of someone like Akala. It’s perhaps worth noting that thematically Security is the perfect partner to Babyfather’s album BBF with both portraying the dark side of London life in a way that doesn’t rely on road MCs.

 Much of the brilliance of Security is found not only within Gaika’s lyrics but within the beats employed throughout the album, which are heavy, bass-y and dark they come across like a slowed down version of trap and dancehall and provide the album with a claustrophobic feeling. You can easily imagine Gaika is a big fan of The Bug.

 Grime is currently going through a huge boom period as everyone from Skepta to Novelist and Stormzy gain commercial attention. However, none of them sound like Gaika. This is a real credit to the Brixton MC he has found his own style and flow tied much closer to Dancehall than UK Garage, and it works.

 Background sound and noise are equally important on Security this is most obvious on Knuckleduster where strange noises pop off behind what might be the heaviest bass on any release this year. Everything is brilliantly employed though to feel the full impact of the production you’ll need a good set of headphones.

 Much like London itself Security is an album that is dark, beautiful and frightening. It is a stunning release from Gaika and further proof that the UK’s MCs are diversifying, growing and producing some truly stand out albums. The fact that Gaika has made this release available for free is an even greater incentive for owning a copy.

Get your free Gaika download here- http://www.mixpakrecords.com/gaika/

 

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April 15th- J Dilla- The Diary

In 2006 Hip-hop lost one of its true innovators. J Dilla’s productions took a cut and paste approach to fracturing old school soul with a modern hip hop twist, the resulting productions were near perfect and inspired everyone from Kanye to Kendrick. However, things could have been very different Dilla had submitted to his label and intended his first release to be an album of him rapping over other people’s beats. The album, the Diary, was rejected by his label and Dilla went off to California to become the underground cult figure hip hop fell in love with.

After his death J Dilla’s mum has taken over the management of his estate, setting up in his memory the J Dilla Foundation. The trust works to tackle lupus, the condition which took Dilla’s life, most of the profits from these posthumous releases are ploughed back into the foundation. This nobility comes despite the Yancey family’s relative poverty (they still live in the Detroit ghetto, his mum is still a health care assistant and his daughters live on welfare). The words Mothers’ Pride therefore best describe how Dilla’s estate has been managed. Care has been taken to release recordings as he would have wanted them and not to be seen to be riding the Tupac train to wealth and fame.

From the outset of The Diary the care taken to get this right is obvious. The release itself was delayed on many occasions. Things sound as you would expect from a Dilla rap release and that is of great relief to many, but is simply preserving a legacy enough?

The album’s opening track The Introduction is a strong opener first premiered by Zane Lowe and made track of the week by Pitchfork. This was clearly with good reason as it stands out as one of the best moments on The Diary.

Fuck The Police Dilla’s classic track originally released in 2001 appears here and is as incendiary and brilliant as when first heard. After receiving a lack of airplay due to the events of September 11th and then going out of print. It is a welcome appearance for this track, one which fans will fall in love with again and will grab newcomers’ ears.

Several of the tracks on The Diary have been previously leaked this includes stand out Diamonds, however despite audiences having heard them before these tracks appear stronger and even more exhilarating in a polished and finished form. And perhaps this is one thing worth noting, compared to his own productions Dilla’s The Diary is much more polished and clean in sound. This, however isn’t a criticism as The Diary was always intended to be a big budget hip hop release with big name producers instead of Dilla himself working on each track. The fact The Diary pulls off its big budget sound whilst retaining underground credentials is a credit to everyone involved in the project.

Some of the verses such as those by Snoop on Gangsta Boogie have been added after Dilla’s passing, however, unlike releases by Biggie et al, these verses do not feel jarring and out of place. If you can think of a better guest rapper for the G Funk inspired Gangsta Boogie than Snoop please let me know. That is perhaps the strongest compliment which can be paid to The Diary everything feels just right, for a release Dilla had wanted to put out himself, his mum and friends have got things spot on.

Despite its many highlights The Diary is not however Donuts (Dilla’s modern classic and cult album) but it does act as a fitting tribute to his legacy. Not only that but a fitting tribute, which may grab some new fans and throw some spotlight on Yancey’s often forgotten lyrical skills. Legacy preserved? And then some.

 

If you feel like checking out a great cause because it’s not all about music:

http://jdillafoundation.org/

April 8th- DJ Rashad- Afterlife

 

Two years ago electronic music and the Chicago Footwork Scene was shocked by the sudden death of pioneer and focal point DJ Rashad. Since his passing there have been various tribute albums including one independently released by the producer Machinedrum and the compilation Next Life by label Hyperdub. However, Afterlife, is the first release since DJ Rashad’s death to feature DJ Rashad on every track and to some extent forms a Rashad album.

Excitingly Afterlife is also the first release on the newly formed Tek Life label, which is to be run by the Chicago based crew of producers and dancers known by the same name. For those who are uninitiated Chicago Footwork is a sample heavy aggressive and fractured form of house, which has become the soundtrack in Mid-Western American Cities to Footwork Dance Battles. Due to the tight nature of the scene and its main players’ relative poverty actual releases, compilations and international appearances have been sporadic and mostly supported by the labels Planet MU and Hyperdub. Though now with the founding of the Tek Life label, this Afterlife album and DJ Spinn’s recent tours, the wider world may be ready to eventually discover Footwork.

The sound, aggression and darkness of Footwork can most closely be compared to 90s Jungle. This similarity is so close that many Footwork producers have been turning their hand to Jungle samples and tracks in recent years. Indeed on Afterlife this can be seen on the track Come Close and it is on tracks like this, which crossbreed various genres that Footwork feels both more experimental and yet somehow ready for mainstream consumption.

To say that Afterlife goes in hard would be an understatement, since these beats were made for dance battles the album is full of energy. Nearly every member of the Chicago scene has a guest spot on the release: DJ Spinn, Taso, Traxman, DJ Paypal, Gant-Man and DJ Manny, all the main players are present and correct. Seemingly making this album not just a DJ Rashad (tribute) album  but also a mission statement that this is Footwork and we are Footwork.

Roll Up that Loud and Get Fuk’d Up are thrilling starts to the album with Roll Up that Loud being a particular highlight with its seemingly jungle-esque drum rolls. Get Fuk’d Up is slower and more mournful and perhaps highlights what made DJ Rashad stand out as a producer, his ability to keep a crowd hyped whilst also introducing mournful beats, which have come from a dark place. It’s these tracks, which are most often the highlight of Afterlife and serve to remind us of what could have been.

The real highlight though is the jungle-aping Come Close, which features a grab bag of RnB samples, jungle beats and almost Aphex Twin-esque drum loops. It’s nothing short of thrilling and brilliant and goes to prove that away from EDM the American underground can produce truly experimental electronic music.

Oh God brilliantly sounds like Footwork if it appeared in a film scored by John Carpenter with dark synths and strange noises. You can almost envision an impending gun fight in a dark  rainy city-scape.

There is rarely a dull track on Afterlife and the album takes in so many twists, turns and samples that each listen is exciting and leaves you fired up for the dance floor. Afterlife is not just a fittingly tribute to DJ Rashad but a stand out release to launch a label with, welcome to the world Tek Life.

 

 

 

 

April 1st 2016- Babyfather- DJ Escrow Presents BBF

Dean Blunt is a difficult bastard. Contrary to the point of impossible. Thriving off of conflict. His albums are built around fractured sound intent on putting off his listener. And Blunt employs all of these techniques fully and wonderfully on this Babyfather album.

Babyfather’s album DJ Escrow presents BBF sounds like many things all at once: a grime mixtape, the soundtrack to a Kidulthood style movie and the most fucked up pirate radio station to ever air. There are a multiplicity of sounds taking place throughout each track, which means that repeated listening is required to make the experience rewarding. It is of course worth noting that as this is Dean Blunt repeated listening is difficult as Blunt has set out to challenge and aggressively confront the listener.

Much of the album’s subject matter deals with the state of being young and Black in Britain today. However, Blunt doesn’t just reach the usual conclusion of it’s tough and everyone is against you. But instead aggressively attacks black youth for lacking cohesion and losing their way and for turning repeatedly to almost tragically comic violence. This criticism is also volleyed at the door of the Grime music industry with pot shots taken at its lifestyle and MCs including Wiley. Much of this is revealed through the skits between each track which are garbled out in distorted machine-like voices that sound as if they have come from a Garage MCs nightmares.

DJ Escrow presents BBF also includes a sizeable amount of mocking gunshots and sirens ring out regularly you sense Blunt has included them as a send up more than anything else. There is both real anger and mocking in the presentation of this record.

There are, however, real moments of beauty such as Meditation and Motivation though Blunt rarely lets these tracks develop and build beyond a couple of minutes length before plunging the listener back into an urban hell. Several tracks consist of white noise, feedback, bass and MC shout outs yelled over the top, you’d think based on these tracks that Blunt has got himself a weekend job with the C.I.A.

The aggression and sense of challenge presented by Blunt on this record is however all part of the brilliance of the experience and after several listens you come away with these sense that Babyfather have produced a record which approaches and sums up very differently Britain’s current urban landscape. Coming out as it does a few weeks after Kano’s brilliant Made in the Manor. You are left feeling that British MCs and Urban producers are finally finding a voice and moving away from simple Road jams.

If you like a challenge and enjoy the music of Arca, Kanye West’s most recent albums or anything Dean Blunt has previously put out then this is for you. But if you don’t want to approach music with an open mind and some patient repeat listening then I would advise you avoid the thrilling challenge of DJ Escrow presents BBF.

Tunes of the month- March 2016

  1. Chemical Brothers- Wide Open- Released last year but with a new video this year. The video is stunningly beautiful with incredible dancing and special effects check it out below:

2. Total Science returned this month with a banging new EP, Notes of Blue, this one is certainly for all the old school drum and bass heads out there with this track Contraband being an old school jungle referencing highlight:

 

3. Venetian Snares released his new album Traditional Synthesizer Music to a luke warm reception. However the track She Married a Chess Computer in the End is an absolute banger and well worth hearing even if the rest of the album isn’t.

 

4. FKA Twigs can seemingly do no wrong at the moment and released Good to Love as a non album track at the start of this year, simple and beautiful with the video featuring stunning dancing.

 

5. Charli XcX has produced a mixed career she clearly has buckets of talent and personality but has so far produced her best work as a wirter for other artists. That could be about to change as she has been teaming up with the PC Music crew the first fruits of that partnership are the Vroom Vroom EP, experimental and exciting pop at its best. Also worth checking out is her recent collaboration with French genius Mr Oizo.

 

March 25th- SBTRKT- Save Yourself

The last few years have seen the rise of emotional RnB and Hip Hop fuelled by post dubstep beats. One of the key producers behind this sound in the UK was SBTRKT with his masterful self-titled debut album. However, the followe-up 2014’s Wonder Where We Land was a patchy effort that at times seemed repetitive and over-long.

In response to this SBTRKT’s follow up and third album Save Yourself is short, very short in fact, running at only 8 tracks. However, the flow and rapid nature of this album make it a much more enjoyable listen than Wonder Where We Land.

There’s also been some interesting changes to SBTRKT’s sound gone are the two step and dubstep influenced beats in their place are synthy trance stabs, they are a welcome change. And one which given the rise of Arca, Rustie et al is well planned. The best example of this new string to SBTRKT’s bow is the delicious sounding Gemini which kicks off proceedings.

The rest of the album like past efforts sees SBTRKT rely on guest vocals this time mostly from the soon to be huge singer The-Dream. Again the emphasis is on the emotional RnB of the Drake and Weeknd variety, however, with the additional synth stabs everything feels rather beautiful and almost dream like.

Despite The-Dream’s beautifully whispered and hushed vocals the real stand out tracks on Save Yourself are when SBTRKT goes it alone such as Gemini and Let Them In. If the mysterious producer is to continue his critical acclaim exploring this path and dropping the vocals may be the way to go.

This is a strong, lush and beautiful return to form from SBTRKT and one which deserves to be appreciated.