Music Reviews

Cannibal Ox – “Cold Vein, the ” – [Definitive Jux]

Max Level   1/2/2006   12-inch, Hip Hop

Two poets from Harlem with angry, intelligent, beautiful word-ism. They craft serious urban epics with their deep story-telling. It’s so far beyond the cliches that pass for rap these days that it’s not even the same genre. El-P, ex-Company Flow, assembled the backing tracks, and they are perfect for what’s going on here. The beats are sick, hung over, lurching, with sliced-and-diced jazz riffs and sounds we have never heard before getting piled up thicker and thicker until they’re strong enough to support the weight of what the MCs are laying down. It’s the end of the rap world as we know it, and nobody feels fine.

NMS – Imperial Letters of Protection – [Ninja Tune/BigDada.com]

Hunter Gatherer   1/2/2006   CD, Hip Hop

NMS stands for Nephilim Modulation System and is comprised of Bigg Jus (formerly of Company Flow) and Orko Elohiem. This release, their second effort, was released 10/18/05 by Big Dada, an offshoot of Ninja Tune.

I was very excited when I picked this CD up from my mail slot saw the UFOs blasting peasants on the cover, the alien on the CD (judging from the height and nose, I believe it to be a Type B Grey), and the reference to Nephilim. Nephilim are a race mentioned in ancient texts thought to be either the offspring of fallen angels and human females (based on a loose reading of the Bible) or extraterrestrials (by wishful-thinking UFO buffs). Goliath and Gilgamesh were both Nephilim.

Then my heart sank as I opened the CD insert and realized that this is a Political CD with a capital P.

These guys believe that the White House was controlling the planes on 9/11, one of the most idiotic and dishonorable statements I’ve ever read. The rest of the writings on the insert read like a LiveJournal entry written by a college sophomore shortly after buying a book of Tom Tomorrow cartoons at Borders and reading it over a caramel Frappuccino at Starbucks.

The back story on these guys is that they moved from NYC to Georgia after 9/11 where they issue their abstract hip hop with the hope of raising the consciousness of the masses.

Listening to the CD it is clear that the musicality is secondary to the message that they want to get across, and the music suffers for it. The beats are angry and loud with tinges of metal or jazz. Samples from the news and other spoken sources are dropped in giving some songs a Negativland sort of effect. The rhymes are powerful but too far down in the mix for how fast they are rapping. The production is a little rough in parts, and it’s generally hard to make out more than half of what is being said with the exception of the occasional expletive.

The most interesting beats come toward the end of the CD on Seraphim Revolver (10) and Hold The Atmosphere (11).

What NMS spends 50 minutes trying to convey with their apocryphal, political rhymes, Stevie Wonder manages to say perfectly in just ten words: Sleepers keep on sleeping/’cause it won’t be too long.

Language: 2-5, 8-10, 13

Instrumentals: 7 (with vocal sample), 12 (careful: it tracks immediately into the MF word on 13)

–Hunter Gatherer

Edit 2/3/06: Corrected the band name and then checked myself.

Insomniac – “Polygonal Planet ” – [Soothsay]

Max Level   12/23/2005   CD, Hip Hop

This instantly recognizable MC probably does stay up all night writing his intense rap poetry, then he brings it hard and fast with a menacing deadpan delivery. The rhymes don’t exactly rhyme most of the time; Insomniac is more about alliteration and word association (…freakish zebra elitists steeped in sequins, keynote speakers…), and he’s a master of syncopating words and phrases over a beat. Check his unreal abilities on “Why Try It” for example. Reminds me of a fighter who jabs, jabs, jabs. In “I’m Serious” he puts on a wanna-be thug character, threatening to step up and take your chicken nuggets if he ever catches your sorry ass at McDonalds. The only thing I’d personally skip here is “T.P. Emergency” and its scatological detail; just not my kind of thing. Spex and Raggedy Andy make jazz/exotica flavored beats, and 5 different DJs cut up voices, etc for added color.

Life Before 40 [coll] – [Low Life Records]

Hunter Gatherer   12/18/2005   CD, Hip Hop

For their 40th release, the UK hip hop label Low Life Records decided to issue a retrospective of their previous 39 releases and title it Life Before 40. It is a double CD with the second CD containing the songs on CD 1 remixed by their resident DJ Kam. This was released 10/1/2005.

Braintax, the owner and life force of Low Life Records, is all over this compilation, rapping on 4 of the tracks and providing beats for 7 of them. He’s not from London, he doesn’t need an American accent to rap strong, and he wants you to know this.

Jehst stands out with his track (3) City of Industry, a rap about a post-industrial wasteland with a haunting violin sample. He also raps later on track 8 about the joys of having ‘money in the bank and sneakers on my feet,? a worthy goal for anyone to have achieved.

The label was started way back in 1992, and they are on their 40th release only now, 13 years later. That should give a good indication of their commitment to only releasing quality music.

Play any of these tracks (but watch the language if not in safe harbor) and enjoy the ride. This is an excellent summary of a very important independent hip hop label from the UK.

Language: CD1: 2,4,5,6,7,9,10,12; CD2: 2,3,5,8,9,10,11,12,13

Misogyny alert: CD1: 5; CD2: 10 ‘bitches’x1000

–Hunter Gatherer

Time Machine Tm Radio [coll] – [Glow in the Dark Records]

Hunter Gatherer   12/18/2005   CD, Hip Hop

Released in June 2005, this is a hip hop sampler from the Glow In The Dark label with the conceit that it is a radio show. The hosts are Washington DC’s Time Machine which is comprised of Mekalek, Jaysonic, and Comel. We added their 12″ EP Grime Machine earlier this year.

The CD has the feel of a mix tape, except the songs are back announced and there are features like a mini interview? with Celph Titled (introduced as the Rubix Cuban) before he goes into his (non-FCC compliant) rhymes. Another feature is a Mekalek Mixshow in which he mixes a few (non-FCC compliant) tracks together in tracks 10 through 14.

As a result, many of the tracks have an intro or outro that won’t make much sense if played along with the song because it will sound like someone is back announcing other songs. This happens on tracks 1, 5 (intro and outro), 8 (outro), 10 (intro), 13 (outro), 14 (intro),16 (outro), 19 (outro). It’s a shame that these weren’t marked off as separate CD tracks.

A good part of the charm of this CD is the way the music flows together. But even picking and choosing individual tracks will still yield some very worthwhile underground hip hop.

I think that Time Machine is cleared to start doing grave shifts.

19 is a particularly chill instrumental

Language: 4 ‘fuck,’ 11 ‘fuck’ ‘motherfucking? ‘fucking,? 15 ‘shit,? 16 ‘shit? ‘fuck,’ 17: ‘motherfuckers?

–Hunter Gatherer

Atmosphere – “You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun ” – [Rhymesayers Ent.]

Hunter Gatherer   12/18/2005   CD, Hip Hop

Atmosphere, from Minneapolis, is a hip-hop duo of Slug (Sean Daley) who emcees and rhymes and Ant (Anthony Davis) who handles beats and production. This is their 5th full-length release.

In this release we find Slug smoking in plain sight of a No Smoking sign and wrestling with his demons, which have been tweaked by such things as being on the road too much, not being on the road enough, ex-girlfriends, future ex-girlfriends, obnoxious scenesters, and what have you. In the meantime, Ant‘s understated production chugs along underneath the rhymes with plenty of soulful samples and catchy beats.

This CD comes with a lyrics sheet with 42 pictures of various friends on the back. The intelligent, self-deprecating, and funny rhymes cover a large range of topics, most of them not very pleasant like the rape and murder of a fan at a show a few years ago in That Night and three rap ‘letters? to his son, his dad, and himself in Little Man. At the end of most songs is a simple explanation of what the song was about (example: This song is about my disdain for music ‘scenes?’) so it’s hard to misread their intent.

The lyrics have some great lines like And now I got a head full of better off dead (Bill Withers reference?), Built a prison out of conjugal visits, and ‘I’mma act like I don’t give a make love.

Start with Say Hey There, Smart Went Crazy, and Get Fly

Note: The tracks tend to run into each other, so be careful or put the CD player on single mode.

Language: 1 ‘fuck,’ 8 ‘shit? (barely audible)

–Hunter Gatherer

Id and Sleeper – “Displacement ” – [Mush]

Thurston Hunger   11/11/2005   CD, Hip Hop

Duo from Lawrence, Kansas. While I’m sure inflatable people at
all the posh clubs are gonna ask to check the iD first, still
please don’t sleep on the Sleeper. He sets up well-camoflauged
beat-traps like he’s channeling SeeFeel, his drum machinery
has got a dark reeling ride to it. Listen to it trip and
stagger on “Entropy.” His production is very akin to the old
curtains-closed-tight-in-the-middle-of-the-day mystery that
used to be prescribed on KFJC’s Sonic Pharmacy. But the
“Chemical Burn” delivered under the counter here is
definitely its own trip. Ironically, “Hungry Ghost” is the
least spectral of the audio holodecks Sleeper conjures up.
On the MiC, iD delivers anger and disapproval along abstract
lines that might not connect on the visceral plane, but
actually run perfectly parallel to the hypnagogic-a-gogo
Sleeper has assembled. Often times iD’s verses get reverbed
or redoubled to add to the headtrip, the sound of his voice
and the counter-percussion it adds is crucial to the effect
here. Whoever selected the few spoken samples from the intro
“Idea” on in did a nice job as well, they often add a trace
of humor to some otherwise austere lyrics that seem to go
down a philosophical rabbit hole chasing the shadow of a
self-flagellating Stoic. Not without self-awareness though
as “Vague” indicates. Experi-meant-all.

Look Records Sampler 2005 [coll] – [Look Records] – 33 rpm

Hunter Gatherer   10/4/2005   12-inch, Hip Hop

This is a sampler from the San Francisco-based Look Records offerings for 2005. It features three solid underground hip hop songs from three local artists: A.G. a.k.a. Andree the Giant, DJ Design, and Grip Grand.

A1 Take A Ride (A.G.) – Produced by Madlib. This track begins with a woman winning some Cincinnati marijuana then a fuzzy riff with some very funny laid back rhymes on top. For example, they rhyme Mexican with sex her friend. Isn’t that what it’s all about? 100bpm

A2 Get On The Floor (Design) – Produced by DJ Design. Energetic rap with pulsing electronics underneath in which the protagonist persistently (and rather ungallantly) asks a woman to get on the floor. Heavy breathing sounds. 112bpm

A3 But Anyway (Grip Grand) – Produced by Grip Grand. This one starts out with the same horn flare as Insane In The Membrane but then settles into its own groove. A second sample with soul singing (There’s one thing that ‘I’m sure of) is featured on the chorus. Fanfare ForThe Common Man by Aaron Copeland has yet to be sampled if I recall correctly, but that’s neither here nor there. 100bpm

It’s all clean! I think A3 is my favorite.

The B side contains instrumental versions of A1-A3.
–Hunter Gatherer

Handsome Boy Modeling School – “So…How’s Your Girl ” – [Tommy Boy]

Thurston Hunger   9/4/2005   12-inch, Hip Hop

Prince Paul (so you know it’s goofy) and Dan
Nakemura aka The Automator…so you know it’s
tight. The constructed sound-beds rule above
even the clever lyrics, the super-star cameos
(Paula Frazer of Tarnation briefly, El P from
CoFlow sizzles, Biz Markie fizzles, Guido
Sarducci offers the final benediction) the
funny samples (God Bless Chris Eliot and his
all too short-lived TV show). But aside from
good ol RuPaul ribaldry…the sample/turntable
work here is decked out to the nines. Especially
on the track where DJ Shadow drops his diamond
cufflink needle into the fray. Fun and
fashionable…try on the PJ’s first and then
mix and match and accessor-super-size.

Boom Bap Project, The ?Rock The Spot? [Rhymesayers Entertainment] (33 rpm)

Hunter Gatherer   7/24/2005   12-inch, Hip Hop

The Boom Bap Project are MCs Karim (a.k.a Nightclubberlang), Destro Destructo, and DJ Scene. From Seattle, they are part of the Oldominion crew. This 12″ single was released in anticipation of their latest full length entitled Reprogram.

Each side contains a 1-clean, 2-street, 3-instro, and 4-accapella version of a track.

Side A: In Rock The Spot, BBP want you to know (1) that they are here tonight to rock the spot and (2) that they are adept at their hip hop craft and (3) that they are from the Pacific Northwest. It’s energetic hip hop that pays tribute to its roots. Produced by Jake One.

Side B: Wyle Out brings in ringer Gift of Gab from Blackalicious. The beat lopes along, almost comically, punctuated with a hook from a brass section. Mr. Gab lets fly with a stunning barrage of words that somehow rhyme and fit together. I can’t listen as fast as he can rap, so I have no idea what the text means. Check out the acapella version (B4). Produced by Vitamin D. Impressive.

A2, A4, B2, B4 – language
–Hunter Gatherer

Hezekiah ?Soul Music? [Soulspazm] (33 rpm)

Hunter Gatherer   7/24/2005   12-inch, Hip Hop

This is a 12″ hip-hop single by Hezekiah – not the 8th century B.C. king of Jerusalem who banned idol worship, but rather the 31 year old MC/DJ/producer who grew up in rural Delaware and now lives in south Philly. This single was released 3/15/2005 in anticipation of his debut full-length release titled Hurry Up And Wait.

A1: The first song, Soul Music, is just the thing. It features Eleon singing soulfully, almost mournfully, in a baritone that ‘everybody needs a little soul.’ The singing is contrasted nicely with Hezekiah‘s beats and rapping.

A2: Next up is a remix of the previous song by Phase One, making it much funkier with falsetto singing, references to Soul Power, call and response, and of course grunting.

A3: My Life is way over on the R&B side of the R&B-hip-hop continuum. Also featuring Eleon‘s soulful singing, it has the over all mood of yearning or searching. ‘You got questions/You need answers,? say the lyrics. It gets a little Star Search-y at times for my taste, but it’s definitely worth a spin or two.

B1, B2: Instro versions of A1 and A2. A2 has vocal samples, so don’t use it as a bed. Focus on the beats and enjoy.

B3: Bonus beats! Called Three Crates Of Porn, it grooves and grooves then stops very abruptly. Very nice.

All tracks are clean!
–Hunter Gatherer

Exile w/Slum Village ?Time Has Come? [Sound In Color] (33 rpm)

Hunter Gatherer   7/24/2005   12-inch, Hip Hop

Released on 4/22/05, this is a 12″ hip-hop single by LA’s DJ Exile (1/2 of Emanon) and Detroit’s Slum Village. The 2nd song features Blu.

The first song, Time Has Come, has a nice R&B feel with a bouncy piano, hand claps, and a touch of who’s-that-lady guitar. The rap is a reminiscence of growing up poor (‘drinking cherry Kool-Aid from a mayonnaise jar?) and fatherless.

The second song, Soul Provider, is straight-ahead hip hop with a self-aggrandizement rap by fellow Sound In Color artist Blu. He compares himself to Dolemite and brags about the number of back seats (?) he has seen. I can’t figure out what the crazy sample in the background is – the Three Stooges going whoop whoop whoop? Muskrat Love? It’s a mystery.

Both tracks are clean! The B side is an instrumental version of the A side. Enjoy.
–Hunter Gatherer

Dutch Breaks – “Nou Break M’n Klomp ” – [Da Real Beatdigger Recs]

Rococo   7/9/2005   12-inch, Hip Hop

When you’re ready to hone your turntablist skills on the 1’s and 2’s, you could find a lot worse than this collage of obscure battle breaks and beats from the Netherlands. According to the label, this is the first volume of a trilogy focusing on Dutch vinyl rarities from the last three decades, done up in a hip-hop mix-tape style. Occasionally you’ll hear a few snatches of American tunes like ‘Crimson and Clover? and ‘Oh What a Nite,? but mostly it’s a mixture of euro pop, rock riffs, funky breaks, musical instruction records, easy listening, and other thrift store sounds, all thoughtfully sequenced and ready for your scratchin’ pleasure.

Super Rap [coll] – [Landspeed]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, Hip Hop

What we’re gonna do right here is go back…way back…back into time. Back to Harlem, circa 1979, where a new musical form was about to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of the 70’s disco inferno. That new sound was called hip hop, and helping to document its birth was an independent record label called P&P Records, run by Peter Brown & Patrick Adams. Having experienced a modest amount of success in the disco market, they were perfectly situated to capitalize on this newest underground sound. The P&P tracks collected here are about as “old school” as “old school” gets; Chic’s “Good Times” rhythm even gets an airing on the track by Sicle Cell & Rhapazooty. Other tracks delve deeper into rap’s disco influences, particularly the instrumentals by Super Jay and Cloud One. And the futuristic, proto-electro side shows up on tracks by Troy Rainey and Naomi. All in all, though, this collection is about a time when rap was FUN. Drop the needle on any track and you’ll soon be wanting to throw your hands in the air, and wave ’em like ya just don’t care!

Ropeladder 12 [coll] – [Mush]

Rococo   7/5/2005   CD, Hip Hop

The first full-length release on the eclectic Mush record label is an adventurous collection of underground hip hop, featuring mostly unknown artists and DJ’s. A wordy collection, to be sure, as the nine pages of lyrics in the CD booklet can attest, but these words are closer to poetry than your average hip hop record. Musically you can expect lots of jazz and soundtrack samples, plus an ample helping of turntablist trickery. Lots of variety from track to track, yet it all sounds cohesive in the end. Very impressive.

Next Impressions [coll] – [Concrete Grooves]

Hunter Gatherer   7/5/2005   CD, Hip Hop

Chris ‘Presto? Douglas and Charles ‘Web? Yao are the force behind the Concrete Grooves label. This is the follow up compilation to ‘Impressions on Concrete? called ‘Next Impressions.’

This CD contains 17 tracks of soulful, jazz-influenced hip-hop grooves, most of them instrumental. A few of the instrumentals could be mistaken for a Ninja Tune release. But this music lies somewhere between hip hop and downtempo.

I got into all of the tracks, but the highlight is the cover of A Roller Skate Jam called Saturday (De La Soul) that Trinity starts her show with.

The music would work well as beds or transitions to/from soul, jazz, hip-hop, just about anywhere, in fact.

Instros: 1 (w/talk at begin.), 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10 (false stop), 11, 12, 14, 15 (false stop), 16

Language: 2 (shit), 13 (shit, bullshit)
–Hunter Gatherer

Unspoken Heard – “Jamboree ” – [Unknown Label]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, Hip Hop

Four solid vocal tracks and two instrumentals await you on this latest EP from the Washington DC-area crew. “Jamboree” is one of the HAPPIEST hip-hop tracks I’ve ever heard, party rappin’ over a jazz swing bed. “Music” and “Track Runners” offer some of their philosophy on the hip hop biz, and “Birth” is a meditative and heartfelt poem to Heard member Asheru’s baby girl. Great stuff!

Code 4109 [coll] – [Red Ink]

Rococo   7/5/2005   CD, Hip Hop

DJ Krush drops another musical bomb, this time in the form of a DJ mix CD. But when you’re one of the world’s foremost turntablists, you don’t just crank out any old collection of tunes. No, this is an honest-to-god “composition,” blending elements of jazz, pop, and hip hop into a virtually seamless whole that retains the familiar “blunted beat” sound Krush is known for. A few previous Krush cuts show up here, along with some recognizable vocals from Beats International and Esthero. But mostly the source material is unfamiliar, and sounds as fresh as anything Krush has previously come up with. Dope, dope, dope!

Blendcrafters “Melody” [Up Above Records] (33 rpm)

Hunter Gatherer   6/28/2005   12-inch, Hip Hop

Blendcrafters is DJ Nu-Mark (of J5 fame) and Pomo. A year after their album, they are back with a 12″ single containing two songs.

There are 4 different versions of a remix of the first song, Melody: clean, non-clean, a cappella (which translates as ‘in the style of the chapel? by the way), and instrumental. M.F. Doom is featured on the remix, spitting out tongue twisters with twisty meanings just behind the beat. In the background is a piano playing jazz chords while a tenor voice asks, ‘What good is melody? What good is music, if it ain’t possessing something sweet?’ There is also a sound effect of a bat hitting a baseball just in time for summer!

The other song is Eddie Harris‘s Bold and Black with Carol Kaye overdubbing a fantastic bass part and Derf Reklaw punching up the percussion. It’s an instrumental and definitely as strong as the A side.

It’s not easy to combine jazz elements with hip hop, based on the semi-embarrassing attempts I have heard from other groups before, but Blendcrafters makes it seem effortless.
–Hunter Gatherer

Variable Unit ?Mayhemystics Outbreaks? [Wide Hive Records]

Hunter Gatherer   5/22/2005   CD, Hip Hop

This is the fifth release by Variable Unit, a San Francisco self-described ‘community? (as opposed to a ‘band?) with a fluctuating membership made up of experienced musicians interested in combining genres like hip hop, down tempo, dub, soul, and anything else they can get their hands on. It was released 4/20/2005

This release started out as outtakes from their previous release, Mayhemystics, and soon took on a life of its own. Only two songs of the thirteen are new versions from Mayhemistics – Second Seals (originally Seals) and Liberation 2 (originally Liberation).

The sound is a mishmash of genres listed above, bringing out the best elements of each. The great keyboard playing by Jacob Elyah Aginsky and the rhythm section of Thomas McCree (drums) and Matt Montgomery (bass) keep the music interesting and funky (especially on 8: Contradiction). DJs Quest and Zeph participate on this release as well. Azeem and Omega have a powerful delivery to match the power of the subject matter.

Most of the songs are a reaction to the second Gulf War and the general hassles of being on the less desirable end of a capitalist society combined with a healthy dose of apocalyptic vision. They get points for writing the first song I’ve heard that points out the fact that vinyl records are made from oil derivatives.

Instrumentals: 4, 7, 9, 13
–Hunter Gatherer

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