Tag Archive: hip-hop


Around the start of 2019 I started hearing about a new album that was out in February by an artist that I’d never heard of. I was intrigued as the album was being described as UK Hip-Hop and Grime but featured Jazz musicians Nubya Garcia (saxophone) and Mansur Brown (guitar) it was also coming out on Brownswood Recordings a label mainly famous for putting out modern Jazz releases and not Hip-Hop or Grime releases. Then the reviews started coming out and my interest deepened. Finally the release date came and I can honestly say that for the first couple of listens I didn’t know what to make of.

It has gone on to become the album I have listened to the most this year and also the one of favourites but there’s no way I could have predicted that back in February. It’s become clear to me why it took so long for this to happen. This album is a challenge but in a good way at no point did I hate but it took a long time to a) understand it in all it’s complexity and b) to find myself enjoying the great music. This is an album that is bringing together two different worlds the world of electronic music production and the world of live musicians and vocals from multiple genres from Jazz to Grime via Hip-Hop, Reggae and Spoken Word.

This album isn’t just a challenge to listen to (initially) but was also a challenge for Swindle and the cast of guests on the album. It took three years to make this incredible ambitious album and while all enjoyed the experience everyone involved had to work hard to make it work. Many artists have tried to make some kind of fusion music and many end up with unfocused, messy, tuneless and unsatisfying results. While “No More Normal” won’t click with you instantly it will reward those that stick with it. For me it’s the album the most rewarding album that’s came in the first Quarter of 2019. Sometimes it’s worth spending more time with an album and this is one of those times.

Ok, so I guess you’re wondering what “No More Normal” sounds like, so let’s get to talking about that. Well, to quote my follow Blogger Sampleface it’s “a buffet of Transatlantic black music” that takes in the following genres “West Coast Hip-Hop, Grime and Drill, Soul, Midwest funk/house”, Reggae, Spoken Word. Jazz and Southern Hip-Hop e.g. Timbaland and The Neptunes. It’s a thoroughly Modern music but nods to both the recent and more distant past. The majority of these nods come through the live instruments and vocals whether it’s the Jazz saxophone solo from Nubya Garcia on “Run Up”, the souful badass vocals of Eva Lazarus that pop across the album or the cinematic strings that a times recall a Blaxploitation soundtrack and other times like the score to a Bond movie. But even in his production Swindle does seem to reference beats from early 00’s Hip-Hop and R&B in addition to the previous mentioned Timbaland and The Neptunes there is definitely a touch of OutKast on ‘Knowledge’, ‘Take It Back’ and ‘California’. However, these references aren’t reductive and this isn’t a retread of those genres instead Swindle is able to fold them into his own style and reinvigorate those sounds and genres. It’s immense achievement that with all of the vocalists, instrumental collaborators and musical styles involved that “No More Normal” always sounds like Swindle and no one else.

All-in-all this fantastic album is a celebration of the UK music scene and some of it’s key players both in the present and moving into the future. I will continue to follow both Swindle and his collaborators music well into the future.

I have two more albums I want to write about in this series and they will be posted between now and the beginning of July when I start writing about the best releases from the second quarter of 2019.

Check out this mini documentary on the making “No More Normal” below. It features clips from over half the albums tracks and really illustrates what an achievement it is.

Let me know what you think “No More Normal” below in the Comments.

 

With the inclusion of this album in My Favourite Releases of the Year… so far you may see a theme developing… yes I like French music and Spotify has definitely caught on to this and is putting it in front of me on a semi regular basis. I’m not complaining as I’m discovering some great music from the Funk of Cotonete to this French Hip-Hop album by Soulence. I have enjoyed French Hip-Hop over the years whether it’s the appearance of MC Solaar’s music in the film “La Haine”, hearing Saian Supa Crew on UK evening Alternative radio shows back in the early 00’s and more recent mixes on Onra’s mixes both of French Hip-Hop and of Hip-Hop that samples French music. However, never taken the plunge and actually bought any French Hip-Hop or really explored the genre properly. I think this will change with “French Cassette” as it’s just shy of an hour of funny, funky and very French instrumental Hip-Hop.

“French Cassette” is a celebratory album and it’s celebrates both cliches about France and the French and the Boom Bap era of Hip-Hop. This is a album that’s all about breaks, scratches, sampling spotting and plenty of Funk to boot!!! There are also some synth sounds dotted throughout the album that come closer to recalling Dr.Dre’s G-Funk sound. Hip-Hop isn’t the only genre that crops up on this album there is also some track that use a lot of filtering in a way that is similar to the Filter House genre that was invented in France in the 90’s and made proper by the likes of Daft Punk, Cassius and Etienne De Crecy aka Super Discount. An artist who the album often reminds me of is The Go! Team mainly due to the lo-fi sound and the fun and humour that pervades the album, Mr. Scruff would probably be another relevant reference point. However, I think it’s worth pointing out that the humour and fun of this album doesn’t detract or distract from the production talent of this duo there isn’t a duff track on the album and the sound is phat with drums slapping like the best classic Boom Bap. This an album that needs your attention (and cash) now!!!

Listen to Souleance and let me know what you think of “French Cassette” in the Comments.

I first heard of Nubiyan Twist when I went to see Joe Armon-Jones at The Crescent in York last November, as Joe introduced the band he got to bassist Luke Wynter he said he was in Nubiyan Twist from Leeds. My first thought was that’s a great name for a band and that there was another potentially great band coming out of Leeds. It turns out I was right this is another great band coming out of Leeds (though now based in London) and what’s more another great band that met and formed at Leeds College of Music. Leeds College of Music is a respected music education institution in the UK but if it keeps on producing the amount of quality bands it is currently it will become world famous and rank alongside the likes of Berklee in the USA.

But I got off the point for a while there It’s time to get back to talking about the music of Nubiyan Twist and their album “Jungle Run”. On the bands Facebook page under Band Interests it says “To encourage artistic and social unity between different cultures and musical styles.” This is definitely a mission statement the band achieves on this album, they combine the disparate styles of dance music (including House and Drum ‘n’ Bass), Dub, Latin, Afrobeat, Ethio-Jazz, Hip-Hop, Turntablism and Soul into a potent stew of sound. This is quite an achievement considering the band has ten members And also joined in this album by guests Nubiya Brandon (vocals), Tony Allen (drums) the inventor of the rhythms of Afrobeat and Mulatu Astatke (vibraphone) the inventor of Ethio-Jazz. I have to admit that I am very jealous of the fact that the band gets to work with two giants of African music. Another achievement is to not be subsumed by those legends on the track states they contribute to this is a band with a clear identity and incredible musical talent to boot. Bandleader Tom Excell also produced the record in the bands own studio in Oxfordshire in the UK and it’s an impressive feat to say the least to build to get all these competing instruments and talents to play nicely in a mix. This isn’t just an impressive album it’s a lot of fun to the irresistible beats make impossible for you not to dance and the catchy choruses will be in your head in no time.

I know I’m probably repeating myself here but it’s hard to overstate how incredible this album is not only as a musical achievement but something that truly represents what music can be in the 21st-century. This is an album of the Internet age don’t get me wrong there are albums made fused cells are music together before the Internet age but “Jungle Run” is something only truly achievable in a world where you can access any music at any time with the click of a button. This is a real Album of the Year contender and definitely check it out.

Let me know what you think of “Jungle Run” in the Comments.

I think the thing that needs to be said about this great Hip-Hop album is that I’m surprised it hasn’t been reviewed by the likes of Pitchfork and The Needle Drop. In fact, there are zero search results for Yugen Blakrok on Pitchfork. This album is an underrated gem and it’s only been out for two months.

Yugen Blakrok broke through last year when she was featured on ‘Opps’ from the Blacker Panther soundtrack put together by Kendrick Lamar. However, she has been around for about a decade usually working with her go-to producer Kanif and it’s no different on this her second album. The album definitely has feel and aesthetic that recalls both 90’s Trip-Hop acts like Portishead and Underground Hip-Hop labels like Rawkus and Def Jux whose heyday was in the late 90’s through the early 00’s. The instrumentals feel close to albums like Dr. Octagon’s – “Dr. Octagonecologyst” and Cannibal Ox’s – “The Cold Vein” while Blakrok’s husky voice and angry undercurrent remind me of Sarah Jones and barely known U.K. underground MC Wildflower (she never got a record but did record a number of great guest spots including a couple with The Herbaliser that definitely worth checking out).

The lack of originality here isn’t a problem (let’s face no one is original at this point in music history) and I actually love that someone is making this kind of Afrofuturistic and atmospheric Hip-hop music. There is a great balance but punchy, dusty beats, ambient spot effects and Yugen’s voice and cosmically themed lyrics. I haven’t completely unpicked exactly what she’s discussing on each track but the Marvel and Astrology references do pop out.

If you love Hip-Hop, Trip-Hop and Sci-Fi then this is definitely an album for you. If you only like one or two of those things I still think it has a lot to offer. I really hope this album can be discovered by a lot more people because it truly deserves a wider audience.

Check out Yugen Blakrok’s music below and let me know what you think of “Anima Mysterium” in the Comments.

This is Part One in a series of posts rounding up my favourite releases of the last three months and writing about them. Part Two will be published next Saturday.

Yak – “Pursuit of Momentary Happiness”

An early contender for Album of the Year comes from this English psychedelic rock band. Yak don’t just recycle the psychedelic (colour projector) wheel this is an album of well produced punchy and catchy songs that don’t out stay there welcome while still having the depth of albums with much longer cuts. Even when they do go long such as on album closer ‘This House Has No Living Room’ (which features J.Spaceman aka Jason Pierce of Spiritualized and Spacemen 3 fame) the song is so good (not to mention a perfect album closer) that you don’t notice the track length. A highly recommended album from a band very much on the up.

 

Cotonete – “Super-vilains”

I first discovered Cotonete when they popped up on a Spotify Release Radar playlist towards the end of last year. I instantly liked this French Funk band, in fact, Spotify is pretty good at finding me groovy music from the other side of the English Channel. I suspect this goes back to all the mid 70s Serge Gainsbourg albums I’ve listened in the last four years!!! Cotonete are influenced by The JB’s (James Brown’s famous late 60’s backing band), Headhunters era Herbie Hancock and Brazilian acts such as Deodato and Banda Black Rio. It’s a potent and funky cocktail with deep basslines, punchy horns, cutting rhythm guitar and a truckload of percussion atop top notch drummer David Georgelet. This is music that is at home on the dancefloor as it would soundtrack the car chase in The French Connection or when the tempo drops it’s perfect music to chill out to. I can’t recommend this album enough and I think it will be one of those under the radar gems that gets overlooked. Don’t sleep on it!!!

 

Malibu Ken – “Malibu Ken”

Ok, so when this album was first announced late last year my initial reaction was 1) What? This is seems like a strange collaboration (Malibu Ken is a collaboration between Underground Hip-Hop MC/Producer Aesop Rock and Psychedelic Electro Hip-Hop Producer and founder of Black Moth Super Rainbow Tobacco). 2) If it works it’s could be awesome. Then I heard the first single ‘Acid King’ and watched it’s accompanying video I was excited about the potential for the album. A couple of months later the album dropped I wasn’t disappointed the album is a fantastic blend of Electro Hip-Hop and Funk tunes with Aesop Rock bring his own verbose lyrical content and amazing flow that have become his trademark since his enter to the music world with his debut album ‘Float’ in the year 2000. This album is in and out in thirty five minutes but you don’t any more music as it’s a wholly satisfying album. If this is the only Malibu Ken album that they’ll have a 100% knockout for us all to love for years to come. If Aesop and Tobacco continue to collaborate and create albums of this quality then we’ll be incredibly lucky. What are you waiting for check it out!!!

 

Cosey Fanni Tutti – “Tutti”

Cosey Fanni Tutti has been a member of not one but two great Electronic music acts first of all she was a member of Industrial music pioneers Throbbing Gristle (1975-2012) and then her a partner Chris Carter (also a member of Throbbing Gristle) formed Chris & Cosey (1981-) and pursued a soft Electro/Techno direction. On her second solo album she digs deep into dark Electro/Techno territory but with a couple of surprises. The first surprise is that while you can dance to some of the tracks on this album a majority are slower and feature thicker heavier sounds. This wasn’t what I was expecting after hearing the title track on Spotify. However, this is no negative as Tutti expertly creates these atmospheric and engaging tracks. The other surprise was the use of a Cornet as the lead instrument of the title track Tutti has played violin in the past at early Throbbing Gristle shows but as far as I’m aware the Cornet is a new instrument to her. I definitely think the Cornet adds something to the title track both adding a more human feel and more dissonance. If you like Electronic music you’ll get a lot of “Tutti” it covers Electro/Techno and Ambient music across it’s tightly packed 38 minutes and doesn’t waste a single moment. It’s the sound of veteran showing she still has plenty to offer even in an ever changing world.

Octo Octa – “For Lovers” EP

This EP opens with ‘I Need You’ the most blissful ten minutes of music that I’ve heard so far this year. It’s envelopes you in it’s vocals moans and multi layered synths pads, it’s warm and welcoming and will always put a smile on your face on matter what else is going on or has gone on. Second track ‘Bodies Meld Together’ goes back to the 90’s for a breakbeat techno beat making for a hard beat but no less harmonious and luxurious synth layers and it’s a contrast that really works. The EP is rounded out by ‘Loops For Healing’ which a lilting melody with deep House chords and bass drum throb. Overall this is an EP that works thematically but each track stands alone as it’s own piece quite an achievement. Highly recommended.

 

Kokoroko – ‘Kokoroko’ EP

This is London 8 piece Jazz/Funk/Afrobeat band Kokoroko’s debut release though the band has been playing gigs together for a number of years now. You really should watch their set for The Boiler Room, I’ll embed it at the bottom of this post. The EP kicks off with ‘Adwa’ it’s funky Afrobeat shuffle and with bands every powerful horns taking the lead on this track. There is a break down for a guitar solo and then builds back into a sax solo before returning to the main horn refrain. The goes more down tempo and softer with their playing on the ‘Ti-de’ it’s a thoughtful track but never ponderous and the instruments have equal billing. There are even some nice female vocal harmonies towards the end of the track. ‘Uman’ is up next starting off a little slow but when the drums and bass kick in were back in Afrobeat territory again the horns the real leaders though this time they play sharp staccato lines. The EP ends with ‘Abusey Junction’ which originally appeared on the ‘We Out Here’ (2018) compilation that bought showcased the burgeoning and diverse current Jazz scene in London. The track is down tempo and focus more on the guitar, percussion, bass and electric piano compared with a lot of Kokoroko’s music to date, it’s an excellent track on a great EP. I ‘d really like to see Kokoroko live as I missed my chance last year and I can’t wait to hear what they deliver on their debut album, they are a band that has already shown they can be fantastic and yet still show so much promise.

 

Let me know what you think of these releases and about your favourites in the Comments below.

 

 

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