Hawk House : A Handshake To The Brain

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 With their  first mixtape A Little More Elbow Room, this London trio formed themselves a solid foundation, carving their niche from cooled-out jazz loops and elegant, mellow wordplay. Their second album A Handshake To The Brain continues right where they left off, as Hawk House amplify everything that made their début so exciting.

Brothers Sam and Eman bat bars back and forth, combining with Demae’s airy, soulful harmonies on opener My Mind Is The Weapon, then display their highly-honed songwriting skills on Grow. The beats knock hard on Vulcan Grip‘s electronic shuffle; then meander wistfully for the sombre spoken word piece Her Anatomy; and as a relaxed narrative guides you throughout each of the brain’s cognitive functions, The Nervous System balances the left and right hemipheres with creative, yet detailed storytelling bars, finding their protagonist ‘under constant pressure from the bredrins’ as he recalls last night’s beef.

The title track’s concise rhymes breeze by on another hazy instrumental, before Demae’s sweet melodies inaugurate the short-lived boom-bap tones of Slow Down and Chill Pill ( Experiment 2 ) begins with superlative wordplay that’s worth the album’s asking price alone. Combining their underground rawness with a more polished sound; the clique seem to soar upwards as they meet their full potential on this stand-out tune, offering a perfectly-timed snapshot of their current creative zenith.

As the loose snares on Lights Off fade into the ether and this short, but promising record ends; it’s a sure shot that A Handshake For The Brain is just another well-placed step, as Hawk House confidently tread their own path towards the success they deserve.

Buy it from itunes here.

Peace

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Iron Braydz : Verbal Swardz

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Since he made waves with his lyrically athletic Devil May Cry mixtape, London MC and producer Iron Braydz has worked hard on his craft to become one of the capital’s most vital voices. Hang was rougher than cement shoes, with topics most rappers shy away from, and his collaboration with Melanin 9 on the Devils Death Day remix was a sweeping samurai saga with more esoteric lessons than the Library of Alexandria. His recent addition to the Triple Darkness crew’s collective of razor sharp MCs has seen him bless the powerful posse cuts  Reanimation and Knuckledustnow with a slew of solo projects set to drop throughout the year; Braydz begins his one-man auricular onslaught on 2014 with Verbal sWARdz.

As the intro’s medley of villainous cackles and shaolin finger jabs builds into Scorpion Sting‘s dissonant guitar loops; Kyza provides a heavy chorus between impassioned verses with more venom than a pit of vipers. Crowbar Head Topper comes through just as menacing as it did on Ray Vendetta’s last EP; with Braydz denouncing the ignorance of racism over a banger from Ringz Ov Saturn, before Solar Black steps in and unleashes lines like shurikens; leaving Vendetta’s steadfast bars to finish the track off strong. Organized Konfusion’s Prince Po decimates Daniel Taylor’s apocalyptic instrumental on Millenium. While Braydz spits nothing but rawness that hangs like a dark cloud, unmoved until melancholy string melodies pierce it’s grim shroud to shine a speck of light through the gloom; ‘The truth shall be told through the fruits of our labour, ignoring many signs of the return of our saviour, the skies turn black and the planets draw closer, divine law appears and he declares it’s all over’.

For Braydz to not rely on the established sound TD have cultivated and self-produce the majority of his music shows vision, and his unorthodox and exciting production style pushes boundaries no one else seem to be aware of. His distinct phonic fingerprint is most prevalent on Dredd; with old school heavy metal samples that tear through the track as solo licks and cascading guitar runs rise in waves. His use of rock riffs to structure unorthodox choruses is challenging at first, but becomes just another ill aspect of this heavy single once you acclimatize to it’s experimental methods.

Rambo bulldozes it’s way onto the EP and sees Braydz dropping aggressive bars laced with war-like tactics over a more straight forward beat. Kyza fits his rhyme schemes into inimitable patterns as he asserts his dominance on the mic once again, and his former TerraFirma team-mate Skriblah delivers lightning-fast lines to leave the track in tatters. Sean Price immediately makes his presence felt with a forceful flow on Firey Red, inspiring Braydz to pen one of the best choruses on the EP and adapt his flow, slowing his cadence to a quiet creep following Price’s imposing intonations; then raising his volume to unleash his verse at terminal velocity. Agor builds the barest of beats on Dobermans, stacking sparse snare rolls against sharp, laser-like jolts. Long-time Kiss Hip Hop show resident DJ Shortee Blitz adds some swift cuts for the chorus, and Detroit legend Phat Kat completes the track with a mean guest verse. Rambo Relapse gets some fresh stanzas from Black Cripton and TD member Solar Black, before the title track provides the EP’s apex as Braydz builds an epic boom bap beat to accommodate Cyrus Malachi’s striking stanzas, as the TD MC’s trade verses between another catchy hook that holds strength in it’s simplicity.

Verbal sWARdz is an exciting omen of what’s to come from the newest member of Triple Darkness. The features he obtained from some of the most respected names in the States along with his ability to form cohesive songs ensures whatever Braydz will accomplish next can only further his ascension. Despite a lack of sociological insight that was present on his earlier work, he still packs a formidable punch with a pen. If you’ve been playing Bacdafucup and The War Report wondering where that real Hip Hop went you can find it alive and well right here.

Verbal sWARdz comes out on Brayd’z Unorthostract label this Monday, April 14th.

Cop it here.

3/5

Peace.

Underground Classics: Millennium Metaphors

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It’s been 14 years since Luton’s Si Phili, Life MC and DJ Nappa joined forces to release their seminal debut album on the Jazz Fudge label. The group’s deep dedication to true Hip Hop permeated by Life and Phili’s uncompromisingly fast-paced and detailed descriptions of life in Blair’s Britain made the album an instant smash, catapulting the crew to new heights within the UK Hip Hop scene. From front to back the LP is nothing but bangers; Nappa is one of the UK’s most underrated producers,  scratching classic raps to create chorus hooks and employing his massive mental catalogue of breaks and sample-worthy sections to assemble quality boom bap like most people breathe. Lyrically they two MC’s define what it means to pick up a mic and spray; with simile’s for days and so much style and depth in their swift delivery it’s almost unbelievable. Their take on the alphabet on ABC is up there with Lowkey and Blackalicious, with Life sounding like he might take off at times he’s flowing so fast, Rhyme Of The Times harbours one of Nappa’s most militant beats and serves as a fitting intro to the crew’s content, as the two MC’s trade bars with supreme ease; you can hear the natural talent flowing out of them as they channel their creativity. BBC begins to develop the album’s rich content, as the overt demonstrations of lyrical skill fall by the wayside and the layers of historical, sociological, and political edutainment begin to seep into the sounds.

There’s no better example of the tabloid-touting ignorance that informs 85% of the country’s core demographic than on the intro to The Racists. With reactionary scaremongering to blame immigration for imaginary ills more popular in the press now than ever; the truth Life & Phili kick over Nappa’s perfect piano loop is still poignant. The final lines that still speak of unity and respect after juxtaposing governmental organizations with hate groups are testament to their righteous point of view. From that political point the album relaxes the content for a few tracks, while still employing an all-out lyrical attack as Phili’s verse shines on Drop Bombs; then Life smashes the track on Take Heed. Nappa’s production shows it’s versatility on the static strains of Verbal Wars, then gets truly ill on the anthemic Phi Life Phi Life, with bars that raise the high standard the pair previously set for themselves; exhibiting wordplay to make any part-time writer put down the pen and reflect; ‘I be the most honourable, with astronomical amounts of lyrics, raising dead spirits from graves, crushing rap cynics, fucking up the laws of physics with hieroglyphics, to be specific, my brain be deep like the Pacific‘. Last Men Standing leaves no room to breathe as it closes in tight around your mind with a vice-like grip. The old school beat and incessant lyrics create a whirlwind of rap tactics; and the sheer amount of aliteration going down within this three minute period is crazy, while Nappa cuts so tight you’d need a crowbar to get his fingers off the wax.

Although the crew often body beats with lyrical displays of deftness, they always seemed to write their most socially insightful bars when politically motivated; and on Fatcats they infuse each rhyme with that intense fire that compels them to write, tearing down the walls of ignorance politician’s rely on.  Herbaholics pays homage over a rugged piano loop, then Phi Life Is Here gets epic with Nappa orchestrating classical strings that Life’s simile’s and Phili’s hard bars leave decimated, their flow punctuated by the robust snare work. Bring It To Ya is another trademark track for the three man crew, the reggae vibes that Skitz inter-weaved into the UK Hip Hop sound around 2000 coming through strongly in the production, a sound that continues onto Bad Men From The West’s bumping beats. Crazy Balheads’ righteous tones denounce satanic practices as Life’s insight demystifies the vatican’s esoteric agenda, and Phili sheds light on Big Pharma and the food industry; then as the title track keeps the vibe heated and this legendary LP draws to a close; The Shining‘s subtle, jazzy loop lures the listener into a darker headspace than the pair have previously inhabited. Life’s final verse is one of his grimest; ‘I be murderous just like those backstreet abortions’ is the tip of the iceberg lyrically, and his doubling of words towards the end is still a style that takes me by surprise even after listening to the album regularly for years.

After dropping this classic the crew continued to release quality music, including a split with Task Force that’s essential; and although PLC no longer work together as a group; they all still release new music regularly. Nappa and Life’s further collaborations ‘Everyday Life’ and ‘Outside Looking In’ are both worth checking if you liked what you heard here; and as one of the most accomplished freestyle artists in the country for over a decade the man puts it down every time he picks his camera up on his active youtube channel mclife1. You can catch Si Phili continuing his lyrical onslaught as one half of Phili N Dotz, touring the country and releasing music in collaboration with UK Battle League behemoth Don’t Flop; his lyrical ability only sharpened by the years he’s dedicated to his craft. UK Hip Hop still gets overlooked when people speak on lyrical skill or collate ‘best MC’ lists’; if you’re into wordplay and raw production there’s many jewels to be unearthed by studying the British scene at the turn of the century. Phi Life Cypher exemplify all the attributes that make the UK’s contribution to the culture essential listening. Look no further for that undiluted street knowledge, recited by staunch practitioners of the five elements and brought to you with respect and love of the art.

Massive thanks to Daisy B Photography for the dope pic. To view more of her vivid images, or get in touch for commission work, click here.

Cop Millennium Metaphors direct from Suspect Packages, or via your usual online retailers.

Peace.

TPS Fam : Hot Water Music

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With a full-time fixation on gambling, whiskey and women, Charles Bukowski was a man who knew what he wanted out of life. What he didn’t know, was that the liquor-soaked scrawlings he penned in his smokey room between trips to the track wouldn’t only go on to inspire a generation of film-makers, writers and full-time day-drinkers; but also three Hip Hop heads from Croydon. Big Toast, Jack Diggs & Strange Neighbour have taken TPS Fam from strength to strength over the last year, and their label Revorg Records has put out some quality albums, from the crew cuts on The Heisenberg Project to Efek’s dope new LP Contemporary Classic. With inspiration from Bukowski’s working-man approach to creativity, the trio have created some of their best tunes to date on Hot Water Music. 

Couple early mornings with grey clouds and a grim commute on stinking public transport and you can see why Monday Blues bad-mouths Britain’s over-proliferated ‘you’re lucky to have a job at all‘ rhetoric; replacing it with the line ‘Monday, waking up and I think fuck a job’ to introduce the LP’s anti-work attitude. Jack Digg’s beats always bang, and his gully vibe on Chain Breakers encapsulates the grimmer side of UK Hip Hop as the MC’s leave behind the daytime toil of wage-slavery to embrace the full time job of mental emancipation through their lyrics. 5 Nuggets copes with the weekly grind trying to get smashed on overpriced pints and still survive an ever- increasing cost of living; before Bristol legend Sirplus brings the heat to Strange Neighbour’s string arrangements on HD, every MC steps up their game to follow his lead, rhyming with real passion.

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Jack Diggs channels the sound of the city on his interlude As It Crossed My Mind, beginning the album’s second wind as the mellow sounds of Drift Away provide the crew with another opportunity for lyrical honesty; ‘Rhyme to a beat and it takes me to places, beyond flat lager and slavery wages.’ Like Jehst’s ‘unemployed B Boys’  Tea Breaks brings a welcome break from the 9-5 drudgery, with a lyrical escape from the cold reality of the previous tracks. The MC’s delve back into that daily grind once more for a few tunes, meaning it’s not until Strange Neighbour’s stand-out beat on Broken Smile that the album really begins to peak again; as each MC touches on the unconscious mental state pressed onto the public with George Romero comparisons, and revitalize their content. Pound Signs is a straight- up banger; the scratches are ill, the epic loops give the rapper’s lines even more force as they weave words with a purpose, deriding the paper chase and the dodgy dealings Croydon’s streets host nightly, then continue their verbal assault on Ruff Draft; boasting bars from a few of the UK’s foremost MC’s. Gee Bag’s distinctive flow blesses the raw break with an old-school rhyme-scheme, Bristol’s Res reps Split Prophets with some leary bars and Phoenix Da Icefire’s intricate rhymes fire as fast as his thoughts, making for another flawless Triple Darkness feature.

Out Of This World’s middle eastern melodies make for the best beat on the LP, Revorg label-mate Efeks dropping a dope hook. Everything the man touches turns to gold right now, be sure to check his back catalogue for more gems, especially his work with Steady as Prose. The fact that this late in the LP the crew are still pulling out nothing but bangers is evidence of their skill for shaping enjoyable songs with a grimy edge; and as 4AM closes the album on a calmer note, melancholy piano loops and claustrophobic horns swirl through the haze, the rhymes shining through the dense fog the beat invokes. Whether you’re living in Britain or abroad, TPS Fam bring relate-able content with consistently top-class production that’ll help you navigate the rat race with head nods for days, it’s safe to say Henry Chinaksi’s real-life inspiration would be proud; as TPS manifest his poetry is what happens when nothing else can’ line as they juggle city living while remaining creative, and like the alcoholic author, use their words as an escape from the tedium the modern bustle brings.

Grab Hot Water Music digitally here, or get a hard copy here.

3/5

Peace.