Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton : This Is Stones Throw Records

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 After years of patchy information on Stones Throw’s often publicity-shy artists,  the new documentary from Jeff Broadway does an impressive job of de-mystifying the L.A-based label’s most enigmatic personalities. Using archival footage that spans from the early eighties up until now; Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton charts the hard work Peanut Butter Wolf has put in to share the music he enjoys with the world. Interviews interpolated throughout keep things objective, and the juxtaposition of grainy home video footage with glossy new film situates the style somewhere between The Art Of Rap and American: The Bill Hicks Story. As Wolf’s habit of saving lunch money to buy records blooms into label aspirations, the film splits it’s time evenly between the lesser-known bands and the more established musicians, illuminating every aspect of the label not included on their earlier video releases 101 and In Living The True Gods.

With a diverse roster that boasts some of the most respected names in the underground, the film packs plenty of highlights; Jonwayne records skateboard trucks into FL Studio for shakers, Baron Zen’s noisy garage-electro blurs genre borders, Talib Kweli relives hearing Lootpack for the first time, and Common fondly reminisces on J Dilla’s early morning beatmaking sessions. As the narrative unfurls chronologically, Madlib’s musical journey from building beats in a bomb shelter to the month-long shroom-mangled mindstate that birthed Lord Quas comes to life through rare home video footage; and J Dilla’s highly influential sound gets much deserved props through heartfelt interviews with friends.

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Perhaps fittingly there’s no new interview from DOOM; and although most of the insight into the ever-elusive super villain comes through audio clips from his Red Bull lecture, the section dedicated to Metal Finger’s uniquely intricate lyricism still provides enough unseen footage to keep fans happy. The soundtrack sees new beats from Madlib mingling amongst selections from each of the featured musicians, while the extra features include the half hour mini-doc Extra Special Loving For The People.

 Despite the inevitable struggles experienced when running a label that places the importance of good music over monetary gain; Stones Throw has enjoyed a recent resurgence in popularity thanks to the steadfast dedication of acts like Homeboy Sandman and J Rocc, and the creative passion of more recent signees such as Dam Funk. Wolf’s willingness to gamble on the creative vision he sees in up-and-coming musicians is commendable, and Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton does an amazing job at capturing this creative hub’s love for music, and the constant behind-the-scenes work it takes to sustain a D.I.Y label amidst an ever-changing economic climate.

Buy the CD & DVD bundle from the usual online spots, or rent it from itunes here.

4/5

Peace.

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Confucius MC : The Highest Order

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Known for his part in a duo with MF DOOM’s live drummer, Kwake; South East London’s Confucius MC has surpassed all expectations with his accomplished début The Highest Order. The last few years have seen the rapper support Mos Def and Slum Village, drop a quality solo mixtape, and link with Jehst’s YNR Productions. With this respected platform behind him, his first lyrical offering proves his capabilities as a captivating rhymer, offering a masterclass on intelligent musicianship with a laidback cool. His content balances confident flows with insightful lines informed by a wealth of knowledge, making for an album that reciprocates the amount of attention you give it.

The concise rhymes align over beats from French producer Keor Meteor; who’s ear for uncommon jazz loops, sweet soul flips and interesting audio clips ensures CoNvey The Thought starts strong as they mean to go on; while Sign Of Quality sees Confucius spittin’ with conviction; ‘I’ll make your shit stop dead like the game’s crashin, I came to represent my skill, you came to cash in, place my shit parallel, who’ sprayin’ with passion?’ Keor’s production challenges both the MC and the listener on Original‘s conversational sample source; then switches to a simpler, more melodic tone to back stellar bars on Still Image; whilst Keor’s production shines on Eyes To Sky, placing delicate vocals on a beautifully understated chorus.

 CoNsciousness utilizes a rare moment that finds David Lynch not peddling transcendental meditation; his golf-ball analogy introducing a Madlib-style loop with slick storytelling bars from Con that touch topics close to any head’s heart; ‘Tryn’a take rap to a summit, but all they wana do is down-dumb it, and these clowns love it.’  Is It Real breezes through on a smooth flute loop to address authenticity, while Ponder On This speaks on society’s slanted structure through heavily-effected vocal tones.

Lovely Chronic lounges in a fog of piff smoke to lead into the title track’s cinematic sounds; and pitched-up soul-cuts uplift on It’s All Around Us as Keor’s production and Con’s content peak together in this salient track. Deep Regions keeps the standard high, with lines more mysterious than the cryptic Pulp-Fiction-briefcase adorning the cover; ‘from the deeper regions, from which I keep receiving, visions of higher life forms, deep and breathing, take a seat, we can speak this evening, we can shed some light, or we can keep deceiving.’ Write From The Start sketches out a short verse over bass-heavy breaks, leaving Never Ending Dream to close with purposeful flows. The audio-collage approach Keor takes to his beats keeps The Highest Order consistently interesting; and when coupled with Con’s ability to craft memorable songs through insightful lines uncoloured by ignorance, the result is nothing short of Hip Hop at it’s finest.

Buy it here.

5/5

Peace.

Robot X Shuffle : MF DOOM Remixes.

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The fine Hip Hop minds behind Hobo Truffles Ode To Ghana LP are back at it again; this time remixing the Supervillain’s instantly recognisable rhymes with some more of their inimitable beats.

Melody goes to show that Robot Orchestra and Shuffle Jack can flip anything and have it be an interesting composition that reshapes the sample material into a new form; it also provided the pair the much-coveted opportunity to create a killer comic-book intro to accompany DOOM’s larger than-life character. Viktor Vaughn himself has done this numerous times to perfection, but with this latest free mix, Robot X Shuffle join the likes of Grip Grand amongst the slim ranks of producers that have successfully payed homage to DOOM’s style; sampling daytime TV dramatics that loudly exclaim the arrival of the ‘metal-faced terrorist’, and although he can’t ‘claim responsibility’, I’m sure Dumile would approve of the new twists the producers put on his animated accapellas. The beat is busy, with loose percussion that twirls around you, as orchestral symphonies strive for your attention and continental crooners serenade the ear in between DOOM’s deft verses. Their take on De La Soul’s Rock CoCane Flow floats along with an extraterrestrial sci-fi steez; the stop-start nature of the original feeling less jolting on this reworking; the pair programming hi hats and bells with patterns more interesting than cymatics.  The beat has a swing that falls over itself and compliments the more unorthodox elements of DOOM’s flow, then miraculously seems to fall back into place just in time for the De La MC’s to rhyme.

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Robot Orchestra’s ambitious remix of Gazillion Ear takes Dilla’s lounge organ beat, files it away neatly; then begins a completely new page in the song’s history book, taking the accapella away from the Napoleon Dynamite-esque sounds of the original and towards a whole new paradigm. Using loose, rolling snares and beefy kicks that surreptitiously lay under stealthy organ melodies, this remix makes DOOM come across lyrically like James Bond’s Hip Hop cousin from the rough part of town; creeping through the London night with a swanky suit, a mouth full of beer, and a mask full of blunt smoke as he spills lyrical gifts left and right and tries to fuck his secretary. The melodies and steady bass of the middle section build slowly, forming a theatrical tension before Robot Orchestra releases those marching drums  on you once again, DOOM’s rhymes picking up momentum as the song gets it’s second wind. Pair any decent producer with MF; remix or collab, and I’m on board. Getting remixes of this calibre out of the blue from two of the instrumental Hip Hop scene’s best is enough to satisfy any instrumental head or dedicated DOOM fan.

Check out the mixes in full, and grab yourself a free download here.

Klaus Layer : The Adventures Of Captain Crook

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Redef Records continue to put out high quality Hip Hop with that Golden Era Boom Bap feel with the new Klaus Layer release. The German producer has combined his love for old cinema, surrealist art and 90’s Hip Hop to make a beat tape that sounds natural and unforced; his samples are clear, his beats thump with that airy MPC sound and his composition allows your mind to wander within each track as he inconspicuously builds the mood. All Of The Time gets your head nodding from the outset as flute harmonies make up the refrain and clever use of group vocals fill the low end. The song moves quickly from section to section, keeping it simple with the main elements then getting more technical on his percussive lines; the shakers and hi-hats alone could form another wholly interesting song.

Company is the zag amidst the two zigs tracks One and Three provide with their more classic sound. On this more meandering number, Klaus wades his way through a deep lake of sound and paddles about down the bottom for the song’s duration. Every sample has an electric warmth that is washed over by an aqueous tide that makes you feel like you’re scuba diving with Pete Rock. The drums are harder than on the first track and employ that time-honoured pattern of the boom and the bap to back up the more experimental sampling. It’s a cool change of feel with some shrewd placement.

Into A Sky employs more traditional instrumentation; smooth horns ride soft piano loops, and the echo of the snare plus a lot of swing equals another solid song. Again the producer perfectly captures a sound that has been mimicked to the point of parody, but never fails to be enjoyable when executed well. Blu seems to been going through a transitory period recently, his flows on the new EP with Nottz and again on Klaus’s Illest In Charge are more assertive and cocky, and his new tone is more in line with the raspier side of Kendrick than the mellow cool of Q Tip. He spends most of his verse talking about flashy shit in a grating tone, making the instrumental at the end a more chilled listen. In My Mind delves into 60’s rock psychedelia with relish to bring things back on track and re-expand the musical horizons Klaus is reaching for, ending the first side of his new tape on a strong note, even if it is a bit muddier than his other samples .

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Side 2 starts strong with Truly‘s minimal drum breaks, old school bass lines and nebulous trumpet stabs as they fade in and out, vibrating against the gloom he’s creating; this is the type of song that the cassette player combo was meant for; zoning out, riding a night bus through the city to these sounds. Any DOOM fans will recognize the sample on Touch,  and no doubt it takes balls to flip something so dear to many underground heads; when it came on I had to stop what I was doing and wait like; ‘Alright then, what you got?’ He didn’t disappoint. The drum sound speaks volumes about how he was coming at this one, he’s swinging for the fences with an aggressive take on the source material that’s a great listen. 

Things stay funky but on a calmer tip with Slow It Down. His vocal chops and ear for good melody are brought into focus again by some really nice selections, the expert use of vocal lines especially setting The Adventures Of Captain Crook apart from it’s contemporaries. Many people go as far as to find a loop and some drums; less find vocals that match a mood being created then arrange many elements to form a full sound. The second vocal track Come Back is one of the catchiest beats on the tape, the horns and scratches of the chorus easily compensating for the song falling slightly flat once more on lyrical content, although the bars do carry a lot of style. Klaus’s new tape is perfect listening to kick back or travel to, and now with Damu and Redef behind him, the man formerly known as Captain Crook is set to continue onto new musical heights.

You can buy the album on Cassette, Vinyl or CD here. Or grab a free digital download here.

4/5.

Peace.