Joshua – The Context

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“American mainstream is obsessed with black creative genius, be it music, walk, style, but at the same time puts a low priority on the black social misery which is the very context out of which that creativity flows.” – DrCornel West

Since it’s inception, the corruption of Hip Hop as an art form has been total and ruthless in it’s bold-faced coercion. Thankfully parts of the underground have continued using the medium for it’s original purpose; as the voice of the people in times of universal deceit. With a message that speaks volumes, over emotive beats, Joshua Virasami and Gurpal Singh Walia have created a brilliant first album with The Context. If you’re into socially aware, politically conscious content with real heart behind it you need to hear this début, musically it’s melodious tones offer the kind of upliftment that Hi-Tek perfected on Reflection Eternal, and like the MC on that classic album, Joshua’s prose is worthy of praise from the offset. As a proponent of the Occupy movement, autodidact, social activist and writer, the man has a vast perspective on current affairs that exceeds his years. 

The poetic, spoken word feel on the album’s intro immediately sets the progressive tone; with his ad-libs lending the song a relaxed air, and the final beat reminding you this is a still a straight up hip hop album as the boom and the bap breaks into DJ Defunkt’s scratches on Happiness and Peace. The moment you hear Gurpal’s sleepy vocal melodies cascade onto the track and Defunkt’s cuts calling for ‘World Peace’  and ‘Hip Hop and positivity’ you’ll know if this album is for you; personally it made me turn my car stereo up as loud as it could go and pump my hands in the air with pure joy. Supplying vivid lines that illuminate your mind and unblind the blinkered, Joshua allows no modern preoccupation to escape his page unscathed; from the impact fashion has on labour abroad, to wage slavery closer to home, he offers solutions as well as diagnosing the ills on the albums explosive opener; ‘All we seek is happiness and peace, love and prosperity could break all the deceit, instead of sleeping on our people, we awake them from the dream’. 

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Arise As One is one of my favourite pieces of music I’ve heard in the last few years. Again the positive vibe is in full effect, and Joshua’s thought-provoking chorus is brilliantly written, making it hard to believe this is the MC’s first album. The wordplay throughout is refreshing; especially on his ‘weed in the crack’ lines. Gurpal’s natural hi-hat patterns and varied percussive elements  fill out the song’s rich texture, the wooden knock under the snare adding to the organic feel. After that musical warmth, the producer’s pads play out a more ominous tone to accommodate Narco Terrorism‘s more serious message. The sample at the start adequately conveys the self-importance that pervades within business and gives Joshua the inspiration to speak on the suits running their corrupt business within every major city, and then write from the perspective of the drug suppliers, money launderers and policy makers that allow the flow of narcotics into an area to end an incendiary verse. After an excerpt from Charles Manson offering the opposition stance to the song’s first sample, Joshua switches his lyrical standpoint once again; narrating a dealer-turned- cop that uses his police pass to continue the corruption as both verses converge into one last poignant line; ‘You only got one life, and a life of crime will leave you lifeless’. 

The first verse on Troops and Coups shows a man flowing with ease and passion as this talented young writer weaves words with his poetic tilt, using metaphor and simile that would wow a creative writing class if only they had the street scrolls to decipher the slang his styles stay rooted in. Every word is a gem, every line a maxim worth remembering. There’s not many places in the UK you find socially aware lyrics this central in an album’s character, and the meaning Joshua fills his lines with is impressive considering his concise phrasing; ‘Brainwashed cuz we choose to debate, whether corporations have the right views for today, I say it’s slavery, you still say ‘who’s to say?’ I say half the world who can’t put food on their plate’. Gurpal’s ear for memorable melody and neat, uncluttered arrangement on Babylon must have made it an easy choice for the LP’s lead single. Joshua writes lines from the heart once again,shining brightly throughout with too many deep bars to mention, his words reaching their apex on the song’s chorus; ‘See if this whole world exists in a mustard seed, look inside, it’s not that you must succeed, but that self empowerment is the trusted key, to walk through the door of doubt free of lust and greed.’ 

 The jazz piano refrains on Kavi‘s love-laced lines make for more easy listening from the pair; Joshua adapts his flow, showing even more lyrical diversity than he has already demonstrated and making all the lines that follow ‘It’s the fire in the eyes, desire and demise’  a dope listen, as he plays with words and pronunciation. July Babies is like warm sun on your face with verbal solar flares to match; taking his previously serious delivery to a lighter place more aligned with Q Tip on Marauders than M1 on Lets Get Free. Gurpal outdoes himself once again; his laidback loops so chilled they might even slide back out of your ears as your listening, and DJ Defunkt gets busy at the bottom end with some nice kick scratches that hark back to Tip’s Tribe on a Quest once again.

The relaxed mood turns solemn on Phoenix, as Joshua addresses the military occupation of the middle east and American and British global hegemony, accompanied by samples of Cornel West and Angela Davis, who lend their compassionate yet impassioned words to break up his bars. Joshua adds weight to every word, and distills his political essence on a second verse that leaves you with fire in your stomach. It’s as if he views every successive stanza as a challenge to out-do himself, and consistently wins his own wager; ‘When you boycott and divest, know you’re changing the norm, like the quakers who emancipated the slaves from the dorms, alone we are nothing, but together we dream, of a home for everyone willing better to be, in a world of mutual exchange and not indebted but free, but as the media regurgitates the factual guise, it’s harder for our ideals to actualize.’ Defunkt blesses the hook with a Jehst sample and some prime cuts on Fortunate; a song that seems apt after the last track. Each rhyme written to serve as a reminder of our unthinking entitlement in the west, that is until we break the indoctrination that imposed this mindstate upon us. 

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Joshua surfs the stirring beat on Think About It with steez, paraphrasing Black Star bars, offering a message of hope and offsetting the message of the last track with an appreciation for what you already have; which if nothing else is the gift of life and the ability to be breathing right now as you read this. Continuing the inter-connectivity of the last few songs is the amazingly inspiring amalgamation of Wonder and I, two tracks to elevate your mental through yet more instrumentals to soothe your soul, leaving you a few last jewels of wisdom to crown off this essential album. Joshua’s verses on Wonder are some of his best, as he focuses his lens on the positive solutions to our daily struggle after spending much of the album outlining the more negative issues within society that needed addressing. Whether you’re working at a menial job or affecting social change and claiming dole, his words will hold relevance and offer the necessary balance between light and dark that the media fails to present. I is a concentrated dose of Joshua’s insight into work, economics, and the fear that chains many of us into debt-driven toil or to illusionary status for most of our lives, but also an affirmation of the intention to live in the moment and yet another opportunity for you to bask in Gurpal’s production, the music once again leaving you energised and light as the album ends. It’s aimless the way that we chase for the papers, shameless the way that we crave for the famous, forsaken the way so we remain chained, insane and enslaved, it’s deranged that we play this game, full of snakes, rat races and jakes, while the faceless names remain nameless faces.’

  The level of beatmaking on The Context is nothing short of stunning for a relative newcomer in the eyes of the public; considering this highly talented producer only bought Maschine after hearing his friend rhyme with the distinct purpose of providing him with beats for this project is not only an astoundingly humble way to begin beatmaking but a testament to the true spirit of Hip Hop. His production encompasses a range of influence while retaining a clear sound that gives Joshua’s truthful, poignant lyricism a constant springboard to jump off from as the MC continues his upward journey towards the elevated mental plains his words reach for. If you’re not feeling Immortal Technique’s brash delivery, and lament the loss of Lowkey from the UK scene, Joshua Virasami is your new guiding light to help elucidate the dark corners of Babylon. He keeps his content buoyed with a positivity that feeds his creative side and makes his often serious and weighty messages an easy proposition to overstand, dropping wordplay that’s politically and musically perceptive and writing like he’ll never get the chance to speak again. The Context is the new soundtrack for people who strive for positive change in their immediate environment and seek truth within themselves, using the medium we call Hip Hop to practice love in the face of adversity, and spread awareness.

Follow them @gurpsone & @joshuavirasami, and get one of the 100 limited-run CD pressings of The Context here. Enter the promo code ‘eyeknowhiphop’ at the checkout to get 20% off!

5/5

Peace.

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BVA : Be Very Aware

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Unless you’ve been basking under one of those old style rocks that doesn’t come with integrated internet access; you’re bound to have learnt that the label at the forefront of British rap’s recent renaissance has been High Focus Records. The label started by Fliptrix and a few friends has gone from strength to strength since it’s inception, becoming a household name in the UK hip hop scene and gaining a global following. The label’s earliest, and most revered release Nature’s Greatest Mystery, found Flipz, Verbs, Leafy & BVA donning feathered face-masks to write and perform as The Four Owls. Since then, the fans have heard the members collab on numerous HF releases, and gotten solo albums from three of the men minus their avian pseudonyms; but were left waiting when it came to Rusty Take Off AKA BVA’s own solo project for the label. On this new LP, the westcountry MC has supplied the fans with exactly what we’ve been waiting for; Be Very Aware is seventeen tracks of rugged rap goodness from the RLD camp that leaves no rock unturned, making it much harder for the technophobic people I made up in the intro to hide from the inevitable rise of one of the UK’s most commanding voices.

On an album almost entirely produced by boom-bap-blood-brothers Leaf Dog and Illinformed, you already know every track’s cream of the hip hop crop; and with nearly every artist on the High focus label guesting, and the giant leaps BVA has been making in both content and delivery, this album is essential for any UK hip hop heads. The intro sample that recurs throughout the LP frames not only the album’s content but also the rapper’s personality well, bringing a light-hearted, yet realistic tone. Rain Or Shine hammers straight out of the gate at a pace likely to get everyone’s neck snappin as Leaf Dog’s ear for soulful samples serves him well once again. The lyrical course BVA sets early on is reflective of the LP’s title; from his personal perspective on ‘lookin for inner peace’ to advice for the listeners; ‘If you’ve lost you, then go find him, cuz everyone’s got their own diamonds they’re shaping and refining’. 

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Hype Man keeps the mood chilled with another of the RLD producer’s placid instrumentals that’ll have you packing piff like Borat packed in questions about cheese in that supermarket. BVA takes the time to touch on the pitfalls of pride many have fallen into as their music and egos blow up, trading humbleness for overblown self importance in this cautionary anecdote. Fellow brother Of The Stone Illinformed makes his first appearance with some strong production that keeps things simple for BVA to impart his views on Frontin. His words pull no punches, calling out anyone posing, and promising things they can’t deliver, but keeping the content positive by adding lines to inspire; ‘there’s no shame in saying there’s something you’re lacking’.

This Love Is Love is a heartfelt ode to the culture we all owe so much to; with BVA reppin the reasons Hip Hop moves him. The dope video that accompanies the tune is itself a fitting tribute to beatmaking, tagging, writing rhymes, diggin vinyl and smoking grade, with BVA bringing some fire in the booth backed by his High Focus family. ‘Give me a fat bag of weed and some beats and you won’t see the Beaver for weeks, capisce?’ Leaf outdid himself with Where’s The Mic At? It’s one of the album’s highlights, as the duo with more chemistry than Crick and Watson work their magic over the song’s ghostly operatic overtones. This style is what the Real Life Drama crew are known for perfecting; penning verses full of metaphor that flow loose and breezy like MC Hammer’s fucked up trousers. Leaf Dog’s chorus sees him at his rowdy best; ‘If ya showin us love, we show it right back, only really concerned with where the mic’s at‘, and BVA’s verse is one of his strongest deliveries to date, ‘they say it’s drastic but not from where I’m sittin, there’s sour milk in the fridge but the wise took a sip and kept spittin, don’t speak commandments, but know we’ve written them, stonecut the track and spit flows in the incision.’  

The first influx of grade-A guest appearances kicks off with style on the riotous It’s A Mad World; Sammy B Side scratches up some K-lash, Dre, Jam Baxter and KRS with his distinct style that has developed drastically over the last year, and Cracker Jon & BVA bring their best to this banger, as does HF- head-honcho Fliptrix; who manages to convey balance through a cluster of contradictory comparisons in his outstanding sixteen. Verb T’s now classic character makes a surprising, yet welcome return with his Dick Tru-Say Skit, making this my favourite appearance from the jocular disc jockey yet; the end of which edges ever-closer to that raging Alan Partridge impression you know T must have perfected by now. Gifted is another of the LP’s best, and when that sense of humour creeps over into verb’s bars you get gems; I gotta spread the gift, women want Verb T on December 25th, under the tree, wearing nothin but a grin, do they? or do they ask ‘man, what the fuck is up with him?”

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Can’t Hear You is one of the best HF tracks BVA has put his name to; the beat’s lethargic horns plod forward as the MC reminds the haters why he’s still too high to hear their cries, dodges honey traps and keeps an open mind around blinkered people. That potent herb gets a shout out again on three minute intoxicant dedication Weapon Of Choice; each of the three rappers dedicating their bars to their chosen method of inebriation. Dirty Dike’s alcoholic ramblings come clear and stinking like the cider bubble he’s trapped his mind in, and since Return Of The Twat he’s gotten filthier, and more debauched. Every guest appearance he seems to get more hopelessly hammered yet stronger with the words, like Bukowski with bars. Even with two slamming verses preceding him, Kashmere drops another heavy verse. The Iguana Man’s on fine form as he divulges his altered states of consciousness come from dimethyltriptamine trips, and takes you on a psychedelic journey through his innerspace with lyrics more potent and mentally challenging than the synthesized version of the organic compound he’s ingesting.

Since Reuben’s Train Rag N Bone man can do no wrong in my eyes, and once again his guest vocals add weight to any song he graces. Thankfully, the ostensibly derogatory title of That Old Bitch is metaphor for jealousy, as BVA pens one of his more personal songs and shows how far he’s come over the last few years. ‘I find myself hating rich kids but let it go, cuz moneys born from trees, man you can watch it grow, and they were born into their lives, and me in mine, I free my mind because hating is a waste of time.’  NLP’s Smellington Piff makes a storming guest appearance on lonely stoner anthem Let Me Relax In My Cave. It still blows my mind how huge this dude’s voice is; he smashes his verse, packing in truth like he packs a bowl; ‘hate them posh pricks who claim they ‘do weed’ and get pissed off of two pimms, wearing tight jeans, tank tops and mood rings.’ BVA’s verse is standardly strong and stylish; this kind of beat brings out his rugged side as he gets down to spittin some sick bars with a hunger you can hear ‘Normally I’m calmer than the average, on the flipside, smash shit, grab kids over-react quick, stood in the shitstorm without a raincoat, I walk amongst the sheep, but I’m not tryin’a be the scapegoat.’ Be Gone Bitches has some nice verses, but ultimately the beat isn’t as good as the rest; the chorus is too repetitive, and even though BVA explains that it’s not a slight against women, you’re not likely to be singing along with that one unless you fancy sounding a bit derogatory.

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Amdek’s only production credit on Be Very Aware is a monster of a beat that leaves Leaf and Beav relaying their hallucinatory experiences on mushies with their trademark style. Its dope the way their verses interact with each other, both speaking on their mate in the garden from two different tripped-out perspectives. BVA begins his bars by spewing his brew back up, then seeing wildebeest on the mantelpiece; and after trying to bend spoons in the kitchen, Leafy has a chat with himself for a bit then manages to clamber back to the ‘real world’s’ grey days just in time to kill the chorus with some lines bound to go down well on the festival circuit; ‘Give me shrooms, give me weed, gimme 2C-I & LSD, lick a frog, smoke the bark from a tree, people just come an take a trip with me.’ After that departure from the production style of previous tracks, the album gets really interesting as the experimentation shakes up the status quo further with the cloud-stepping sitar strains of InsomnilepticIllinformed pulls one of his best productions out the bag and makes a beat that sounds like smoking your way through a comedown. BVA switches up his style and writes with a more stream-of-consciousness flow that darts between daydream and waking life and echoes eerily like it’s simultaneously moving closer and further away from you; the whole track is like delving into the mid of burnt-out hippies lamenting the death of Timothy Leary, in a good way. Am I Going Crazy is another beat that makes you wana start rapping your tits off; which is exactly what BVA proceeds to do, only finally slowing his momentum when the album finishes; making this tune and Spit The Soulder two tracks packed with solid bars, ill scratches and dope beats to round off this début album as strongly as it began. Top to bottom BVA has delivered everything you’d want as a fan, and added some interesting curve balls with the beat selection late on in the second half, and brought the fire lyrically but kept his lines watertight, insightful and relevant. Be Very Aware is an essential album, full of hype tracks that were made to be played in headphones chillin with red eyes, or blasted over a loudspeaker as you flip tables and neck ten cans; the shit’s so exciting it makes me wana do both.

The album’s out this friday! Go grab the double vinyl with digital download or CD version from HF!

4/5.

Peace.

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Cutta Chase & Fredo – The Fifth Element

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With interstellar wordplay that runs rings around the average rapper, and smooth rhythm sections to sink yourself into loaded with concepts that get deep and nebulous like puddles filled to the brim with cloudy lemonade; this fresh LP plucked straight from Britain’s fertile underground is unlike anything you’ll hear this year. Fredo’s beats are as etheric and majestic as the album cover implies, and the rhymes from Cutta Chase are spun with mathematical accuracy and a tangible spiritual connection that manifests through the thoughtful lines he speaks. I’ve had to replay each song at least three times just to catch everything he’s putting down in order to form an opinion on it; so if you’re into diggin’ through your music for gems,The Fifth Element has got what you need in abundance. The intro Wide Eyed Owl begins with a comforting guitar tone as a sample explains the influence positive tonal inferences can have on reality, and the behaviour of the listener, and Cutta Chase proceeds to impart his weeded-out wisdom with lines that entangle your mind in a flurry of home truths and deft observations. Moonlight Melody showcases some nice minimal sampling that doesn’t intrude over the lucid lyricism the gifted MC fires off; as Cutta covers synchronicity, destiny, using positive mental imaging to manifest the future you want to experience and the cultivation of patience all in the space of the first minute; then when that snare echoes it’s first strike and the song picks up it’s full momentum; it’s a clear case you’re not listening to any old bedroom duo out to craft tracks about bags of draw and 5 panels. ‘Gather your balloons and travel to Mars, stand on your moon and gather your stars, channel your art, and do what you planned from the start, use your magic man this planet is ours.”

Drifting is a breath of fresh air on an already breezy LP. The clear, clean sounds that Fredo has laid down for Cutta Chase and Verb T to expound over make for supremely easy listening; as delicate piano melodies dance in the foreground, leaving room for passing brass notes to echo wistfully behind as the double snare hits and cheeky off-beat hi hat sneak in to create a judder that is smoothed over by the dulcet tones of the two MC’s. The mentally cleansing sounds continue on Potent (C) Interval, with some edutaining samples separating the verses, and Cutta Chase bringing his A game in every given moment, plucking inspiration from the ether the album’s title alludes to. The second verse seeing moments where he seems to be flowing straight from his higher self, through his body and out into the mic as his words dart from idea to idea with the speed of thoughts; and that ‘settling for dust, brother’  line definitely deserved the ‘whoo’ that came after it. Fredo’s horn samples and ride rhythms drip off the track like warm rain, and the thick bass that unassumingly rolls through underneath it all expands the sound exponentially, giving it a hazy, soft neon glow. Whoever this man is, he deserves all the production props you can give him.

Frankie Stew has had what I affectionately call the ‘slightly-upset-white-guy’ corner of rap covered for a while now, his words are always poetically inclined and his delivery is heartfelt and interesting. I’m not 100%, but i’m pretty sure he said ‘fuck Two Chainz’ in his verse, so he automatically gets top marks from me for lyricism; and from his work with Harvey Gunn in the past and 07239 being such a subtle banger, this talented kid gets my backing on whatever he does. Cutta’s verse is deep as ever, and offers insightful ideas without preaching, instead referring back to his own experience as a guide for others to take inspiration from; offering that ‘nothing’s gettin better til you let it’ and rhyming some nice couplets; ‘I’m trying to be the light and see the lining on my lime cloud, trying to keep climbing, keep shining like the lighthouse, fly south, settle with nettles & the night owls, trying to find the focus, finer things I’m trying to find out.’ His voice is built for songs like this, and by resisting the urge to slip into more lugubrious terrain too often, the dejected tone and tales of striving to find the positive amidst darkness is what makes The Light House shine brightly. Fredo’s cleverly arranged horns play call and response over two octaves on Lovers Lament. A familiar story of passion and pain, that makes for a thematic proving ground where MC’s really get tested; the idea’s been done to death, but Cutta Chase not only flies through the conceptual pitfall that a love song could become without batting an eye, but makes it a relatively un-soppy affair at the same time; writing some emotive lines that stick in your mind like the fabricated responsibilities card companys will have many men fulfilling this month. The second stanza is where the song really takes off, as the lines increase in their urgency, and flow so fast from the lovelorn MC’s page to your ears you’d be hard pressed to not feel the emotional impact from the weight of his words.

The Laws Of Attraction remix is one of my favourite songs at the moment for many reasons. The beat is as amazing as you’d expect from Fredo by this point, the short, interrupting nature of his chops making for great listening that surpasses most female sample-driven tracks of this nature. Cutta Chase’s delivery is exactly as carefully articulated as it needs to be: packing enough force to hold your attention while not disturbing the tranquil waters the instrumental invokes with any unnecessary ripples, and Smoovth’s verse provides balance against Cutta’s voice well. Whether you believe in co-creation and the laws of attraction or not, this tune will have you manifesting some seriously enjoyable musical experience into your 5-sense reality in no time.

And these times I’m sitting here drifting, sold self knowledge for the soul, this is thinking, listen, you gotta live life and learn to love it, wisdom.”

The outro God Jinxing adds the capstone to this lyrical pyramid with as much care taken as when the pair placed the first blocks and began building seven songs ago; the tone echoes the album’s beginning and comples the cycle like a musical Oroborous. Lyrically it’s one of best verses on the album, I’d go further into it but there’s too many gems to quote, I’d end up typing out the whole verse. This last sixteen finds the MC flowing from the heart again with unbridled passion, it’s as if he’s melting the barrier between his thoughts and his spoken words with the fire that propels him; and the change in flow he employs on the last few bars is near impenetrable. At times it’s as though Cutta Chase rhymes so earnestly and with such positive drive he almost raises his vibration into a higher dimension and disappears from this physical realm altogether. It’s safe to say if you’re meditating and ascension-seeking, not out in the clubs attention seeking, then no doubt The Fifth Element is for you; but whatever your personal musical or spiritual preference, there’s much to be found for all seekers of good music here.

The 8 track album is available digitally from the duo’s bandcamp right now.

4/5.

Peace.

Bill Biggz/Mono:Massive/Vinyldigger – It’s Like That

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‘An MC, a DJ and a Producer all went into the studio’ might sound like the set up for a wack joke your drunk uncle tells at every family get-together; but it’s actually the set up for the killer new single from Variation Music; It’s Like That. If you checked out my recent feature on Hobo Truffle’s Ode To Ghana beat tape, then Austrian producer Mono:Massive and his lackadaisical reggae-swing that pervaded on Slow It Down will still be fresh in your mind. On this new release, the producer has formed a triplet with two similarly talented, dope individuals to drop a single well worth your attention.

Bill Biggz style is cooler than polar bear’s toe nails, and represents Strong Island with a classic flow with an old-school lean. Kicking out a ‘that-a-that, its like that y’all’ on the song’s chorus without sounding anachronistic or cheesy. In fact the lyrical move was so fitting it had me finishing the well-known rhyme along with him the first time I heard it. His lyricism is never overblown and always sharp, but when it comes to saying what he means, he keeps it blunt. The second verse especially demonstrates his confident flows; “I was born in the 70’s, raised in the 80’s, raised hell in the 90’s’. Stack that fly intro next to his autotune diss and Ricky Rozay impression and this entertaining look into the mind of Biggz proves to be a memorable one that firmly places his name on your radar for future reference. The beat is a similarly frosty affair, the marriage that the producer ministers between boom-bap beats and tuneful timpani melodies gives the track a primal, organic feel that is anchored along the way by the strong foundation the kick and snare provide. Vinyldigger’s scratches are short and neat, echoing Bill Biggz last words and stamping the track’s title into your mental with some clean cuts that come through with heaps of style. He makes it sound effortless as he takes his time putting together some tasty patterns to twist the sample with skill, and is out as quick as he made his entrance; making  for one of the coolest cameos you’ll hear from a DJ this year, and showing signs that he’s clearly overstood the tried-and-tested less is more approach.

The release is another banging track from back catalogue of beats Mono: Massive has accrued; and with the airy, jazz-laced remix included on the digital B Side, the pair make for the perfect lounging playlist. For fans of underground sounds with mellow tones that keep it calm and slouched as they shuffle along slow like zombies staring at their smartphones; It’s like That is a no-brainer.

Grab this name-your-price release here.

4/5.

Peace!