High Focus 4th Birthday

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Is this you? Are you bored? Did your exciting plans for the weekend drift away like a fart on a breeze, leaving you feeling low and distracted? High Focus can remedy that; as this Friday they’ve assembled UK Hip Hop’s finest, taking their yearly wreck up to new hedonistic heights by expanding their line-up, and finding an even larger stage to destroy at London’s Brixton Electric. After years of hard work, releasing over twenty home-grown Hip Hop classics from some of the country’s foremost MC’s; High Focus are set to celebrate their fourth year in the game, with live sets from everyone at the label, and unmissable appearances by Klashnekoff, Jehst, Buggsy, Kashmere, Children Of The Damned, Onoe Caponoe and Pete Cannon.

If there’s one thing that’ll cure your boredom and break up that crushing British work-week mundanity, it’s spending a few hours battering your ear holes with nothing but dope lyrics and heavy beats courtesy of Fliptrix and co. It’s guna be huge!

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Rescue your weekend from the doldrums & help HF continue their boom-bap, born-day tradition by getting your ticket here.

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Verb T : Reverb

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Drawing primarily from his recent I Remain LP on High Focus; Reverb features a host of dope remixes of Verb T’s tunes by some of the finest beatmakers worldwide; and boasts a varied beat selection that’ll not only knock the dust off your brain after a heavy weekend of drinking/Jesus but will have you fiending to revisit the MC’s back catalogue immediately. Slovenian trio Urban Click set it off with three back to back bangers; Dawn takes a soulful stroll though one of Verb’s best tunes, with dynamic drum changes that disperse the verses and give the strings even more impact. A complete re-imagining of Lost strips the tune back to neck-snapping breaks and buoyant basslines; while their Power Within remake does the opposite, taking the original’s nebulous notes and reforming them into an up-tempo tramp that explores a maze of stuttering hi-hats as vaporous vocal chops claw at the track’s bottom end.

Jehst puts together a funky, bass-heavy remix of Sound The Alarm off the YNR-released Serious Games album; which also serves to inspire Ghost Town’s electronic arpeggio’s that back Verb’s nimble rhyme schemes on Extra Fried. Talented Glasgow-based producer Konchis backs deep bars from half of the Four Owls on Look Now, with siren-like horns that bathe the track in strobes of sound; then Pete Cannon’s OG beat gets the Leaf Dog treatment on Where You Find Me, bringing that soulful bump he’s known for, and making the song an album highlight in the process.

The self-produced Less Old Less Grumpy blends a new chorus with the original tune’s accapella over a catchy piano loop that keeps your head nodding; as does the original mix on All That Exists; which is a real interesting listen. Alternate vocal takes and a different wording on the chorus are set to a more reserved sample; with Verbs still perfecting the flow you end up hearing on the album version; providing a rare insight into the writing process that shows how much time and effort T spends when creating his tunes.

BMRN ( pronounced BoomRuin if you’re not fluent in cool kid internet linguistics ) end the LP by taking The Power Within and shifting the previously serious tone into an epic, yet sombre track that packs Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind levels of upliftment meshed with depression. For new fans looking to explore Verb T’s music Reverb is as fitting introduction as any, but for long-time listeners the real gems are found when placing the tracks into context. They show progression, and demonstrate the malleability of the man’s rhymes, as they sit comfortably on nearly any beat they’re placed upon.

Reverb came out today! You can get it for whatever price you feel, here.

4/5

Peace

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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Verb T : The I Remain Interview.

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EyeKnow: How long did it take you to put I Remain together?

Verb T : In terms of the beats, They’re ones I’ve collected over the years. I’ve had an MPC 1000 since about 7 years ago and I’ve been slowly teaching myself. About 5 of the beats on I Remain are old beats that as I’ve progressed as a producer and learnt more about the machine, I’ve gone back to. I’ve been collecting bits and pieces for a really long time, but in terms of really going in and working on the album, it’s the past couple of years that I’ve been specifically shaping them into a body of work.

Were you looking for a specific sound in your samples when you were piecing the tracks together?

I definitely put a lot of effort into making it sound cohesive by being very selective with the track list. Although I wouldn’t say I have the technical skill of a lot of top producers out here in terms of having the equipment, hardware and plugins. If you listened to the original break for Control Madness you’d see how much I’ve put effects on it, changed the pitch and changed the notes; even though I’m using samples I still try to play them out as if I’m actually playing them. I really tried to give everything it’s own mood on I Remain, almost like you’re stepping into a different realm when you hear it. I tried to make everything quite hypnotic, something to evoke emotion.

It’s definitely that, that’s why the comedy element on Toast Jazz stunned me for a second, I was fully in the zone.

That was definitely planned, when I listened to the album without the lighter parts, I found it wasn’t fully reflective of how I like to be as a person, and as an artist. I felt like it needed to have those elements, and I tried to make them musical so you’re not just listening to me doing a funny voice and pretending to shoot someone, it’s still something you can have as part of the album. I try and make full albums, not just a track list full of bangers. Essentially I want people to be able to put it on and let it roll as a full piece; for the car journey, the walkmans, the ipods, that’s what I’m going for.

Did you base the characters on people you’ve met?

If you go back to my older work there’s characters like Dick Trusay, Philip Wasteman, and they’re not based on one specific person; with comedy characters like that there are people who inspire you, but you take it to a new place and create your own character. Without giving too much away, I have been in those situations, but I take it to an imaginary place and I’m not trying to offend anyone that’s done that to me in the past, it’s all in good fun.

How do you feel about battling now? Do you ever consider taking part again?

I might do, there have been some that I have been offered that for one reason or another didn’t come about. I’ve still got love for the Don’t Flop movement, I’m still a fan of it, and  their company’s done really well to expand to level it has. In terms of whether I’ll go back to it I don’t know; I’ve always had that competitive urge, but I’ve found it hard to perform to the best of my ability in the battles because I always had so much else going on. It’s a whole different frame of mind to be in. When I’m on stage I’m used to having my beats playing and reciting verses or freestyling over them, but battling’s not an easy thing to learn, it’s a very specific skill. I really rate the people that can do it well. You may well see me on there again.

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How do you balance your musical career with your family life?

Music is my 9 to 5 now; which is living the dream, but for that to be the case I have to work non-stop, Seven days a week. I have to be constantly making music, speaking with promoters and the label, playing shows and interacting online, that’s a big part of it now. I’ve got young kids, and I take care of them in the day, so don’t sleep is the simple answer. I’m up at about 6 in the morning, if I’m lucky I’ll get to bed by 11 or 12, but if I’ve got a gig I won’t sleep that night, then travel back home first thing, It’s a non-stop grind. If you actually paid me an hourly rate, the money I get would probably work out to be 3 or 4 quid an hour just because I put in that many hours. At the same time, I’d never complain, I’m doing what I’ve always loved for a living.

You were quite young when you first started going to open mics, was there a distinct point when you decided to make Hip Hop your living ?

The live side of it took some getting used to at first, with having the nerves before going on stage. It seems so distant because now it’s just what I do, and there’s not really a stage that makes me feel nervous. I was Eighteen when was doing open mics and had my first experience with putting something out on a label. In my head I always believed in myself as a full time rapper, and had dreams all the time like ‘this is gunna be me, this is what I do’. I had day jobs from the age of Eighteen aswell; working in video shops and clothes shops, but every  time I made songs I knew that’s who I was, my day job was just temporary. It feels good to have gotten to the stage I’m at now, the hard work only increases, but so does the reward.

Do you have a specific process when you write lyrics?

It differs from time to time, Sometimes I’ll have a thing that I want to say or a specific beat to write to, that’s where it’s more of a conscious thing. There’s other times where I’ll work purely off inspiration, and that’s the way I prefer to write, that’s how most of I Remain was written. I’ll spend so long making a beat to get it sounding how I want, then after that process I’m drained, it’s Two in the morning and I’m half asleep, almost dreaming, then I’ll write. That’s when it’s quite subconscious. Certain times it’s like I’m being delivered these words. Even with the stream of consciousness type lyrics though, I always have to listen to it and make sure that the story I want to be in there is in there. Take the second verse from the track Lost; you can hear the stream of consciousness in the rhyme scheme, where the rhyming words in the line is different each time, so it’s not like I’ve set out a flow pattern and followed it, I’ve just gone with whatever’s come to me. Even though it’s quite cryptic, it still has the story, it’s not just random words. My style has always been to say something with each verse, and I feel I’ve done it in a new way on I Remain.

What else have you got coming up? 

The album is out on the 23rd of October and the London Launch Party is the Saturday the 26th of October at Plan B in Brixton. There’s a tonne of really good people on the bill; all the High Focus guys, Split Prophets, Mystro, Ramson Badbonez, and more. Then the day after that I’ve got another launch in Bournemouth.

Any news on the new Four Owls?

I want people to know that we’re working on it. We owe it to the fans and the people that supported the first album to not short change them and just churn out an album. We need to meet a very, very high standard, so me and Flipz are guna go down to see the other boys; have a couple of days jamming and put our heads together. We’ve got a lot of really good tracks already recorded. I’d say we’ve recorded maybe Fifteen, even though we could release that as an album we don’t want to just throw it out there, we want to do something special. I’d be  surprised if it wasn’t out by the middle of next year, but we’ll keep everyone updated with the progress.

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What are you listening to right now?

There’s a lot of kids coming up, Dan Oddysee is really dope, Madlean is really dope, More1, Denziller. I’ve more listened to them since I’ve wrapped up my album.  I love UK Hip Hop but when I’m making beats and creating I switch off the Hip Hop so I’m not influenced by it. I think that’s how a genre can end up sounding samey and generic. I’ll listen to old John Carpenter soundtracks, ambient music or even emo, indie type stuff, no specific genre, but the right type of song really strikes a chord. I know I’m way late but I just recently discovered Mount Kimbie, you put it on and it takes you somewhere, people that have that type of music influence me. I’ll make myself a playlist of different artists that all have a certain mood in their music and drift off, then turn on the sampler and see what I come with. I try not to sample too much, and if I do I filter it down, have it low in the mix and then build elements on top of it.

Do you still go digging for records?

It’s really changed, when I first started producing I just went to charity shops all the time to try and find good vinyl, and whenever I was out of the country I’d buy records. Now I’ve got quite a good little library of samples that I’ve acquired over the years, and I’ll wait and see what I want to make, I wont wait to find a sample and then make a song; I’ll decide on the sound I want and then dig for the specific vibe I’m after. I’ll always compose something in my head first, and have an aim with the beat, I’ll never just go and randomly flick through a record without knowing what I want to find.

If there’s one message you want people to take from the new album, what is it?

The reason I picked the title, I Remain is it’s a powerful thing to say to yourself when you’ve been through a lot. I’ve got a chronic illness, Crohn’s Disease, for people who saw the hospital bars on High Focus TV that’s what that was. Having that illness has really shaken up my life, but without getting caught in that; I’ve been through a lot of stuff whilst trying to stay productive as an artist and support my family, sometimes it’s easy to let things get on top of you, but we’re all built to survive these things. Your strength of mind is essential whatever you’re facing. I Remain is a statement of power that doesn’t just apply to me, I’d like it to apply to the listeners aswell. If you can relate to any of the struggles I’m going through, you can get through it by using that same strength of mind. It’s a statement of self empowerment, The Power Within. People are quick to tell themselves they can’t do things before they’ve even tried, or before they’ve even put their energy into it. You can’t do everything, but with hard work there are certain things you can achieve that you might never have thought possible, it just takes the right mentality. There’s a lot of struggle, but if you can keep your self belief in tact, then that’s a very important thing in life.

I Remain comes out on High Focus Records, on October 23rd.