PhybaOptikz : Tales Of Danger

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Covertly treading the line between Lewis Parker’s golden sound and Piero Piccioni’s mafioso breaks, this new release from PhybaOptikz is a stealthy sojourn told through a slew of underworld crime sagas. Each tune boasts dramatic bars from the London emcee that vividly scripts entertaining scenes as he and his Crate Divizion cohorts evade the law in getaway cars, dump their enemies in rubbish bins and shift major weight from overseas. The production from Giallo Point and Vic Grimes filters the shadowy underworld of seventies exploitation cinema through their samplers to emerge with a chilled but often ominous tone; lending the project a distinct sense of urgency that simmers under a cool outward demeanour like the seasoned criminals they conjure.

From the smooth horns and harps that begin Assignment, to the athletic snares and mellow keys that close Diamonds, the LP is a massively immersive listen that comes as a welcome break from the norm. PhybaOptik’z rhymes twist and turn as his intricate tales unwind; on Snatch he hoards dope adjectives like there’s about to be a word drought, and the proficiency he displays for characterization on Hitman takes his wordplay to a whole new level with razor-sharp observations delivered with a light touch, all the while sounding as if he’s got one eye on the rhymepad and one on the exit; creating the Hip Hop equivalent of De Niro’s diner speech in Heat. This crew of crate diggers and espionage aficionados have crafted a hugely promising start on Tales Of Danger, marking themselves as ones to watch over the coming months.

Buy it here, and keep up with them on Twitter here.

Peace.

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The Legion : The Lost Tapes

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I missed this one back when it came out, but unsurprisingly the latest album from Bronx heavyweights The Legion is a must-have for fans of that gritty NY sound. With production from Buckwild, Showbiz and Confidence, The Lost Tapes collects two decades of rare and previously-unreleased tracks, with a sonic spectrum that spans from polished on Straight Flow, to rough and low-fi on the rare 12″ Freestyle Demolition. The tracks featured on their youtube channel are all present and correct, Automatic Systematic is still as fresh as when it first dropped, while the feel-good vibes on For You and Stereo break up the street sounds as all three MC’s deliver top-notch lyricism rooted in realness with an old-school lean.

 Live On Arrival‘s classic breaks stand up well next to the more current sounds of Sky’s The Limit, while the more brash beats on Street Thing and Caught Up make for some serious head-nods accompanied by huge hooks and commanding bars. Keep Your Eyes Open is a personal highlight, with a deceptively current sound despite the trio producing it back in ’95; this style of classic rhymes is what the game’s missing these days, every line hits as hard as the snare, and that vocal loop is pure foundational beatmaking at it’s boom-bap finest.

After Street Truth‘s slow take on the same sample B.I.G, RZA and DOOM forged into career-defining tunes, Artifacts affiliate and veteran emcee Beneficence blesses Aim, Fire, Spit, while Molecule’s tough rhymes fortify a classic sample source on Revenge. With bonus instrumentals included on both the CD and limited edition cassette versions of this release, The Lost Tapes is the perfect prequel to the crew’s upcoming album, one that should score them new fans and satisfy long-time listeners simultaneously.

Buy it here.

Peace.

Molecules (The Legion) & Showbiz (D.I.T.C) : Revenge

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Illadrenaline records aren’t only sourcing the current cream of the underground crop; they’re also diggin’ vaults and reaching into the past to release rare gems as limited edition 45’s. The latest release to emerge from their archaeological findings comes from NY rap veterans The Legion; who after releasing their début Theme = Echo = Krill on Black Sheep’s short-lived One Love imprint in ’94 are back in full effect. This slice of raw storytelling straight out the Golden Era comes salvaged from sessions at Chung King Studio back in the spring of ’95, and is set to feature on their upcoming Lost Tapes EP. Legendary D.I.T.C producer Showbiz provides his gritty take on the much-used sample Pete Rock would popularize a few years later; while Molecules unfolds an intricate crime saga across his ill verses, delivering vivid wordplay that’s as stylish as it is succinct. Thanks to Illadrenaline, there’ll be no more hunting for that Japanese release of the Diggin In The Crates crew’s All Love album; or making do with the bootleg 12″ to hear this dope throwback’s dusty loops.

If like me, you heard ‘They dun set it, them kids about to get wetted’ and started salivating with scratch anticipation; you can get the 7″ now on limited edition white vinyl.

Peace.

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.