After growing up together in Trenton, New Jersey, life took Surg and Hellfire on separate paths. The seeds they’d planted as teenagers rapping in the early 90’s wouldn’t begin to bloom again until ’08; but when they did, the duo’s original plan for a one or two song collab quickly grew into sixty bangers that would become their first two LP’s. Their 2012 sophomore release Live & Learn was a masterclass in heavy drum work and ill wordplay, Hellfire’s beats propel twenty tracks of that raw, uncut boom bap strengthened by Surg’s forceful flows; and like Moment Of Truth every tune is as dope as the last, imbued with an evident respect for tradition. I would list the highlights but I’d be here for days; Live & Learn is the sound of hours hard at work in the lab, the manifestation of a lifetime dedicated to Hip Hop culture that embodies the ‘by fans, for fans’ attitude, check it out asap.
Apollo Brown, Red Pill and Verbal Kent are back at it on this follow up to their 2013 self titled début for Mello Music Group. If you caught Brown’s recent Rhythm Roulette you already know his soul sample game is untouchable right now, and on this new EP he continues to perfect the format he laid out on ThirtyEight. Features are kept to a minimum, with massive bars from Murs on Good Things Die, Biggie cuts from DJ Eclipse over Brown’s soul flips on Ugly, and ill production from Oddisee on Low Seretonin. While the highlights come in abundance, the instantly re-playable combo of Legit Worthless and Naysayers & Playmakers immediately provides two huge anthems, meaning it might take you some time to fully digest the rest of the EP; but once you do, the rock-solid skills displayed by this talented crew will leave you fiending for a new full-length.
Dilated Peoples have stayed busy in the eight years since 20/20 dropped; and although fans have had the Evidence and Alchemist collab Step Brothers, a solo LP from Rakaa and plenty of opportunities to catch Babu tearin’ up wax live with the Beat Junkies; the hunger for that realness they dropped on The Platform and Expansion Team hasn’t diminished in their collective absence. Directors Of Photography finds the three man crew sounding fresher than ever on their Rhymesayers début, delivering a rock-solid return to their independent roots over heavy beats from 9th Wonder, Premo, Diamond D and more.
After a smooth intro loop sets the tone, Directors announces ‘Dilated never left, I’d like to welcome us back’, beforeThe Alchemist stacks hard kicks under clean keys on Cut My Teeth‘s heavyweight head nods, and the emcee’s trade intricate bars over DJ Premier’s dynamic samples on Good As Gone. Show Me The Way sees Jake One and Aloe Blacc bring a more accessible sound, while Babu brings the heat over Figure It Out‘s b-boy breaks and D.I.T.C veteran Diamond D provides a highlight on Let Your Thoughts Fly Away; finding Irisciencetouching on governmental suppression before channelling Adam Curtis over Oh No’s dramatic piano lines on Century Of The Self.
The balance the emcee’s strike between social commentary and straight-up lyrical skill is aptly demonstrated on the one-two-combo of Opinions May Vary and Trouble, seeing Dilated progress past what Evidence once described as ‘rap about rapping’ towards a more insightful position to kick knowledge without preaching. And as the album reaches it’s conclusion, Alchemist flips a killer vocal cut on stand-out anthem L.A. River Drive, 9th Wonder’s memorable instrumental uplifts on The Bigger Picture, Ev’s soul loops back fly rhymes on Times Squared and the mammoth crew cut Hallelujah boasts ill bars from JMT’s Vinnie Paz, Jamla emcee Rapsody, Action Bronson, Fashawn, and Domo Genesis. With solid performances from everyone involved, Directors Of Photography is a fine return to form. Taking the craft back to it’s sample-driven essence with a focus on sustained lyrical skill over fleeing gimmicks, without a wack beat in sight.
Since Jon Phonics dropped his essential Half Past Calm series of mixtapes his musical output hasn’t stopped evolving. His latest collaboration comes in the form of an EP with one of the UK’s most lyrically adept emcees; Jam Baxter, who’s been on a steady rise since penning intricate sixteens on his 2012 HF release The GruesomeFeatures. Together the pair have created four challenging new tunes, writing and recording Fresh Flesh over the last month with more raw hunger than the carnivorous cover art. After a psychedelic intro, the epic strains of the title track swell into an expansive soundscape for Baxter to traverse with ease; reciting impenetrable bars that require repeated listens to fathom. Rush bumps with a grim bassline punctuated by loose claps as Jon’s recent experiments in electronica inform his current take on boom bap; while Baxter’s sharp tongue slices the beat to ribbons as he circumnavigates the obvious through verses shrouded in metaphor.
As this short but vast EP reaches it’s conclusion, electronic flourishes bubble from the depths to surf a tide of atmospheric synths on Eating; finding Baxter’s unpredictable bars mirrored by Jon’s volatile snares as the pair continue to push boundaries up until the last note. Uncompromisingly progressive throughout, Fresh Flesh is the perfect jump-off point for new fans looking for something unique, while offering an exciting taste of things to come from two of the country’s most forward-thinking artists.
The EPdrops digitally on August the 20th, pre-order it via Itunes here.