Underground Classics : Perseverance

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It might have taken the highly underrated South Bronx MC two decades to release his solo debut; but when Percee P connected with Madlib to drop Perseverance on Stones Throw in 2007, anyone with an ear for lyricism immediately forgave the long wait. Since getting into Hip Hop at age ten, the legendary rhymer tirelessly dedicated his time to the craft; gaining recognition for battling Lord Finesse in ’89, featuring on his sophomore LP Return Of The Funky Man, freestyling his ass off on the Stretch and Bobbito show, and hustlin’ his mixtapes outside renowned NY diggin’ spot Fat Beats. It was here that P met Stones Throw’s Egon and Peanut Butter Wolf, leading to an album deal, and this classic collab with the Beat Konducta.

P’s reputation preceded him; his previous features with Kool Keith, Jedi Mind Tricks, Jaylib, J5 & Big Daddy Kane were all quick-witted no-holds-barred displays of skilful lyricism that left mics smoking and hardcore fans clambering over themselves to hear more; on Perseverance he didn’t disappoint. From the moment Madlib cut ‘Percee P, your whole crew verses me’ on the intro, the album soars; a peak representation of the quintessential Hip Hop sound that boasts nineteen inventive instrumentals adorned by flows so heavy every word puts your mind in a vice grip. If you can get past the 2 and a half minute mark on this video without shaking your head side to side and making the stink face you’re missing out.

There’s a coherence you get from one MC and one producer. After Gang Starr, G Rap & Polo, Eric B & Rakim and BDP perfected the format early on, there was a distinct lack of small crews as everyone and their grandmother was biting the Wu. Perseverance took the format back to the initial dynamic duo; paving the way for releases like Pinata and taking you on a breakneck dash through every facet of the culture while they were at it. The sample selections range from obscure to popular, as Madlib switches between old school funk breaks and modern, bass-heavy electronics, and his ability to remain creative while reigning-in his often eccentric flair for composition found him almost forming beats with standard song structure; allowing P to unleash lyrical tornadoes with a devastating force, sounding meaner than ever as he finally realized his full potential on wax.

Peace.

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Underground Classics : Return Of The B Girl

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‘Now that you know my name, you know it ain’t about the money or the fame’. 

After the golden era glow begun to wear off her predecessors, Crenshaw-born Taura Taylor set a new standard for female emcee’s with her 1998 self-released Return Of The B-Girl EP. When her record deal with Capitol fell through, it was the support and encouragement of T Love’s mother that motivated her to record; but still this classic EP was only intended to close her promising musical career, a final parting shot at an industry that had let her down. What it did was begin a new chapter in Love’s life; selling so well in the UK that she relocated to London, linked with Ninja Tune and Ollie Teeba from The Herbaliser, and released her full-length Long Way Back in 2003; which featured cuts from DMC champ Mr Thing, smooth sounds from Dwele, and timeless instrumentals from J Dilla.

A snapshot of T-Love’s hunger and raw lyricism; the EP saw her sharp wit sting through powerful verses that never came lyrically half-cocked; she shares the booth with plenty of talented writers, including a then-relatively-unknown Chali 2na; who would eventually release his first J5 EP on Love’s Rumble/Pikininny label. The production from Om Grown’s This Kid Named Miles was thick with heavy boom bap breaks and old-school funk loops; the man even went as far as to record himself playing bass, upright cello, guitars and drums to chop up for his beats; and his effort pays off as the opening track smashes through your speakers.

What’s My Name has everything; the beat is crazy, the scratches are ill, and Love’s first verses strike with a fire that implies her mindstate; believing this would be the last time she’d rhyme on beat may have been exactly what she needed to pull off these verbal gymnastics. I’m Comin forebears the J5 sound as Miles cuts 2na’s voice into the chorus and heavy breaks bang out with athletic snare shots. Love’s rhymes are as quintessentially Hip Hop as the RZA sample is on the hook, and her bars boast intangible levels of style as she drags out words and over-pronounces syllables in her commanding rhymes.

 Wana Beez trades the hardcore vibe for jazz loops and memorable horn hooks as 2na spits a guttural sixteen in his unmistakeable baritone, and Miles plays with breaks; switching drum loops like most people switch off lights. Ultramagnetic’s Kool Keith brings his unmistakeable funk to the title track, writing an effortlessly inventive verse to match Love’s bold delivery; and as the production eases back on LA To Brooklyn, T Love’s already gifted lyricisms steps up another notch, matching Siah and Yeshua The Poet’s slick prose to and close out this short slice of realness with not a weak track in sight.

I managed to grab the vinyl off ebay for less than a tenner, but if you get no luck diggin, the usual online retailers have got the mp3’s for cheap.

Peace.

Underground Classics: Millennium Metaphors

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It’s been 14 years since Luton’s Si Phili, Life MC and DJ Nappa joined forces to release their seminal debut album on the Jazz Fudge label. The group’s deep dedication to true Hip Hop permeated by Life and Phili’s uncompromisingly fast-paced and detailed descriptions of life in Blair’s Britain made the album an instant smash, catapulting the crew to new heights within the UK Hip Hop scene. From front to back the LP is nothing but bangers; Nappa is one of the UK’s most underrated producers,  scratching classic raps to create chorus hooks and employing his massive mental catalogue of breaks and sample-worthy sections to assemble quality boom bap like most people breathe. Lyrically they two MC’s define what it means to pick up a mic and spray; with simile’s for days and so much style and depth in their swift delivery it’s almost unbelievable. Their take on the alphabet on ABC is up there with Lowkey and Blackalicious, with Life sounding like he might take off at times he’s flowing so fast, Rhyme Of The Times harbours one of Nappa’s most militant beats and serves as a fitting intro to the crew’s content, as the two MC’s trade bars with supreme ease; you can hear the natural talent flowing out of them as they channel their creativity. BBC begins to develop the album’s rich content, as the overt demonstrations of lyrical skill fall by the wayside and the layers of historical, sociological, and political edutainment begin to seep into the sounds.

There’s no better example of the tabloid-touting ignorance that informs 85% of the country’s core demographic than on the intro to The Racists. With reactionary scaremongering to blame immigration for imaginary ills more popular in the press now than ever; the truth Life & Phili kick over Nappa’s perfect piano loop is still poignant. The final lines that still speak of unity and respect after juxtaposing governmental organizations with hate groups are testament to their righteous point of view. From that political point the album relaxes the content for a few tracks, while still employing an all-out lyrical attack as Phili’s verse shines on Drop Bombs; then Life smashes the track on Take Heed. Nappa’s production shows it’s versatility on the static strains of Verbal Wars, then gets truly ill on the anthemic Phi Life Phi Life, with bars that raise the high standard the pair previously set for themselves; exhibiting wordplay to make any part-time writer put down the pen and reflect; ‘I be the most honourable, with astronomical amounts of lyrics, raising dead spirits from graves, crushing rap cynics, fucking up the laws of physics with hieroglyphics, to be specific, my brain be deep like the Pacific‘. Last Men Standing leaves no room to breathe as it closes in tight around your mind with a vice-like grip. The old school beat and incessant lyrics create a whirlwind of rap tactics; and the sheer amount of aliteration going down within this three minute period is crazy, while Nappa cuts so tight you’d need a crowbar to get his fingers off the wax.

Although the crew often body beats with lyrical displays of deftness, they always seemed to write their most socially insightful bars when politically motivated; and on Fatcats they infuse each rhyme with that intense fire that compels them to write, tearing down the walls of ignorance politician’s rely on.  Herbaholics pays homage over a rugged piano loop, then Phi Life Is Here gets epic with Nappa orchestrating classical strings that Life’s simile’s and Phili’s hard bars leave decimated, their flow punctuated by the robust snare work. Bring It To Ya is another trademark track for the three man crew, the reggae vibes that Skitz inter-weaved into the UK Hip Hop sound around 2000 coming through strongly in the production, a sound that continues onto Bad Men From The West’s bumping beats. Crazy Balheads’ righteous tones denounce satanic practices as Life’s insight demystifies the vatican’s esoteric agenda, and Phili sheds light on Big Pharma and the food industry; then as the title track keeps the vibe heated and this legendary LP draws to a close; The Shining‘s subtle, jazzy loop lures the listener into a darker headspace than the pair have previously inhabited. Life’s final verse is one of his grimest; ‘I be murderous just like those backstreet abortions’ is the tip of the iceberg lyrically, and his doubling of words towards the end is still a style that takes me by surprise even after listening to the album regularly for years.

After dropping this classic the crew continued to release quality music, including a split with Task Force that’s essential; and although PLC no longer work together as a group; they all still release new music regularly. Nappa and Life’s further collaborations ‘Everyday Life’ and ‘Outside Looking In’ are both worth checking if you liked what you heard here; and as one of the most accomplished freestyle artists in the country for over a decade the man puts it down every time he picks his camera up on his active youtube channel mclife1. You can catch Si Phili continuing his lyrical onslaught as one half of Phili N Dotz, touring the country and releasing music in collaboration with UK Battle League behemoth Don’t Flop; his lyrical ability only sharpened by the years he’s dedicated to his craft. UK Hip Hop still gets overlooked when people speak on lyrical skill or collate ‘best MC’ lists’; if you’re into wordplay and raw production there’s many jewels to be unearthed by studying the British scene at the turn of the century. Phi Life Cypher exemplify all the attributes that make the UK’s contribution to the culture essential listening. Look no further for that undiluted street knowledge, recited by staunch practitioners of the five elements and brought to you with respect and love of the art.

Massive thanks to Daisy B Photography for the dope pic. To view more of her vivid images, or get in touch for commission work, click here.

Cop Millennium Metaphors direct from Suspect Packages, or via your usual online retailers.

Peace.

Underground Classics: Kashmere ‘In The Hour Of Chaos’

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‘I’m droppin ill spells in a physical dimension’

Around this time of year Seven years ago the West London MC was gearing up to release his debut. The collection of songs he put out took his talented, charismatic flow and dipped it in a thick black tar; emerging even fresher, yet darker and slicker than before. After the praise he’d gotten off his side of the Technical Illness/Backhand Slap Talk split with Verb T on Braintax’s Lowlife label; the quickly rising MC capitalised on his momentum, extensively touring the UK and getting into the studio to record ‘In The Hour Of Chaos’. With production from UK heavyweights Chemo, DJ IQ, Beat Butcha, L.G. and the man himself.

From the first utterance on ‘The Ark’ Kashmere spits venom with a righteous fire. Coming lyrically laden with comic book and occult imagery effortlessly inter-weaved with myriad biblical references. It’s definitely an alone in your room, headphones on,  zone-in experience; even with full attention to the lyrics the man crafts it’s still hard to catch everything he’s putting across in each verse.

I had to stop and look up ambigram and cumulonimbus just to understand one sentence from ‘The Ark’. Kashmere writes from an omniscient perspective; like someone having a near death experience and viewing the world objectively as one consciousness free from time and space. In the first few bars he namechecks a doctor that delivers euthanasia, the time travelling car from Back To The Future and a mythical sect of witches from Argentina with a straight-faced delivery that makes the last two sound as plausible as the first. He’s so far down the rabbit hole he’s set up a lab and started sampling Agharti breaks on tracks that would make Jules Verne shit.

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Things get even deeper from there. ‘Black Sea’ sees Verb T and Red joining the fray. The Three spinning shadowy soliloquies that paint vivid pictures of vampire transformation, altars of sacrifice and tales of the evil forces in the universe feeding off fear. Kashmere’s verse is strikingly impressive once again; “The only way to defeat something is understanding it, but deep inside my soul I’m trying very hard to balance it. The darkness feeds, off your weakness, and so I’m here to show the extreme on both sides of the deepness. Yo peep this, my lyrical form is peak-less, elevating infinite like the ascension of Jesus.” You can’t even attempt to write like that without some serious knowledge of self and complete conviction. Alhamra’s beat knocks hard and mean with a creepy orchestral edge and a chorus that’ll stick in your mind like mental post-it notes.

Every beat on this album is a certified classic; one of the most instantly recognisable is L.G’s haunting jazz on ‘Souls Of The Unborn’. Jehst’s verse finds him at his peak flowing tight and esoteric. “At the epicentre of the sandstorm, many men perish in the belly of the Rancor, know they ran for the cover of the trees, they were already marked with the number of the beast”. The two men’s verses together are near impenetrable at first, one after another in quick succession covering a lot of ground thematically and leaving you barely enough room to work out each reference before moving on. After countless listens, I still find little touches I never noticed before. Subtlety is the highlight in this understated anthem.

The idea of villains feeding off fear is delved into again in ‘Bones’. With tales of dragons, dinosaurs, Godzilla, and Kashmere playing hero confronting George W. Bush as a malevolent entity revealed to be ‘an evil beast with ten heads and fifty eyes’. It’s over the top, and cartoonish, but with a little research you realise that taking the more extreme notions of the conspiracy world and melding them with a cohesive plot is demented genius. To make that a highly listenable experience over a stripped down Jehst beat all in under four minutes is straight up talent.

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‘Opium Foetus’ floats along with Verb T guesting again over breezy rhythms. The pairing works as amazingly on tracks as it does on stage. Pineal glands, out of body experiences, ‘cannabis dreams of fire oceans’, and mind elevation is the content embedded within this ethereal allegory. L.G. picks up the vibe nicely after a real gloomy few tracks, beginning an alleviation of the mood that IQ continues into ‘Dead Gorillas On Broadway’. A confident recital that shouts out a diverse number of sources, from Clarence 13X and the 5% Nation to Sega’s Golden Axe, and puts the fakes in their place with a reminder that Kashmere can brag as engagingly as any of his peers.

After that brief breath of fresh air from underneath the tide of information you’re joyfully drowning in by this point, shit gets bleak again. End-Of-The-World-Bleak. ‘Spawn Of Pazuzu’  is witches, paganism, catholic assassins, and theological war invoked by the wrath of the eponymous ancient Assyrian demon. Add Beat Butcha to that eclectic blend and it’s another heavy track. “It’s the beginning, the end of all times, can you see the signs? The chaos hour, paralyse, kill devour, summon the ancient power.” 

L.G. kills the production again on ‘Have Faith’. Sampling choral singing with an eastern feel and Krs-ONE bars to create one of the more spacious songs on the album. The lead single ‘Playing With Fire’ is the perfect intro to his work, primarily as his subject matter is made slightly more accessible through the use of standard song structure and an atmospheric Chemo beat. Secondarily, if a cloaked man bopping about a mountain chattin about magic is too much for the casual listener, they’d be reaching for the safe predictability of a more mainstream album upon meeting the rest of the albums content.

‘Divine Communication’ finds Kashmere and Iron Braydz trading verses over a futuristic Chemo beat. The third verse especially stands out. Both rappers firing off densely packed sentences contemplating dimensional shifts and astral projection. On ‘Lady Of The Lake’ the MC sidesteps the popular myth of Arthur’s retrieval of Excalibur at the lake’s edge; and goes straight for the lady herself. Experiencing a lucid interval which takes him on a journey through love and death with Nimue ( that’s the watery sword wielding bint btw ) by his side as they take hallucinogenic trips into the psychedelic heavens. Tranqill’s production is an album highlight. For a guy that was closer to being unknown than the other big names behind the boards; he sounds unphased, and builds a grandiose beat that ramps up the scope of Kashmere’s unfolding saga. Check out his 2011 Hidden Treasures EP for more.

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Greed and science, Lucifer leading us astray, well curiosity murked the cat people say, even though we were created crazy, as inquisitive creatures, always on the look out for the newest features”.

 The Iguana man takes a heavy handed stab at the Darwinian school of thought accredited by mainstream science on ‘Alpha to Omega’, the first in a Chemo two punch combo that closes the album. He’s strongly opinionated when it comes to his belief; lamenting the fall of spirituality in modern society as science takes prominence in the minds of the public. And casting his third eye over the invention of the wheel and the curability of disease to chart man’s ascension and eventual demise within the cyclical nature of the universe.  “Prepare for the end, and from the end to the beginning, the lord starts again peep the aqua life swimming, now see the brave ones venturing onto the land,  Knowledge, Wisdom expand”

‘Veronica R.I.P’ had to be the last track, it’s too good not to be, if you were in the studio trying to follow any verse he penned on this last one you’d stumble harder than Arkwright gettin Granville’s name out his lips. It’s storytelling at it’s peak, a love story with a bitter twist. I won’t wreck it you haven’t heard it, but it’s a perfectly crafted curveball.  “Deception, it was unreal, Stephen King combined with Danielle Steele“.

The album endures as a classic, you’d be hard pressed to find better fantasy lyricism from anyone. The sheer magnitude of Kashmere’s reference material would take the average man months to begin to decipher; as with all great MC’s the more you personally overstand, the more rewarding the listening is. It’s not an easy album to get hold of, but some online digging can get you a cd copy. The follow up release on YNR ‘Raiders Of The Lost Archives’, and the Boot Records ‘Power Cosmic’ LP under the name ‘Galaktus’ are both available at Suspect Packages and are well worth a look. His Hunter S. Thompson inspired ‘Kingdom Of Fear’ project with Jehst, and ‘Scarlet Jungle EP’ under the Strange U moniker with Dr Zygote indulge his more experimental side, but still keep things hip hop.

Big Up Kashmere! Support underground music by buying it direct from the artists!

Peace.