The Best Hip-Hop on Bandcamp: April 2019

best-hip-hop-1244This month’s celebration of the ten most essential new hip-hop releases on Bandcamp includes a West Coast project in the lineage of Madlib’s extended musical family, a sterling collaboration between a Rochester street spitter and a cinematic German producer, and a successful mash-up of contemporary U.K. jazz players and golden era MCs. We also make a pit stop in Eastern India for a time-traveling album that goes deep on ancestral themes.

C Keys & Kazi
Keys 2 Kazi

Oxnard, CA-based MC Kazi popped up on the rap radar back in the late ’90s when he guested on Lootpack‘s debut album, Soundpieces: Da Antidote! That record was characterized by group lynchpin Madlib’s patented off-kilter loop science; now it’s Kazi’s turn to showcase his similarly styled crate-diggin’ production skills, holding down beat duties on this joint effort with Sacramento spitter C Keys. Early cut “Zoning” sets a dusky first impression, with Keys running through memories of his exes over subtle synths and pillowy bass, while on the “The Streets,” the MC touches on cultural assimilation against a bass-saturated backdrop: “Had to be there to see / Make them fall just like the autumn season / No apparent reason / Talk broken English / Many tried to fix it.” Adding a nostalgic tint to the project is “Remember When,” a back-in-the-days jam recounting the artist’s upbringing that quickly switches from scenes of hopscotch and hustling for candy, to “seeing pregnant teens before Brenda’s had a baby.” This is California hip-hop at its smartest and most reflective.

The Doppelgangaz
G Pack Vol. 1

The G Pack Vol. 1 EP is the latest release by the Doppelgangaz, the kookily-creative, upstate New York-based duo comprising rappers and producers EP and Matter ov Fact. Key track “Coffin Nails” lays down a funky graveyard backdrop that entices EP into gourmand mode—he brags about posting up at a bar and scarfing down chirashi with escolar and soba noodles—while his partner spins a yarn referencing bootleg designer goods from Canal Street and later, his own funeral service, equipped with “solar powered speakers forever playing dungeon synth.” Sunnier sentiments come through on the breezy “Have Cloak Will Travel,” (so named for the full-length black cloaks often worn by the duo, a sartorial calling card of sorts), giving us a compelling showcase of the Dopp Gang’s knack for creating infectious, melodic rap tracks.

Eto & Superior
Long Story Short

Eto is already shaping up to become one of the breakout rap voices of 2019. Leading a forceful wave of talented hip-hop artists currently representing Rochester, Long Story Short is Eto’s trans-Atlantic team-up with German producer Superior. It’s a potent combination: Eto spins sagacious street-centric tales laced with a hint of a hustler’s lament over sumptuously melancholic beats. Check “Wolves” to witness the blend at its most emotive, as wavering strings flipped from a ’70s folk rock record soundtrack Eto’s front line observations that, in his grimy environment, “The food chain will get you smoked over lunch meat / For little or nothing—it’s all something.”

Flee Lord
Gets Greater Later

Listening to gravel-voiced Queens spitter Flee Lord, it’s no surprise he was endorsed by Mobb Deep’s Prodigy before the iconic rapper, who also hailed from Queens, passed away in 2017. From the outset, Gets Greater Later is a glorious thug rap manifesto. “Loyalty or death, dog, it’s more than a slogan / Violate the terms, bro, your jaw’s getting broken,” Flee warns on the dramatic, string-spiked “Butcher Lords,” which also features Benny The Butcher. Further connections with the Griselda camp come courtesy of verses from Conway and Elcamino (whose own consummate Don’t Eat The Fruit project also dropped this month). Towards the end of the album, contributions from Eto and self-styled poet villain Keisha Plum on the mournful “Not Listening” usher in a more poignant feel, with the latter’s spoken word styles paying tribute to a departed soldier that she vows to “meet you at the pearly gates with a bottle of Dom P and fried chicken plates.”

Ill Bill & Stu Bangas
Cannibal Hulk

As you’d expect from the title, Cannibal Hulk is this month’s most aggressive, wantonly in-your-face hip-hop album. Boston producer Stu Bangas lays down brutally hard-hitting drums that are often topped with flashes of electric guitar, like on “World War Hulk” where Ill Bill casts himself as “the realest of goons” before the iconic underground MC brags, “My aura is that of Moses in the Torah / 1989 on tour with Sepultura.” Enhancing the album’s invigoratingly abrasive texture, Ill Bill’s old Non Phixion cohort Goretex guests on four of the tracks, who closes the project by delivering the charming threat that he’ll dispatch foes “on a razor carpet” during his verse on the sinister piano-spiked “Hulk Meat.”

Native Indian
Vol 1: Nature Of The Self LP

Broadcasting from Chennai in Eastern India, Native Indian’s Vol 1: Nature Of The Self LP is a narrative-based concept album driven by a “God-like being” who travels back from the future to “unearth the roots of his conditioning.” It’s a journey soundtracked by a self-produced shape-shifting backdrop that’s heavy on the future funk touches: “Purple” is hooked around deep pulsing bass tones, swirling synth effects and metronomic wood block taps that inspire the MC to declare, “I think I’m gon’ be a little less derogative.” Adding to the futuristic sheen, Native Indian’s voice is often swaddled with digital processing effects. As the album progresses and Native Indian delves deeper into his ancestry, he proves apt at mixing up political statements with lighter asides, like on “Jazz Market,” where he boasts “I’ve come to a point where I don’t care for borders,” and later, adds his two cents on soccer: “I’m still a David Beckham fan.”

spoony bard
Old Friends

There’s a bewildering array of influences bubbling through the sophomore album from New York City’s spoony bard. He’s an MC and producer who took his name from a line in the Final Fantasy IV video game; he rocks a Bandcamp bio inspired by a Ghostface Killah lyric referencing a “14 carat gold slum computer wizard”; and he was originally a jazz guitarist before bringing his compositional chops to hip-hop after becoming smitten with the L.A. beat scene headed up by Flying Lotus. Wonderfully, Old Friends manages to blend all these myriad influences together. The project opens with “ego trippin part 99,” which is ostensibly a cover of the De La Soul track of a similar title—but here, it’s all pulsing warped funk beats and off-kilter braggadocio rhymes about being an “infidel sipping white Zinfandel” up in Washington Heights. Deeper into the mix, tracks like “megalixir” and “areia” introduce shoegaze and new wave vibes in a similar style to Jneiro Jarel and Khujo Goodie’s overlooked Willie Isz project from a decade ago. Consider Old Friends a nerd-friendly dose of refreshingly oddball hip-hop.

DJ Yoda
Homecooking

The U.K. jazz scene is enjoying a rich renaissance at the moment. For Homecooking, revered cut-and-paste producer DJ Yoda has tapped into the scene’s energy and called on the talents of key artists, among them tuba player Theon Cross and saxophonist Nubya Garcia—but he’s smartly involved them alongside a selection of golden age rap MCs to craft an album that resonates like an alluring reminder of the early-’90s jazz rap era. Boston’s Ed O.G. blesses the sun-blissed “Roxbury” with uplifting vibes, summed up by sentiments like, “Give it lyrically, without hook / Don’t rap about crack cooked / Positive outlook.” Other standouts include Baby Bam from the Jungle Brothers passing through on the bluesy relationship rap “Hither Green” and “Afrika,” a stomping track laced with swaggering harmonica and guest vocals from Bam’s bandmate Mike G.

Your Old Droog
It Wasn’t Even Close

On It Wasn’t Even Close, husky-voiced Brooklyn rapper Your Old Droog summons a bonafide powerhouse of hip-hop talent to complement his smart and cocksure raps. Wildly inventive beatmaker Sadhugold snags a chunk of the production credits; he establishes a dusky, bass-heavy atmosphere on the opener “Gyros,” before closing the project with the freakish, static-and-hiss-fortified instrumental cut “Haunted House Beat (Not A House Beat)” and the slinky “90 From The Line,” a braggadocio-filled highlight which culminates with our host departing “in a Lamborghini Diablo looking like Rob Lowe.” Elsewhere, Evidence serves up the booming, psych-tinged “World’s About To End,” Ohbliv’s bewitching loop science helms “Chasing Ghosts” (which also features Roc Marciano), and Tha God Fahim repurposes what sounds like an old-timey, drum-free movie score for “Babushka.” But top billing goes to “RST,” whereupon Droog sides with everyone’s “favorite rhyming villain” MF Doom and avant-garde wordsmith Mach-Hommy over a slow-rolling beat from V Don. It’s an underground rap outing for the ages.

-Phillip Mlynar

 

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