The Best Hip-Hop on Bandcamp: September 2019

best hip hop

September’s round-up of the best new hip-hop releases to hit Bandcamp includes a forward-thinking remix collection, a soul-searching journey from one of Australia’s biggest talents, and a politically-charged stunner delivered by a supreme Los Angeles lyricist. We also dig deep into projects that feature eight-eyed cats and card-shark canines; animal lovers rejoice!

Beans
Ace Balthazar

On the song “Bass Reeves,” from founding Antipop Consortium member Beans’s latest album, the MC conjures a fantastical scenario in which an injured soldier hallucinates a giant cat with four sets of eyes. Then, as if that wasn’t absurd enough, the otherworldly feline hits him with one of hip-hop’s most timeless questions, based around a classic golden era posse cut from Marley Marl and the Juice Crew: “Yo, my man, who had the best verse on ‘The Symphony’?” It only gets weirder from there, with Beans spiraling through an eight-minute commentary on the way hip-hop standards and classical music cornerstones are held to differing levels of criticism and respect. You’d expect nothing less from an artist like Beans. His lyrics reflect a refined blend of political barbs and advanced braggadocio, buttressed by an ironclad commitment to honoring hip-hop’s welfare by calling out inferior MCs in a high-minded fashion, like comparing them to parasitic bacteriophages on opening tirade “Bigfoot In The City.” Beans’s verbal assault is backed by heady production from Ade Firth, whose beats balance clattering, industrial-sounding drums with jazzier overtones, including stretches of live sax provided by Dan Wenninger. Rounding out the guest list are Royal Trux singer Jennifer Herrema, who appears on the aforementioned “Bass Reeves;” and the consistently-reliable Billy Woods, who lends a suitably-dystopian verse to the claustrophobic highlight “The Mouse.”

Darko The Super & BLKrKRT
Card Tricks for Dogs

Philadelphia MC and U Don’t Deserve This Beautiful Art label owner Darko The Super has a wonderfully oddball discography, and his new LP sees him teaming-up with self-proclaimed “post-Dilla” beatsmith BLKrKRT, whose own breezy and soul-infused instrumental a hot summer also dropped this month. The duo’s Card Tricks For Dogs is titled after a line from comedian Bill Hicks, is dedicated in the liner notes to “all the dogs in the world,” and pits Darko’s screwy and spaced-out tales against slick, synth-heavy arrangements, with entertaining results. On the ’80s-influenced “Imaginary Girlfriend,” Darko plays out a fictional breakup in his head; elsewhere, “MC Pee Pants” showcases Darko’s warped story-telling with an incident involving drinking too much Mountain Dew causing him to miss a show while hunting down a restroom. Guest appearances include a nostalgic turn from Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire on “Purple Ketchup,” plus some sartorially-inspired rhymes from MC Paul Barman on “Semiotics Of The Suit.”

Ras Kass
Soul On Ice 2

A sequel to 1996’s debut of the same name, Ras Kass’s Soul On Ice 2 serves up a heady mix of politically-inspired lyrics and booksmart brags, delivered with the unimpeachable flows that solidified his reputation as one of the West Coast’s unsung heroes throughout the ’90s and ’00s. “I’ll probably be underrated for life / Fake my own death, go triple platinum overnight,” the MC vents on “Silver Anniversary,” critiquing the vapid nature of the mainstream music industry. Ras Kass’s patented ability to take shots at big institutions and call out toxic ideologies continues on “White Power,” where he pairs with equally firebrand spitter Immortal Technique and digs into the history of white supremacy over a chilling beat embellished with an ominous choral refrain. The high caliber guest list throughout the album speaks to Ras Kass’ standing among his peers: Snoop blesses the relaxed and breezy “LL Cool J,” Cee-Lo Green brings soul power to “Midnight Sun,” and Styles P and Lil Fame help light up the robust “Guns N Roses.” The heavyweight project culminates with “Opioid Crisis,” in which Ras Kass skillfully draws comparisons between the inner-city crack epidemic of the ’80s and our present-day opioid crisis, a self-created plague pushed by bureaucrats and corporations: “It ain’t the Mexican cartel / It ain’t the black folk / ‘Cause the real plug wearing white lab coats.”

Sampa the Great
The Return

“I guess I found my fortune / I didn’t need home to feel important / But I need a feeling of peace / I’m not broken / Searching but soft spoken,” raps Sampa the Great on The Return, her excellent debut full-length project for Ninja Tune. This endless search for physical and spiritual peace guides the African-born, Australian-based MC’s soulful effort, which features production from MsM, Siltenjay and Kwes Darko, mixing from Jonwayne, and plenty of potent lyrical venom for the haters. “Trying to fit a circle ’cause I don’t know how to act shit / Half of y’all is steady insecure—don’t try to backflip,” she seethes on the brassy “Final Form,” before reaching a defiant conclusion: “Great state I’m in / In all states I’m in / I might final form in my melanin.” Smartly, these fiery moments are balanced by Sampa’s introspective side, further typified by the bittersweet guitar-based relationship ode “Brand New” and the lush “Heaven.” Bringing the album’s concept full circle, “Don’t Give Up” finishes with a moving voicemail about taking time out to reconnect. “Constantly wearing an armor, I don’t wanna do that anymore, even though I know I have to,” laments Sampa. “Home is so important to me, because it brings me peace.”

ScienZe
ScienZe Was Here

ScienZe is primarily known for his relationship-focused projects, most notably the ongoing Ella series; as such, his early aesthetic was more or less a personal love movement set to music. On ScienZe Was Here, the Brooklyn rapper switches up the program, waxing on a wider variety of topics over lilting, relaxed production. The dusky, shuffling bass and drums that producer Blvck Spvde serves up for “Weeksville” prompt humble commentaries on a higher power; the string-fueled “Hey, Judas” throws shade at false friends; the breezy, electro-tinted ”The Great Wave” includes a scene where ScienZe chills listening to Weezy’s Dedication 2 en route to the beach. As ScienZe’s journey unfolds, he confronts the relationship between self-doubt and the artistic process, signing off on the glorious final song “I AM THE GREATEST” in self-assured style: “Hate it or love it, I’m here with a pen to the page / It’s rap and I love it but fear put me out of my way / I’m rising above it / It’s clear that I put it to shame / I’m making it work / It’s clear that this isn’t a phase.”

ShrapKnel
Cobalt

Philly’s Curly Castro and New York City’s PremRock link up with Backwoodz Studioz regulars ELUCID and Messiah Muzik on Cobalt, their debut EP as Shrapknel. (Aside: Don’t sleep on ELUCID’s meditative Every Egg I Cracked Today Was Double Yolked, also released recently.) There’s a compelling synergy to this duo; they open by tag-teaming bars on the gnarly “Milk Of The Poppy,” then showcase cocksure rhyme patterns on the breakbeat-heavy “Nitty At The Drew.” Unexpectedly, the EP’s mid-section skews in a supernatural direction, heralded by the cavernous bass line and distorted drum taps that murmur through the murky “Seance.” “Stone Sly,” a standout blessed with striking vocals from SKECH185, incorporates maniacally buzzing guitar lines, and is sparked by a brilliantly spectral opening gambit: “Looking in the mirror saying Biggie’s name four times / Thought I saw the Coogi in the glass and that’s no lie!” A couple of remixes—courtesy of Small Pro and Maker—round out an outing that’s guaranteed to fuel anticipation for the pair’s inaugural collaborative full-length, which is coming soon.

Skyzoo & Pete Rock
Retropolitan

Pete Rock was a key force in sculpting a highly influential wave of ’90s rap that fused expertly unearthed soul, jazz, and funk loops with head-nodding drum patterns. The producer’s joint album with Brooklyn rapper Skyzoo proudly channels that bygone era. Lead single “It’s All Good” takes its cues from a beat Pete Rock crafted during the same time he was contributing to Nas’s Illmatic debut; the warm, static-flecked loops and xylophone inspire ‘Zoo to emotively update classic lines from both Nas and Biggie, while also remembering the day the latter’s funeral march journeyed down his block. Proving that retro-leaning hip-hop doesn’t have to sound dated, Pete Rock’s beats across the 12 track album are punchy and melodic: “Truck Jewels” interplays a wobbling psych-rock-sounding loop with chugging kicks and snares; the bass-powered “Homegrown” brings deep, dramatic blaxploitation vibes; “One Time,” which features singer Raheem DeVaughn, becomes a shimmering hip-hop soul song. Building on Pete Rock’s astute beat work, Skyzoo’s deftly-layered lyrics repeatedly offer up snapshots of his upbringing. “Praise due to the corner stores that I’m still part of / And for me being able to come home to my real father,” he raps on the closing cut “The Audacity Of Dope,” emotively linking the past to the present in consummate style.

Speak
Singularity

Last year, Mexico City’s Speak released A Man + His Plants on the Dome of Doom label, and received acclaim for the way he tackled introspective topics like heartbreak and human mortality. For Singularity, the fleet-tongued bilingual spitter has switched to more of a club-focussed agenda, complete with trap-style production from LAO that reflects his city’s late night scene. The rumbling bass and clipped snares of “Moving Units” get things started and prompt Speak to outline his M.O.: “Global entry / Fuck a visa / No permission / We the gods / No religion / We that new tradition / Narcos with barcodes / And trunks full of bass.” Debauchery abounds on lead single “99 Blunts,” a heady banger built around reverberating synths that fade in and out of the mix, and talk of indulging liquor and weed excess while clad in Dr. Martens boots. The luminous “Wave Racer” features Speak showing solidarity to his crew and vowing, “I was born for the wave race / I can never settle ’til my whole team win all the trophies and the medals.” As Singularity progresses, Speak increasingly embraces a pop sensibility in his writing—he previously co-wrote Kreayshawn’s breakthrough “Gucci Gucci” back in 2011. It’s a direction that peaks with the Autotune-enhanced “Memory Banks,” where he rues a relationship breakup over the sort of moody electronic backdrop that wouldn’t sound out of place on mainstream radio.

Various Artists
Remineded: A Remix Compilation

Since launching in 2006, the Brooklyn-based Coalmine Records has been reliably serving up a strain of hip-hop that’s firmly rooted in boom-bap ethics, but also cognizant of modern underground movements. Accordingly, this new remix collection functions not just as a label primer, but as a heartfelt love letter, addressed to the almighty rap remix. The set opens in unflinching fashion with Audible Doctor‘s boisterous flip of Heltah Skeltah’s “Midnight Madness,” colliding forceful brass lines with Sean P’s gravely-voiced raps. Elsewhere, Australian beatmaker M-Phazes adds melancholic pianos to El Da Sensei’s “2 The Death,” Oh No flips Planet Asia and DJ Concept’s “Gold Vases” as a lesson in gnarly bass science, and Zilla Rocca contorts Guilty Simpson, ELUCID and Castle’s “Go” into a skittering, scape-shifting banger. The source material might not be new, but the redux is revolutionary.

-Philip Mlynar

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