The Best Hip-Hop on Bandcamp: October 2019

Hip Hop

October’s essential selection of new hip-hop releases on Bandcamp includes an avant garde update of the ’90s horrorcore trend, a dystopian mobster album, and a lush, soul-drenched collaboration from a couple of Virginia’s freshest talents. We also take a moment to spotlight a star-studded, yacht-rock-themed hip-hop franchise.

The Alchemist
Yacht Rock 2

A companion piece to 2013’s double-single Yacht Rock, Alchemist’s new album enlists a horde of MCs to rhyme over beats sampling ’70s and ’80s yacht-rock records. The production is breezy and melodic, all slick synths, mellow electric guitars, and buoyant bass, tied together by an oceanic ambience manifested in the sounds of lapping waves and squawking seagulls, and even dialogue from what sounds like a ’80s welcome-to-yacht-ownership video. Taking a cue from the tone of Alchemist’s production, the aspirational brags on display skew nautical: “Rockefeller oysters, smooth sailing / Bluetooths and Van Halen / Michael Bolton,” boasts Wille The Kid on “Sturgots.” Later, on “Tropical Storm Lenny,” Action Bronson manages to weave in a reference to the “ampullae of Lorenzini,” the scientific term for a shark’s sensory organs. Quirky as Alchemist’s yacht-rock steeze may be, there’s no denying the record’s charm — and more importantly, it’s got the verses to back it up.

Chong Wizard
The Time Stone

The Time Stone is the newest installment in Canadian curator Chong Wizard’s Infinity Stones venture, a series of releases doubling as a cheat sheet to the most vital MCs and producers in underground rap. Like the rest of the bunch, the songs here are shot through with comic book references: “Fantastic 4our” lines up Che Noir, El Camino, Jae Skeese and G4 JAG over an eerie quavering Ro Data beat; “Index Finger” prompts Wrecking Crew allies Zilla Rocca and Curly Castro to salute writers and illustrators including Darwyn Cooke, Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz; and “Burnie Wrightston” pairs Brooklyn spitter K.Burns‘s sinister flow with a Farma Beats backdrop spiked with ‘80s horror synths. Most vivid of all is “Earth’s Mightiest,” in which Orlando’s MidaZ The Beast details an interstellar battle atop Clypto’s woozy double bass and swirling strings: “Earth sends its mightiest heroes / I got my supervillains with me, DMX next to Magneto.”

clipping.
There Existed an Addiction to Blood

clipping.‘s last album, Splendor & Misery, told an artificial intelligence-themed sci-fi story from an Afrofuturist viewpoint. The LA-based noise-rap trio’s latest release is equally focused and ambitious. The cult ’90s sub-genre of horrorcore hip-hop fuels MC Daveed’s gore-laden rhymes, propped up against Bill Hutson and Jonathan Snipes’s stark, dramatic sonic backdrops. Its offerings are not so much songs as they are self-contained splatter flicks that appropriate classic horror-movie scare tactics for an atmosphere of impending menace and bloodshed. “Nothing Is Safe” opens with a single, ominous piano note plunking on and on, before Daveed flips the script of John Carpenter’s 1976 action thriller Assault On Precinct 13 into a grisly police showdown at the trap house. “Run For Your Life,” with MC La Chat, treats the interplay between the two rappers as a deadly cat-and-mouse game, a labyrinth of ambient arrangements and panicked gasps for air. Elsewhere, on “The Show,” Daveed narrates the urban legend of an online, pay-per-view torture room as harsh synths stab away in the background. Turn off the lights, put on your headphones, and embrace the fear.

Czardust
The Ra(w) Material

Czardust’s latest, The Ra(w) Material, brings together acclaimed beatmakers Ohbliv and Sadhugold for a mind-warping experimental hip-hop album flush with samples and soundclash. Several songs, such as “Phantom of the Options,” mine dialogue from public access speakers and cable news reports: in the aforementioned song’s case, TV coverage of the Michael Brown shooting. Despite forging a reputation as a hip-hop producer, it’s actually Sadhugold who steps up and contributes the bulk of the raps on The Ra(w) Material, delivering a mix of off-kilter brags and wider commentary. “Just to better avoid the retarded NARCs trying me / I make my shit a religion and start a archdiocese,” he vows on the low-slung “Source Code.” Then, over the twanging guitar and rumbling bass that fuels “WeMerk Loops Inc,” he wanders into spiritual and political territory: “My psychic shorty just wallows in premonitions / ‘Cause her momma told her always to follow her intuition / A lot of brothers be looking childish without a mission / While mothers give in to the crooked smiles of the politicians.” The Ra(w) Material can be a challenging listen at times—but once tuned into its chaotic frequency, it delivers a stellar journey.

Fly Anakin & Big Kahuna OG
Holy Water

The title of Fly Anakin and Big Kahuna OG’s latest project pays tribute to the Holly Block studio in Richmond, VA, the adopted home base for themselves and their vibrant Mutant Academy clique. The album kicks off with an interview-themed intro that lays out the duo’s weed-centric lyrical agenda, before boasting how Wu-Tang Clan disciples usually dig their music. Their sharp flows bely a definite Shaolin influence, especially on the shadowy “No OG’s,” where Anakin drops lines about “street astrology” that sound straight out of the Wu’s “Triumph”—but there’s also a verdant freshness and mellow soulfulness about the album that comes from the production. Standouts include the pained guitar lines Ewonee twists through “Baggington,” Nolan The Ninja’s dusted-off vintage vocal loops on “Corrupt,” and the hint of a ’90s R&B swing that Tuamie brings to “Liquid Coke.” Solidifying the local love, closing track “Boss Hostage” rounds up a roll call of Richmond representers, including Nickelus F and Koncept Jack$on, to pass the mic on a consummate posse cut.

Hemlock Ernst and Kenny Segal
Back at the House

Hemlock Ernst is the hip-hop alias of Samuel T. Herring from Baltimore indie outfit Future Islands. Back in 2015, Hemlock found himself guesting on the song “Souvenir” from art rap luminary Milo‘s So The Flies Don’t Come album, produced by Kenny Segal. The duo struck up a creative bond that has blossomed into a nuanced full-length, which layers Herring’s husky voice and introspective verses over wispy, melancholic beats. Opening track “North to South” features the MC traveling through the music industry and finding fame only to realize, “Got what I wanted, got played ’cause there’s no air at the top / And it’s hard to breathe when your breath is something you lost.” Hemlock’s pensive lyrical approach persists throughout the rest of the record, particularly on “The One,” a poignant reflection on the MC’s lonely childhood, and the cruelties he had to endure as an “outcast since I was birthed / Picked last until I burst.”

Homeboy Sandman
Dusty

Back in 2013, New York City rhymer Homeboy Sandman called on producer Mono En Stereo (who was then going by the handle El RTNC) to provide all of the beats for his old school-homaging Kool Herc: Fertile CrescentEP. Six years later, the chemistry is back in effect for Boy Sand’s Mello Music Group debut, Dusty, masterminded by Mono En Stereo from start to finish. The fuzz-coated jazz and rock-sourced loops on offer bring out the warmth and wordplay in the MC’s voice. “I’m patient with the people that I love / I’m careful with the words I use to tell ’em when they bug / When dirt gets mixed with water sometimes water’s thick as blood, it’s thick as mud—I think that’s noteworthy,” Sandman raps on “Noteworthy,” backed by hazy electric keys and audible static that brings a percussive shuffle to the track. Quelle Chris and Your Old Droog bless the upbeat psychedelic funk of “Lookout” with exemplary verses, but beyond that, Dusty is a guest-free experience that highlights both MC and producer in seamless hip-hop harmony.

L’Orange & Jeremiah Jae
Complicate Your Life With Violence

Previously, North Carolina beatmaker L’Orange and Chicago MC Jeremiah Jae collaborated on The Night Took Us In Like Family, a concept album set in the 1940s that tells the story of a mob boss who finds himself framed for murder. Complicate Your Life With Violence is the sequel to that release, but with the same protagonist now dwelling in a dystopian future where he’s been conscripted into the armed forces. Across 17 songs, L’Orange favors dusty loops flecked with static that imbues the album with a vintage filmic feel; a series of instrumentals topped with archived dialogue help signpost the story. Embracing this bittersweet backdrop, Jae’s lyrics delve into the psychology of violence and war. “They used to bang, they used to organize / They sleep complacent, used to all the lies / They used the youth, to spook and compromise / Then flew the troops, to loot the concubine,” the MC raps in a nasally brogue on “After Alley Life,” before making a depressingly-familiar conclusion: “Love lost, only hate cool now.”

Mavi
Let the Sun Talk

Let The Sun Talk opens with sampled snippets of a speech about the Five-Percent Nation’s 12 Jewels of Islam and a fable involving the sun, the moon and the natural elements. This introduction preps the agenda for North Carolina-raised MC MAVI’s thoughts about the intersection of politics and spirituality, which he relays in a granular metronomic murmur over mellow soul loops riddled with glitches. It’s a formula that proudly nods to the styles of MIKE and Earl Sweatshirt, both of whom contribute production to the project; the former leavens shuffling hi-hats with ruminative piano notes on “Moonfire,” and the latter blesses “Sense” with low slung drums and an elegiac vocal refrain. Consider his confession on “Daylight Savings”—“I keep cadence with my heart / Still alive defying logic / Cost a payment up to God with a lil’ interest”—shorthand for Let the Sun Talk’s emotive allure as a whole.

billy woods
Terror Management

Earlier this year, Brooklyn MC Billy Woods called on LA producer Kenny Segal to produce the entirety of his essential Hiding Places album. On Terror Management, he takes the opposite route, tapping over 20 producers and guest vocalists for his second great album of the year. Extensive cast lists often yield unfocused results, but not here, thanks to the clever sequencing; the tracks fit together, but still remain distinct, like the separate sides of a vinyl album. Preservation produces a run of consecutive cuts that channel a bluesy feel: Pink Siifu and Akai Solo guest on the husky “Long Grass,” Lauren Kelly Benson contributes haunting vocals to the mournful “Blood Thinner,” and “Myth” backs Woods’s commanding brogue with swarthy horns. Later on, The Funs add fractured guitar lines to “Dead Birds,” paving the way for the violent dissonant bursts that erupt during “Gas Leak” and the chaotic “Birdsong.” The closing stretch is heavy on moody, melodic trip-hop arrangements, several of which feature sound artist Fielded (“Shepherd’s Tone,” “Suzerain”.) If Hiding Places was about delivering the distilled essence of Woods, Terror Management is a forceful demonstration of the range and versatility of one of modern hip-hop’s savviest voices.

-Philip Mlynar

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