FROM DA BRICKS


Some People Don’t Understand – L.O.N.S.
December 15, 2006, 3:15 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

There is something satisfying about discovering early releases from major players in the current mainstream rap game. Jay Z’s verse on Mic Geronimo’s first album comes to mind as does Mos Def’s work on the Urban Thermo Dynamics’ joint. It is not like Leaders Of The New School were ever minor figures in the world of hip hop, but it gives me a warm feeling inside to know that people who now feature in the rap charts and make regular appearances on MTV used to be able to kick it with undeniable style. Of course, L.O.N.S gave birth to one of hip hop’s most instantly recognisable MCs: Busta Rhymes.

Whenever I discuss L.O.N.S. with anyone it seems to be ‘Future Without A Past’ that gets mentioned first. Perhaps this is natural as it was the more commercially successful album, but if I had to keep one and lose the other, I’d go for ‘The Inner Mind’s Eye’ every time. The beats are on point and the MCs exchange verses with skill and an exceptional sense of timing with brief forays into reggae style delivery. Busta is without doubt the most enigmatic of the crew, but this is not to degrade the work of Charlie Brown and Dinco D who also have strong senses of personality along with technical ability. Ultimately it is the effect of the MCs as a collective that proves the key to this album’s success.

Although ‘What’s Next’ and ‘Classic Material’ were the leading singles on ‘T.I.M.E.’ there is very little filler on this release and favourites for me include ‘Quarter To Cutthroat’ and ‘Understanding The Inner Mind’s Eye’. Drums roll with neck-snapping ferocity, the loops are simple yet effective and basslines rumble underneath the roar of the MCs. The album has a straight up, no frills attached vibe with a classic early ’90s feel. As you may now be aware, this is a formula for quality in my book.

Busta was the only member to emerge with a career intact and as soon as he started to make strange roaring sounds every other word I feel like he kind of lost it. Saddeningly, affairs turned sour for the crew post-1993 and they now have little contact with Busta going as far as to call Dinco D a ‘dickhead’ at some stage. This is a pity as the MCs did have such a chemistry that will now never see the light of day again. Still, they certainly had it in 1993 and this album is a must-have for collectors of this era of rap music. As the crew professed themselves, you know you love the way it’s going down…

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Scratch Perverts + Rawkus = Bangin’
December 14, 2006, 3:14 pm
Filed under: A DJ Saved My Life

Around ’98/’99 I was getting into turntablism in a big way and at that time the Scratch Perverts were the kings of the UK scene. They were technically stronger than anyone else as well as keeping it funky, and eventually went on to innovate the artform with feedback techniques that had never been seen before.

Simultaneous to this, Rawkus stepped into the limelight with a plethora of releases that brought quality underground hip hop back to the masses. I remember snapping up almost anything that had the Rawkus name stamped on the cover: it was an almost definite indicator of a slammin’ release. Never before had I had such confidence in a contemporary label and I can only imagine what it was like for rap music fans during the golden age when Def Jam and Tommy Boy were at the height of their powers. Of course, things turned sour for the label around 2000, but it seems like they might be making a resurgence; let’s hope so.

Given away with HHC, ‘The Cleaner’ features a selection of the Rawkus classics from this era and lets the Perverts work their magic on them. Featuring cuts from Ripshop, Mr Complex and Common as well as others, this is a seemless mix that demonstrates the skill of the Perverts whilst still allowing the selections to shine. Perhaps the most technically striking moment in ‘The Cleaner’ is the outro to Shabam Sahdeeq’s ‘Every Rhyme I Write’: pure turntablism genius. I’m not sure what the exact Perverts line-up was at this stage as they have been through several incarnations, but I suspect that this was after the departure of Mr Thing and First Rate but before the re-induction of Scotland’s Plus One.

I’m also posting a couple of mixes taken from a John Peel radio session coutesy of Sconeboy. First up is Prime Cuts followed by Mr Thing (my favourite UK DJ of all time). I would estimate that these were recorded c. ’98 as the Prime Cuts section features his ‘Jack Of Spades’ juggle which he was busting out at both the DMCs and ITFs around that time. Both mixes are of an exceptional standard featuring classic hip hop joints as well as the odd well known break.

Hate to sound jaded already, but if you download either of these mixes then please drop a comment. I know that people are downloading on a daily basis and yet only a small selection of people are talking! It’s pathetic I know, but it does make a difference to my day…

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Live From Japan – DJ Krush
December 12, 2006, 3:13 pm
Filed under: A DJ Saved My Life, Album Reviews, Producers

Back in ’95 the name Mo Wax was synonymous with quality. Early releases promised much and made the label a collector’s dream: limited presses, fantastic artwork and most importantly, bangin’ music. James Lavelle’s outfit could possibly be cited as the originators of the ‘trip hop’ tag (a term that I despise) as the releases around this time were basically downbeat or more abstract hip hop instrumentals. DJ Krush fitted perfectly into this niche, producing brooding sonic landscapes routed in hip hop but with a futuristic and forward-thinking edge. For my money, ‘Meiso’ is his seminal work.

The album features both instrumental joints as well as some impressive mic collaborations. Black Thought and Malik B’s verses on the title track are exceptional and CL Smooth comes correct on the album opener ‘Only The Strong Survive’. I’m not as keen on the Big Shug and Guru track; the beat lacks the moody atmosphere that complements the MCs so well on the aforementioned cuts, and the overall vibe leaves me feeling a little cold. Still, the names speak for themselves: these are well written and expertly delivered rhymes that work well over Krush’s accomplished production skills.

Worthy of a special mention is ‘Duality’. This tune passed me by for a long time as the opening two minutes is some of Krush’s less inspiring work. It simply doesn’t carry the weight of some of the other tracks and lacks punch. However, everything changes after three minutes. Snares break out in an eruption of percussive noise before dropping into the DJ Shadow produced section of the song which is nothing short of sensational. Scratched horns float over rippling drums and the momentum is relentless. This is Shadow at his best: I could listen to this all day and my head would still be nodding as it hit the pillow.

Later Krush works become increasingly minimal and stray away from the drum heavy tracks that constitute the finest beats on this album. In doing so, he loses the sense of rawness that is so compelling on this release. Still, this is a powerful and at times gripping album that demonstrates that it definitely ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.

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So Many Roads Ahead – Lewis Parker
December 12, 2006, 3:12 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

So far the majority of my posts have centred around American artists: time to represent for the UK. Lewis Parker is a one man hip hop machine, handling basically all of the duties on this EP sized release himself: beats, rhymes and the occasional scratch. The string sections are moody, triangles tingle in the background and Parker’s image-based lyricism all contribute to an incredibly strong debut: one of the best albums to emerge from the British scene.

Regrettably, I have mixed feelings about hip hop from this side of the Atlantic. There is little doubt that there have been some quality releases from these shores, but there is also a tendency towards rude boy posturing and over the top rants about the difficulty of ‘gettin’ love’. There has been a pressure to form a distinction between American hip hop and that of the homegrown variety that I can appreciate, but often highlighting this difference simply serves to detract from the music itself. Of course, this is an over-generalisation, but as UK hip hop has searched for its own sense of identity it has leaned more towards this rude boy style that I personally feel grows a little tiresome. Perhaps the distance from American hip hop is what allows me to immerse myself in a fantasy world of street narratives and the struggle of a ghetto lifestyle; I can see the inconsistencies and identify a certain front in content that is closer to home. Anyway…

I have no idea whether this has made the long journey over to the States, but for those of you who are not aware of this work it is well deserving of your attention. ‘Masquerades & Silhouettes’ has a grainy and atmospheric feel to it that complements Parker’s rhyme style which often references the natural world: shadows, deserts and the waves of the sea. This is an album suited to late night smoking sessions and moments of self-reflection. Although categorically British, Parker doesn’t feel the need to shout about it and this is perhaps the key to the album’s success for a more global audience. This is not the work of a bitter man struggling for recognition: it is soulful music that has come from within.

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Why Don’t Ya? – Mr Complex
December 11, 2006, 3:11 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

Going to give Sharebee a shot today. Seems to make sense as it allows people to download from several different file sharing services. Let me know if it works out for ya.

Originally holding an affiliation with Organized Konfusion, it took a while for Mr Complex to shine on his own. From ’94 onwards he released a series of 12s as well as featuring on other artists’ work, and these releases bring these various works together. ‘The Complex Catalog’ was recorded live on college radio in 2000 with the turntable skills of DJ CrossPhada; ‘Comps and Collabos of Comp’ does exactly what it says on the tin. Both albums represent a strong selection of cuts that prove that you can build a reputable career in hip hop without a major label release to kick things off.

Complex’s lyrical style is similar to that of the mighty Pharoah Monch although it is not as accomplished, lacking the in-depth imagery and rapid multi-syllabic delivery of OK’s foremost wordsmith. Still, he has a nice flow that varies in tone and is rhythmically interesting, falling on and off beat with control and finesse. He is at his best when backed by a nice funky loop and mid-tempo drums as in the ‘C.O.R.E. Mix’, ‘Why Don’t Ya’ or the ‘What Would You Do Remix’. DJ Spinna contibutes a number of beats as well as Pharoah and Prince Po, and generally speaking the production is of a solid but not outstanding quality. Both albums have their gems (‘The Complex Catalog’ is the stronger of the two with a higher level of consistency than ‘Comps and Collabos…’), but these are not releases that I can listen to from start to finish without the temptation to skip a couple of tracks.

He has since released a couple of LPs which I have yet to get a hold of. Although I enjoy his work, it doesn’t grab me in the way that I feel it should do given the pedigree of his affiliates. However, these are worthy albums that document the work of an MC who has obviously waited for the right time to make his move into the limelight. This represents a breath of fresh air in an industry flooded with artists who have jumped on the latest rap fad in the hope of making a quick buck. Respect where it’s due: cop these and enjoy.

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Check The Rhyme Placement – Mass Influence
December 10, 2006, 3:10 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

Damn: this blogging game ain’t easy. Depletedsoul mentioned that he was struggling to find things to post that weren’t about already and I have to agree. Such is the quality of other hip hop oriented blogs that it is difficult to find original albums to post! Good lookin’ out to all you fellow bloggers out there. Still, I’m going to continue posting albums even if I’ve seen them appear elsewhere in the past; I hope that the comments left by me are motivation enough to keep people locked to From Da Bricks.

It’s Sunday so I’ve picked something in keeping with an end of weekend atmosphere. ‘The Underground Science’ is a chilled album that moves smoothly through its eleven track selection, maintaining a laid back vibe throughout. At times it almost has a live feel to it with smooth, jazzy loops and rim hits that resonate behind the MCs’ smooth delivery. Most of the content revolves around the dismissing of less proficient rappers and professing the ability of the Mass Influence crew themselves: effective, but slightly lacking in originality given that this album was released in ’99. Still, their voices work well with the beats to produce a relaxing and relatively organic sound. For those of you familiar with Ninja Tune, a leading UK hip hop/beats label, you can also check their appearances on Dynamic Syncopation’s first album which are very similar to ‘The Undergound Science’ itself (keep me bookmarked folks as this will be a future post).

Sconeboy mentioned that this may have been what became of ‘Yall So Stupid’; whether this is true and if they maintained exactly the same group dynamic or not I am not sure. It would certainly mean a departure in style given the upbeat tone to ‘Van Full Of Pakistans’ (of course this album was released seven years earlier). If you know, drop a comment either here or in the CBox.

My advice is as follows: finish your Sunday lunch, make yourself a nice cup of tea, grab a newspaper, put this album in rotation and forget about the fact that work begins tomorrow. Five days until the weekend again…

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Hum Deez Nuts – King Sun
December 9, 2006, 2:54 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

King Sun emerged in the late ’80s as one of the foremost political/afrocentric MCs of the era whilst maintaining a hardcore edge (hence his second album title ‘Righteous But Ruthless’). Although I am not really aware of his earlier work, I consider this seven track EP to be a little known treasure that demands significantly more props than it has ever received. The beats are bangin’ and Sun’s rhyming ability is unquestionable. I have always thought that there is a similarity in his voice and delivery with Rakim; a bold comparison I know, but not one without some legitimacy.

The production on this release is straight up head nodding NYC boom bap. Particularly strong cuts for me are ‘Humm Deez Nuts’, ‘Once Upon A Time’ and ‘Robbin’ Of Da Hood’, but there is a consistency with the beats here that is rarely seen. Basslines rumble, the sample choices are simple yet effective and the snares are as crisp as autumn leaves in the park. This is not to say that it is faultless; although I am a bit of a sucker for the cheesy R ‘n’ B hook chorus, the vocals featured on ‘Humm Deez Nuts’ are a little hard to take, particularly in the adlib section towards the end of the tune. Still, this is a small gripe given the quality of the work in all other areas.

Generally I tend to focus on the beats when listening to hip hop, but King Sun’s flow is highly engaging and the content is varied, steering clear of stereotypical gangsterisms. From being ditched by his girlfriend for another man to ripping off local drug dealers in his community only to return the profits to those that need it most, Sun reflects on a ghetto lifestyle with intelligence and originality. I would be interested to see what others make of the Rakim comparison: there is something in his intonation and the timbre of his voice that instantly brought the legend behind so many classic cuts to my mind.

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