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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Uptown Downtown All Around – Yaggfu Front
December 8, 2006, 2:53 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

There seems to be little rhyme or reason behind why some artists make it and others don’t. In the case of Yaggfu Front it could only really have come down to an issue of marketing, as their sound resembles that of true hip hop success stories such as Pharcyde and Leaders of the New School. Admittedly, ‘Action Packed Adventure’ is not as strong a release as either of the aforementioned groups’ debuts but it is still an album worthy of a good listen and a place in your collection.

This was one of those albums that I slept on for a while, and only discovered relatively recently. I know very little about them other than what I have gained from the insleeve. Production seems to have been largely handled by Yaggfu themselves as well as the New Vibe Messengers of whom I know absolutely nothing. The beats have a classic early to mid-90s feel with crisp snares and jazzy horn sections and the majority of the cuts have an upbeat feel to them. The standout track for me is ‘Hold ‘Em Back’ which features one of the most atmospheric opening 8 bar sections that I have heard before dropping into a heavy drum break and bass loop which is ridden effectively by the three MCs. My criticism of the album would be that the rhymes lack finesse, at times disintegrating into shouting/rambling that has the potential to grate against the nerves.

I have always drawn a strong link between this crew and Rumpletilskinz, both in terms of sound and the way in which they both barely registered within the genre as a whole and then disappeared without trace despite worthy credentials. There is another release available entitled ‘The Lost Tapes’ which I have never heard although assume that it would also be worth checkin’. Perhaps the claim that ‘you are gonna get fucked up if you front’ is a little strong, but this is still an example of a quality release that never seemed to gain the props that it deserved.

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Who Got Da Props? DJ Sconeboy
December 7, 2006, 2:51 pm
Filed under: A DJ Saved My Life

Nice to see a few comments coming. It really makes a difference when I see that people have taken the time to post their opinions and it drives me to keep writing, so good lookin’ out to those who have done so.

In my haste to write my piece about Buckwild yesterday I forgot to send shouts to my mate Rory who was the source of those beats (see comments posted). In reparation I’m posting a couple of his mixes today that are perfect examples of a local DJ who knows his way around the ones and twos and who also has a deep and varied record collection. It sounds horrendously arrogant but there are very few people who I interact with on a face-to-face basis that share my passion and interest in hip hop: Sconeboy is an exception.

These mixes are right up my alley, featuring classic boom bap cuts alongside a few UK joints that are blended together with taste and subtlety. So often when I listen to a DJ mix I find myself irritated by over the top turntablism that can often come across as self-indulgent and detracts from the selections made. Sconeboy steers clear of this temptation and lets the beats speak for themselves. ‘Mix One’ features cuts by Blackstar, De La and Craig Mack amongst others and ‘Mix Two’ begins sweetly with the Ahmad Jamal break featured on ‘The World Is Yours’ followed by the tune itself. Gotta feel that.

I’ll be posting a few more obscure albums over the next few days so keep me bookmarked and check in over the weekend.

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Whoa! Buckwild Remixes
December 6, 2006, 2:50 pm
Filed under: Producers, The Remix

Buckwild. Overshadowed somewhat by the other core set of producers involved in the DITC crew his contribution to mid-90s hip hop and beyond is substantial. When I listen to a Buckwild beat I feel detached from the world around me: I’m flying over New York City; I’m on the London Underground at night in an empty carriage; I’m walking along the street at dusk lost deep inside my headphones. Very few producers have consistently provided me with the sense of space that Buckwild has done over the years and as a result, here is a selection of some of his remix work for your listening pleasure.

Hip hop is formulaic. You take a loop that you like, slam some phat drums and a bassline in the mix and then let someone put forward their view of the world in rhyme form over the top. Simple. And yet there are only a handful of people who have been able to perform this feat effectively, stamping their own sense of identity onto the work that they create and making your head nod uncontrollably at the same time. So what is it that defines a truly great beat? Who knows, but Buckwild has the ability to produce them in abundance. There is a beautiful simplicity to his work that goes beyond analysis and taps into a primaeval sentiment that is the essence of all great music.

There is no doubt that he will appear again on this blog again in the future. Indeed, it would be almost impossible for him not to do so given that he features on so many of the quintessential albums of the mid-90s era (‘Word…Life’, ‘Stress: The Extinction Agenda’, ‘Lifestylez Ov Da Poor And Dangerous’ to name but a few). Although these remixes may not represent his seminal works, each one picks you up by the scruff of the neck, demands your attention and shakes you into submission. He is amongst an elite set of producers who encapsulate what real hip hop should be about. Enjoy.

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Vive La Revolution – DJ Cut Killer
December 5, 2006, 2:47 pm
Filed under: A DJ Saved My Life, Album Reviews

Really pleased with the comments so far – keep them coming people! Going to stick with Sendspace for the moment but let me know if you are experiencing problems downloading.

Wanted to switch it up with this next post so have turned my attention to the other side of the big blue expanse that separates the US from Europe. DJ Cut Killer is a stalwart of the French hip hop scene and was first brought to my attention in a film called ‘La Haine’ that was originally released in 1995. The film follows three french youths of varied racial/cultural descent and documents their lives in the wake of riots in the outskirts of Paris. It is wonderfully shot and heavily ingrained in hop hop culture featuring breakdancing scenes and a mysterious DJ scratching the shit out of KRS’ ‘Sound of da Police’ vocal over a beat that samples Edith Piaf’s ‘Je Ne Regrette Rien’. That DJ is Cut Killer. Needless to say, it left a distinct impression upon me and I consider the film to be a must-see.

Cut Killer began as many scratch DJs do: battling hard on the DMC circuit. From here he progressed to some of his own production work and is probably the most prolific of all French turntablists in terms of mixtape output. These are of a variable quality (not as a result of his skills which are unquestionably deep) due to some strange track selections which often feature the more commercial side of American R ‘n’ B. If that’s your thang then cop his ‘Cut Killer Soul Party’ series as they are dedicated to exactly that style of content but they have never really drawn my interest. The two albums featured today however are prime examples of a highly skilled DJ blending, juggling and scratching classic beats with the added intrigue of French joints that would otherwise have escaped my attention.

The beauty of these mixes is that they have a live feel. They seem raw and spontaneous: no post-production fiddling here. There is a cohesive mix of the styles from either side of the Atlantic although some of the freestyle sections lose impact after the first couple of minutes. Generally speaking, Cut Killer knows when to stop and let the music speak for itself. Particularly impressive is the Das EFX section of ‘Menage a 3’ that features a variety of boom bap classics linked by lyrical references that hint towards the next beat.

France has always struck me as a country that easily embraced hip hop culture without the crisis of identity that I believe has affected other nations outside of the US. I intend to post other French hip hop in the future: keep me bookmarked ‘mes amis’.

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Brick City Kids – Artifacts
December 4, 2006, 2:45 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

This duo, hailing from New Jersey, need little introduction in serious hip hop circles. Credited as the founders of ‘backpack hip hop’ due to their adherence to the fundamentals of the culture, their influence on mid-90s rap is undeniable. Starting off as graffiti writers and immersing themselves in the world of bombing (which their first album heavily references) meant that they were embraced by purists who longed for the passing days of golden era rap.

‘Between A Rock And A Hard Place’ dropped in ’94 off the back of the underground smash ‘Wrong Side Of Da Tracks’. The production roster speaks for itself with contributions from Buckwild, T-Ray and Redman and work on the boards was also aided by the MCs themselves. The resulting beats are nothing short of bangin’. Highlights for me include ‘Lower Da Boom’ featuring one of the richest, warmest basslines that I can think of in the genre’s history and ‘Whayback’ which tips its hat to the essential elements of the culture that were becoming lost as hip hop crossed-over with increasing velocity. El Da Sensei and Tame One rip through verses with passion and energy, detailing late night visits to train yards and the benefits of smoking large quantities of ‘phat fuckin’ phillies’.

Considering the strength of the debut, ‘That’s Them’ is perhaps an even greater accomplishment. Shawn J-Period contributes heavily with production and an appearance from the funkyman himself, Lord Finesse, is worthy of a special mention. The snares are crisp, the kicks resonate deep within your ear and the basslines raise the hairs on your neck: I love the production on this album. This is not to detract from the highly engaging flow of El and Tame One that treats wack MCs with the respect they deserve; the Artifacts are, after all, ‘the best in this MC fest’.

The two albums featured here represent blueprints for the perfect underground rap album and are an essential addition to any self-respecting follower of the culture’s collection. Amazingly, after a split in ’97, both MCs have continued to produce music of high quality and you should consider it your duty to search these works out. How many other groups can you name that have achieved such a feat in a musical tradition that seems characterised by a ‘fall off’ in the latter stages of an artist’s career? You can’t front on their contribution to the culture in its entirety and if you don’t know, now you know…

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Chief Rockas – LOTUG
December 3, 2006, 2:44 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews

With Megaupload under my belt, this is my first official post. Paying respects to the group who inspired the name of this here blogspot, I present the Lords of the Underground’s first 2 albums. As stated in my introduction, ‘Here Come The Lords’ has had a resounding impact on my hip hop taste and is still an album I come back to on the regular. Its strength lies in both the skills of the MCs, covering standard bragging verses as well as more thought provoking content (see ‘Grave Digga’) in a style which sees Mr Funky and DoItAll trading verses with effortless ease. However, critical to me is the quality of the beats. The massively slept-on K-Def provided numerous cuts on this album including the lead singles ‘Chief Rocka’ and ‘Funky Child’ which are certified classic material. Even my Mum feels the strength of the horn loops and stabs on this masterpiece from ’93…

‘Keepers of the Funk’ followed in the same vein although lacked the impact of their first release. Again, K-Def’s work on the boards produced the strongest beats on the album namely ‘No Pain’ and ‘What I’m After’ and there is very little skipping material here, thereby demonstrating an avoidance of the infamous hip hop slide that struck down many of the artists of the period. However, it is simply an album that I have never connected with in the way that I did with ‘Here Come…’. There is a little more polish to some of the production and the consequence of this is that the album lacks the raw urgency of their first effort.

All this seemed to come to an end with the final studio album ‘Resurrection’ which I have listened to although pretty much discarded. Perhaps this is an unfair judgement, but there is little doubt that the grittiness of the first two albums seemed to have gone. Still, they remain one of my most listened to groups of all time and it feels fitting that they kick off my journey into the blog ‘game’.

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