Saturday, October 1, 2011

September 2K11 in Hip Hop Terms

The Lowdown, 10/1/11

September brought us some pretty incredible new hip hop releases... trying to narrow it down to only a couple of them on here was tricky. About a week later, and what've we got? Here are a few that floored me:

1) Astronautalis "This Is Our Science" (Fake Four Inc.)

Astronautalis' fourth full length album is as epic in sound as it is in scope, encompassing a diverse range of musical genres while tackling the human condition on the grandest scale imaginable. It's rare to hear music that truly aspires to be timeless these days, especially in a genre like hip hop, but one gets the impression that Astronautalis is reaching as far as his lengthy list of talents will allow him to achieve this transcendent goal. "This Is Our Science" is a short album that dares to take risks ten times its size, blurring the boundaries of indie rock, folk and hip hop to convey Astronautalis' thoughts and feelings in a genuine way. If I had to draw comparisons, I might say that this album is what Ceschi's "One Man Band Broke Up" would sound like on stadium rock steroids, but it's hardly a fair way to describe it given how original Astronautalis' delivery and production is. One moment he's screaming like a crazed preacher about being alive ("Holy Water") and the next he's cooing softly about the prospect of eternally making out behind vending machines ("Secrets on Our Lips"). There's a certain wisdom in Astronautalis' words and music that can only emerge from extensive touring and traveling the world, and the maturity of the final product is a wonder to behold. The beats provided by Picnic Tyme, Lazerbeak, Radical Face, Alias, and Rickulos amongst others all feel unified under Astronautalis' vision. Hardcore hip hop traditionalists may end up scowling over the unconventional approaches of this album, but fans of original music will likely rejoice. One of the finest Fake Four releases to date in my book, up there with Dark Time Sunshine's "Vessel" and Factor's "Lawson Graham." Watch the video for 'Contrails" (featuring Tegan Quinn of Tegan & Sara fame) below:

2) Qwazaar & Batsauce "Bat Meets Blaine" (Galapagos4)

OK, so let's say you aren't down with all this "transcendent art rap" mumbo jumbo and just want a straight hip hop album with sick rapping and banging beats? Look no further. It took me approximately one listen of "Bat Meets Blaine" to throw it in my top 5 best rap albums of 2011. It's just that damn good. Qwazaar is easily one of the most slept-on MCs in the universe, with a killer voice and a flow that runs circles around a lot of these overhyped rapper punks. I feel like part of the reason he's been so overlooked as a vocalist is because most of his projects are very experimental and see him challenging himself outside of his comfort zone. But "Bat Meets Blaine" finds Qwa right at home over some very solid traditional hip hop production, and he sacrifices none of his edgy rapping prowess in the process. Tracks like "Chop'Em Down" and "Never Weaker" see Qwazaar peeling wigs back with his ultra aggressive flow while songs like "I'm Gone" and "If It Seems Wrong" show off the versatility of Qwa's styles. Batsauce holds his own as a producer over the course of the album, delivering a sick collection of jazzy hip hop beats with bass lines that bump and drums that hit. The music carries a variety of distinct moods that allow Qwazaar to flex his styles from song to song, but the sound of the album still feels unified as a whole. Essential listening for hip hop heads, check out the video for 'I Know" below:

3) Knives & Gasoline "Love Songs for Crime Scenes" (Grimm Image)

The collaborative album between LA hip hop producer Deeskee and California punk rock vocalist Stacey Dee is a little different from what either musician has done in the past, but the resulting music is an amalgam of pop styles that's distinctly their own. Granted, the elements that define each artists' personality are there, with Deeskee's dark and brooding beats and Stacey's raspy punk vocals still in full effect. But the direction that this project takes is more poppy than one might expect from either of these two, with songs like "Off the Air" and "Trainwreck" sounding like future radio hits. The album also feels more personal than anything that Stacey or Deeskee have done in the past, and the collaboration seems like something that could only evolve through a natural bond between artists. The collection of tunes on "Love Songs for Crime Scenes" is pretty diverse in sound, and there's bound to be songs you love and songs you hate on it. Personally, "The Night is Young" tends to have me hitting rewind while "Mirror Girl" has me tempted to fast forward. But as a whole, Knives & Gasoline presents a very genuine and honest body of work with "Love Songs for Crime Scenes," and in that regard it truly succeeds. There's not a moment when it's not apparent that Stacey Dee and Deeskee are making music from the heart, and their mutual love for diverse musical genres results in some very bright moments. Watch the music video for "Off the Air" below, but listen to the whole album to find the song you really love on it.

Other dope releases from last month: The Stepkids "The Stepkids," Flash Bang Grenada "10 Haters," Boom Bip "Zig Zaj." Out of the larger releases, 9th Wonder's "Wonder Years" was surprisingly good as well. Haven't had a chance to fully listen to J-Live's "S.P.T.A" or City Slick's "The Money and His Fool" yet, but looking forward to it. E. Lit out.

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