Wednesday, September 5, 2012

July 2K12 in Hip Hop Terms

The Lowdown, 8/29/12

Still playing catch up here, but some stellar albums dropped in July and August and it's impossible to sum them up without a full write-up for each month.  Here are some of the gems July 2012 had to offer:

1) Dark Time Sunshine "ANX" (Fake Four Inc.)

Onry Ozzborn and Zavala's official follow-up to their amazing "Vessel" album is every bit as brilliant as I could have hoped for, proving once again that these fellows craft some of the most outstanding modern hip hop on the market.  Zavala's incredible production work cements him a spot amongst the top producers working today, while Onry's excellent voice and smart lyrics steer the album in all sorts of exciting directions.  The beats on "ANX" sound like they could have been recorded in some distant galaxy, where superior forms of intelligence still enjoy the sounds of old school hip hop horns and drum breaks.  Onry's verses center around the theme of anxiety without getting stifled by the concept, and his deep delivery blends exceptionally well with the futuristic moods of the album.  "Overlordian" offers up a ridiculously great psychedelic beat that floats along with almost no percussion while Onry and special guest P.O.S playfully show off the full strengths of their voices.  The awesome synths and horn samples flipped for the hook are gold, but the full instrumental breakdown at the end of the track was enough to make my jaw drop.  The follow-up song, "Prairie Dog Day," had me bobbing my head so fiercely to its layered bouncy sounds that it wound up becoming my go-to music for creeping in the car late at night.  "Never Cry Wolf" is a beautiful and cleverly constructed song about relationships, while the title track offers up a dark journey into some of Onry's most personal writing to date.  Like "Vessel," the wide range of guests offered up over the course of the album never seem out of place and fit naturally into the mix, particularly the beautiful vocals lent by some of the female singers like Reva DeVito and Poeina Suddarth.  The guest raps from folks like Aesop Rock and Busdriver certainly don't hurt the cause either.  Even the packaging of this album is nuts, with no liner notes or credits to be found but plenty of photographs from outerspace.  Hands down one of the best hip hop albums of 2012, required listening for any serious hip hop head.  Check out the video for "Never Cry Wolf" below:

2) Aesop Rock "Skelethon" (Rhymesayers)

Can't say I ever thought I'd herald another of Aesop Rock's albums as a masterpiece, but "Skelethon" proves to be a strong contender for the most cohesive Aes Rock album to date and merits a spot amongst the stronger hip hop albums of 2012.  Like many underground hip hop heads who began seriously digging around the turn of the century, Aesop Rock's early albums had a great influence on my taste in music and were unlike anything else being released at the time.  I am part of the annoying camp of listeners that lost interest in Aesop Rock after "Labor Days," however... his vocal style got a little too cartoon-ish for my tastes, he lost a lot of the gravity found on his earlier recordings, and his sound seemed to be trying a little too hard to fit in with the sounds of his record label cohorts at Def Jux.  If last year's Hail Mary Mallon album with Rob Sonic hinted at a return to form, this new album is the full manifestation of Aesop Rock's originality.  His subject matter is still a lot more playful than it used to be, but he's somehow managed to make songs about haircuts and string beans interesting through his abstract imagery and perceptive eye to detail.  More importantly, Aesop Rock's vocals sound deeper and more powerful than ever before, and his vastly improved production work truly compliments his style.  This is the first fully self-produced Aesop Rock album, and it feels like he's really stepped into his own universe and crafted an album that no other MC or producer could make.  Seriously solid and original album that may very well be Aesop Rock's crowning achievement to date in my book.  Check out the video for "Cycles to Gehenna" below:

3) The Chicharones "Swine Flew" (Camobear) 

Josh Martinez and Sleep of Oldominion serve up a healthy dose of greasy, poppy, ultra-caloric hip hop on this terrific and long-belated sophmore full length.  I was a big fan of the Chicharones' last long-player "When Pigs Fly," but was a little less impressed by their "Swine Country" EP that followed it and kind of lost track of'em since then.  "Swine Flew" is their first proper album as a group in 7 years, and one listen through makes it clear that these boss hogs have been carefully perfecting their chemistry as a group.  I'm a fan of both Josh Martinez and Sleep as a solo artists, but it's great to hear how their work together brings out the more jubilant sides of both of their personalities.  "Swine Flew" has a lot of really fun numbers made to get you smiling and humming along, including an hilarious ode to thugged out mothers called "Gangsta Mama" and a rowdy country Western-tinged examination of fame entitled "Media Frenzy" (hats off to DJ Zone's harmonica scratch break down on this one).  Songs like these give this group a very high ranking on the list of acts I need to see live, with tales of magic shows and balanced Pabst cans abounding.  Their straight-forward pop numbers like "Hi Hey Hello" and "GetSlow" are undeniably catchy, but the album's not all fun and games, with tracks like "Old Fashioned" and "SunMay" bringing out a more serious side of Chichis that's delivered just as strongly. The track "Bankers Bonanza" even combines their humor with serious political themes as Sleep cleverly reworks the lyrics from "The Night Before Christmas" into a description of the bank bail-outs.  The always underrated Smoke of Oldominion handles the majority of the album's production and does a stellar job with the beats, flexing his versatility as a producer by delivering a wide range of moods.  Zavala, Pale Soul, and Maulskull all deliver quality beats as well.  It all gets my Oink of approval.  Check out the video for "Eggshells," directed by Stuey Kubrick, below:

4) Destruct & BeOnd "React" (Acid Lab)

LA's Acid Reign crew delivered up a bunch of projects this Summer that got unfairly slept on, and this collab between BeOnd and MC Destruct was the strongest of the bunch.  Destruct holds his own on the mic with his gruff voice and flow while BeOnd does his LA chop-shop thing, and the chemistry between the two of them works.  German producer Broken Finguz handles the entirety of the album's production and gives the two rappers some nice gritty boom bap production to work with.  Some of the samples Broken Finguz flips are a little too obvious, with "Wells Dry" standing out in this regard in particular, but even those songs work very well and are generally a pleasure to listen to.  A lot of impressive LA talent guests on this release, including Pigeon John (who delivers a terrific verse and hook to the somber "Love Is"), Awol One, 2Mex, Gajah and Self Jupiter of Freestyle Fellowship.  Pretty damn dope and worth checking for, peep the song "The Hustle" featuring 2Mex below:

No comments:

Post a Comment