Hip-Hop History: Looking Back on Hip-Hop Connection June 2004

Music

The mid 2000’s were a very interesting time in hip-hop, an era that doesn’t always get a great amount attention but in my opinion was one of the greatest periods the genre has had. It was a time of progression, hip-hop was breaking away from the nostalgia of the so called “Golden Age” while the scene became further fragmented as new sounds emerged. The era coincided with a massive boom in internet use which massively affected the musical landscape, from how people consumed music, to how it was distributed to where it was discussed. The artists from these years are the main influences for a lot of today’s most popular acts and it was these years in which Kanye West, one of the biggest names in all of music today began his rise to stardom.

While recently sorting through some boxes of my old belongings at my parents’ house I found a stack of Hip-Hop Connection magazines from around 2004-2007 and it got me buzzing with nostalgia. Hip-Hop Connection was once the longest running monthly hip-hop magazine, which was quite an accolade for a British publication considering the America-centric nature of the genre. I absolutely loved this magazine, it had the perfect mix of interviews, reviews and editorials, an entertaining read that could concisely cover serious political issues then having you laughing on the next page. HHC was very focused on the music while other hip-hop magazines often read like a tabloid newspaper, more concerned with beef and rap gossip than actual music. It’s this concentration on music that kept me reading month after month and helped cement my obsession with hip-hop, having a huge impact on my teenage years.

Looking through these old magazines was fascinating. Reliving the trends of the time, seeing how rappers have changed and observing the different (or in some cases very similar) topics that were discussed. I felt like I needed to share this with people as I’m sure others will find this as intriguing as I do. So this is the first in what will hopefully be a series of articles looking at the pages of these old magazines and writing about their contents.

Under each page I’ll post an Imgur link so you can see the page clearer and read it. The album with all pages is here. I’ll also insert YouTube links were relevant so you can check out the msuic being written about. I hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane with me.

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On this first trip back to the mid 2000’s we’re looking at the June 2004 edition of Hip-Hop Connection. Popularity wise Prince Po may have been a strange choice for the cover photo as he has never been the biggest name, but his album “The Slickness” that came out in 2004 definitely makes him worthy of this position.

Second most prominent position on the cover goes to D-12 which is underlined with the quote “Eminem is no racist”. This quote seems odd now but at the time some people did throw these accusations around.

The other bigger features on the cover come from Method Man who had recently released the mostly lacklustre Tical 0: The Prequel, Lil Flip who was one of the biggest names from the South at the time and legends Pete Rock & CL Smooth who had been on a reunion tour.

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Skipping ahead to the middle of the magazine, here is the monthly chart pull out with lists from various DJs covering different styles of hip-hop. I thought this would be a good place to start before we move on with the rest of the magazine as it can give you a good feel for what hip-hop at the time sounded like. I’ve collated of of the tracks from the main chart in a YouTube playlist here.

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As always, the issue opens with an editorial which this month ponders the short shelf life of rappers and the fast paced nature of the genre. The thought conveyed here is that most rappers don’t have lasting success, that they blow up fast but their popularity quickly deteriorates and they end up either on an indie label or leaving the rap game altogether. We’re then given a number of exceptions to this rule, most of which just so happen to be the main features of this month’s issue.

This topic is still relevant today as there are many rappers who rise to the top very quickly only to be seen as a fad months later when the hype dies down. In the space of less than three years Lil Yachty has risen to fame on the back of a well-received (although very polarising) mixtape, released a number of disappointing albums and is already fading from the limelight. Time will tell if Yachty can recapture some of that hype and maintain some of his relevance but it’s starting to seem very unlikely. A few years ago it looked like Yung Lean was set to become an unlikely rap star as his releases gained popularity and the co-signs from big names such as Travis Scott started coming in. Unfortunately for Yung Lean most of the hip-hop world quickly lost attention in his catchy cloud rap and although he’s continued putting out music, his audience has dwindled to a small cult fan base.

Looking back at some of the big names of 2004 many of them have long since dropped off the radar. The crunk movement was in full effect with acts like Paul Wall, Trillville, Lil Scrappy, Bone Crusher and David Banner all releasing big hits but are now either getting poor sales are not putting out music at all. Even Lil Jon, the king of crunk, is now little more than distant memory of a Dave Chappelle sketch to many.

You may argue that the quick rise and fall of these artists is down to them being somewhat gimmicky in nature but it’s not only the outlandish rappers that suffer from this. 50 Cent’s popularity peaked quickly, at the time of this issue he was a very big name and a legitimate talent but has since dabbled in other industries and is now only in the public eye when he says something else stupid and hateful. Kid Cudi is a more recent example, in the space of a few years he gained commercial and critical success only to quickly slip out of the mainstream. His recent collaboration with Kanye definitely brought him back to the front of everyone’s mind but a glance at his historic album sales shows a rapid decline.

There are obviously exceptions though, since 2004 there have been a number of rappers that have managed to sustain their relevance and spot in the limelight. Kanye West, Drake and Kendrick Lamar have all been going strong for at least 5 years now and although their hype may dip somewhat in between releases everyone pays attention when they drop new music.

Some of the examples mentioned in the above editorial are a bit off, but I assume their inclusion is largely based on their presence in the issue. Prince Po is a fantastic MC and has released a fair bit of great music but Organized Konfusion weren’t big outside of the underground and Prince Po’s solo work unfortunately didn’t do much to raise his profile. Pete Rock & CL Smooth were big names in the early 90s but seem to be among the most forgotten of that era. And despite the continued popularity of Southern hip-hop, the platinum selling Lil Flip is no longer known to most modern day rap fans.

No one is safe in the world of rap, no matter how popular you are and how long you’ve been at the top you can always lose that spot. Just think of all the big names that have peaked since 2004, in addition to those above, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Waka Floka Flame and B.o.B have all past their prime popularity. It could be just a matter of time before the likes of Kanye and Drake lose that top spot to the next big name.

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Reading the letters section today I can’t but laugh at how little things have changed in the 14 years since this was published. All this time has passed and the same discussions are still arising. Firstly we have a 30 year-old Swedish hip-hop fan complaining about how modern hip-hop is all about “saying how ‘bad’ they are, and how many girls they can have, alcohol to drink, joints to smoke and what fancy clothes they wear”. This is a complaint I’m sure you’ve all seen and heard many times before, if anything I’m hearing it less now than I used to. Today’s rap fans tend to either be well aware of the fact that there is plenty of more varied subject matter out there or they embrace these shallow topics. Large egos, sex and drugs have always been a big part of hip-hop as well as politics and introspection, all these topics have a their place in the genre. Hip-hop is more varied than ever, you really can find whatever you’re looking for if you look hard enough. People like this reader just aren’t looking hard enough.

A reader named Ben Spurr brings up a topic that has been discussed at great lengths over the last couple of years; the issue of producers not getting their due when they are the ones responsible for making hits. In the last couple of years producers and fans have been complaining that beat makers don’t get enough money or respect for all of the work that they do. After all, can you imagine what Future, Lil Uzi Vert, Migos and Lil Pump would be without the quality instrumentals backing their vocals? But this is nothing new, rappers have almost always been the focal point of hip-hop (the very early years being an exception), they are the face of the music and because of this they’re generally the ones that reap the rewards of their releases. After so long of being overlooked it’s definitely time that producers get the props and the money that they deserve, from Alchemist and Timbaland in 2004 to Metro Boomin and Zaytoven today, producers are often the heart of a hit.

There’s also a letter from someone called Sam who starts off by criticising Westwood, something that many people still do. The UK has always had a bit of a love hate relationship with Westwood, he’s a bit of a goofball but he has certainly done a lot for hip-hop in this country. The letter continues by praising the magazine but blasting their coverage of “this crunk bullshit”. These few sentences still feel really familiar and if you swap “crunk” with “mumble rap” and “Juvenile” with “Lil Pump” this could have been posted yesterday as a comment on a hip-hop Facebook page.

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“Say What?” was the monthly news round up in HHC and it’s really interesting looking back on what was happening at the time. Down the left hand side we’re treated to some intriguing quotes from rappers around that time. First off we have a quote from 50 Cent spewing homophobia in a Playboy interview. In the 14 years since that was published the hip-hop community has grown more accepting but sadly we still have a very long way to go as homophobia remains common place. You can see the progression that has been made because 50 Cent didn’t face much backlash for his words whereas Migos have been condemned for their anti-gay remarks and lyrics, so at least this type of ignorance isn’t as accepted as it used to be. We also have some openly gay rappers now which (as far as I’m aware) didn’t exist even in the most obscure corners of the 2004 world of hip-hop. But with acts like Migos all too often expressing their hate and tracks littered with homophobic slurs we need to continue growing as a community until these backwards ideologies are gone for good.

The music industry has changed a lot since 2004 but one thing that remains the same is record companies ripping off the artists, as is evident the DMX quote. It’s no wonder that since then we have seen more and more artists go down the independent route, and with the increased creative freedom that comes along with that it can only be a good thing.

We have another quote from 50 Cent saying that he could make a record in three days but that he will take a lot longer because he wants to top his last one. Things have definitely changed in this respect as a lot of rappers put out copious amounts of music all year round. These days fans get impatient when it’s coming up to a year without a fresh album from their favourite artist but back in the early 2000s in many cases you were lucky to get one every 3 years. It’s great to get so much new music but I think a lot of fans are now wishing things would go back to how they used to be when artists spent more time on an album to perfect it. I love getting 3 Future projects in a year but I can’t help but wonder how good an album from him could be if he spent 3 years making it.

Looking through the news bullet points there are a few noteworthy entries. I hadn’t heard Trina’s “Leaving You” but after a quick YouTube search it’s pretty hilarious since she tells us that Nelly, Jay Z, Ja Rule and others all have big dicks. I’m not surprised her label didn’t approve it. Redman and Ludacris both landed themselves movie roles, neither of them have had a whole lot of luck in Hollywood since. DMX had also stated that he was moving in to the movie industry, this also didn’t turn out too well as a small part in Jet Li’s Cradle 2 The Grave is probably the best role he ever had.

My favourite news piece on this page has to be the report that Dre had scrapped plans to complete Detox. This is in 2004, and it wasn’t until 11 years later that rumours of the release were finally put to rest as Dre dropped his 2015 album Compton, stating that it’s basically what The Detox would have been. And now in 2018 rumours have started once more that Dre is working on the mythical album again. There are a lot of albums that were announced but will probably never come out; DoomStarks, Madvillainy 2, Kendrick/Cole collaboration etc. but Detox will always be the biggest.

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A short interview with eclectic producer RJD2. This was fairly early in his career and he had just dropped the spectacular ‘Since We Last Spoke’ (reviewed later in the magazine) which really showed his versatility as an artist. It isn’t even a hip-hop album, it’s a strange collage of musical genres all stitched together through RJD2’s incredible production skills. He has continued to release fantastic solo projects as well as solid collaborations with artists such as Acey Alone and STS. He released Dame Fortune in 2016 and put out an experimental, drumless album this year called ‘Tendrils’ under the pseudonym “The Insane Warrior”.

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The “Major Playaz” column was a monthly piece on recent major releases and club hits. A top 10 club bangers chart on the left is full of great tunes including ‘Jay Z’s 99 Problems’ which was huge when it first came out, Mobb Deep’s dark classic ‘Got It Twisted’ and Lil Flip’s video game infused anthem ‘Game Over’. Strangely enough Clipse’s seminal album Hell Hath No Fury is on the chart even though it came out in late 2006. The LP had been pushed back many times due to label problems and this writer must have got hold of one of the early iterations of the project. I’d be very interested to hear what that leaked version sounded like.

As with many current rap releases Ghostface’s ‘The Pretty Toney Album’ had been pushed back a number of times. This is one of my favourite albums from Ghost and is criminally overlooked. There are a few names here that I haven’t heard in a long time such as Cassidy, J-Kwon, Lil Scrappy and Trillville, they were all putting out hits at the time though and ‘Tipsy’ will always a party classic. It is also mentioned that Lil Jon is releasing an energy drink called “Crunk!!!” and Dip Set are behind a new alcoholic drink called “Sizzurp Purple Punch”, this was around the time that Nelly’s “Pimp Juice” energy drinks were available. There seemed to be more bizarre rap related products on the shelves back then and I kind of miss it, I feel like we need some Lil Yachty branded sherbet or a range of frozen desserts from Maxo Kream.

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A fun little interview with Jazzy Jeff who has been fairly elusive since his days with the Fresh Prince. He has stayed in active in a low key fashion though, putting out mixes here and there which are always solid. He showed his proficiency as a producer on a recent episode of Rhythm Roulette and put out a funky album called ‘M3’ earlier this year.

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It was a pretty big deal when Channel U first launched, a music video channel for urban UK music was a great way for our smaller scene to get some much needed exposure. Channel U remained fairly important for a while, pushing some grime legends in to the lime light with their low budget videos. As with a lot of music TV it lost some of its popularity in the late 2000s, and it was rebranded as Channel AKA. In June of this year the name was changed to Massive R&B, to most people this marked the true death of Channel U and sparked a lot of nostalgia for the early years.

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J-Zone is a multitalented guy, as well as being one of the most underrated producers in hip-hop, a solid rapper and more recently a skilled funk drummer, he’s a pretty good writer too. In this monthly segment he reviewed classic “ign’ant” albums to accompany a humorous editorial piece. Zone has always brought some of the funniest lyrics around these articles always had me chuckling. After taking a break from music around 2008, J-Zone returned in 2013 with a couple of dope rap releases before moving on to making some great funk music.

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Hip-hop connection had a number of interesting regular editorials including “Great Rap Misconceptions” were writers would pick apart commonly held hip-hop opinions. Here the writer looks at the hate directed towards P Diddy (previously known as Puff Daddy) and argues that it isn’t deserved. There have always been people in the hip-hop scene that are the focus of a lot of hate, these days the “mumble rap” scene gets a load of hate as well as Drake and Kanye who tend to be very divisive. Back in 2004 Diddy’s fame was fading and so was the hate towards him but for years he had been seen a negative force in rap.

I think Diddy was one of the catalysts in the segmentation of hip-hop, a player who active when hip-hop became more divided in to high energy, club friendly rap and the more lyrical side of genre. Although purists would probably disagree, in my opinion this segmentation has been a good thing, it has allowed artists to find different sounds and push the genre in all types of exciting directions. P Diddy really did pave the way for acts like Migos and Lil Pump so it’s no wonder that the same section of “real hip-hop” zealots have dished out hate towards them all.

“Rapper’s Rough Guide To…” regualr editorial piece that gave a short, often humorous summary of a hip-hop tropes. In this issue they take a quick look at hip-hop snobbery, mainly in the form of disliking music once it gets popular, a behaviour now commonly known as being a hipster.

Snobbery definitely still exists in hip-hop but I don’t think it’s a bad as it was, and it has taken different forms. Back in the early 2000s the genre was full of “real hip-hop” elitist fans who were obsessed with knowing about the latest underground MCs and dismissed anything that made its way in to the charts. Although things had started to change slightly there was still a clear divide between mainstream hip-hop and the rest of the genre, especially when looking at the audience.

Nowadays there is much more of a sliding scale between the underground and the mainstream and many fans appreciate both. You still have people on old school hip-hop Facebook groups making memes about mumble rap and kids calling anyone who listens to boom bap an “old head” but I think you’re average hip-hop fan is more open-minded than ever. A lot more people are now judging artists on their music rather than their popularity which is definitely a welcome change (although with the rise of social media more importance is placed on image but that’s a whole other topic).

Strangely we have seen a new form a snobbery appear among hip-hop heads, the antithesis of the snobbery discussed in this article. I often see people criticising artists based on their poor album sales or arguing that a rapper is superior due to the gold or platinum status of their albums. Previously fans prided themselves on their plethora of knowledge and would avoid admitting they were unaware of a particular MC. Now internet dwellers leave comments such as “who” when underground rappers are mentioned, a smug declaration of ignorance and a supposed slight at the artist. Fortunately these people are in the minority but it is an interesting paradigm shift.

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The “Dirty South” was huge in the early/mid 2000s and Lil Flip was one of the biggest names. As with many of the artists in this scene at the time his popularity dwindled a while ago although he has continued making music. Flip put out a number of projects in 208 and although they had their moments they didn’t have the highs of previous projects such as ‘Undaground Legend’ and ‘U Gotta Feel Me’. The 2004 hit single ‘Game Over’ will always have a special place in my heart.

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I remember buying Madvillainy the week it came out (based on this magazines recommendation), it was my first exposure to MF DOOM and I really didn’t know what to think at first. DOOM’s raps sounded kind off beat, the instrumentals were weird and the tracks were really short, it was like nothing I’d heard before. After a few listens though it really clicked and I became obsessed with both of these incredible artists.
Even though I wasn’t familiar with MF DOOM, this release felt like quite a big deal at the time (as far as underground rap goes anyway). Him and Madlib were already established names in hip-hop but this album really elevated them both as artists at the top of their game and some of the best in the genre. The release was very well-received as soon as it came out so it’s no surprise that it’s generally thought of as a classic now.

Not long after this we were told that Madvillainy 2 was coming soon but here we are in 2018 and we’re still no closer to hearing it (although we did get a kind of redundant remix album). Both DOOM and Madlib went from being two of the most prolific guys in underground hip-hop to releasing projects a lot more sparingly. When they do put out fresh music Madlib really hasn’t lost a step, his beats continue to evolve and often push boundaries still. His projects with Freddie Gibbs and Blu & MED were both fantastic and we’re all eagerly waiting on the Gibbs follow up. DOOM is still very capable but is no longer in his prime, his recent collaborative album with Czarface was solid but lacked the magic of his earlier work. The couple of tracks we got with Westside Gunn were stronger though and people still pay attention whenever the masked one drops a verse.

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Today hip-hop is completely ubiquitous but in the early 2004 its complete invasion of mainstream culture was still in the early stages(here in the UK anyway). For years there had always been a few very popular acts who had a large presence on TV but the majority of the genre stayed hidden and musically there was little variation in the rappers getting attention.

As a teenager, I remember watching Sunday morning kids show ‘Smile’ when I heard DJ Devstar play some Gang Starr instrumentals (as mentioned in this article) and I lost my mind. Apart from a couple of close friends no one at my school knew who Gang Starr were so hearing it played on a BBC kids show was of exciting to me. Back then I would scour the TV guide looking for any shows that were even slightly related to hip-hop so that I could record them on VHS. Now and then My eyes would light up when I spotted that a documentary, usually about violence or sex in the genre, was going to be on late at night on Channel 4. These shows were usually very basic but I didn’t care, if it was rap related I had to watch it. Once I struck gold and managed to record a late night showing of the superb 2001 documentary ‘Scratch’, I recorded it and played that tape until it wore out.

This editorial piece does a good job of summarising the situation at the time. The article closes by asking if “programmes could cover more than the dog-eared question of whether rap music encourages violence” or that documentaries “could finally stretch beyond those whirlwind histories ticking all the usual boxes” so I think the writer has got his wish. TV documentaries covering hip-hop tend to have a lot more depth now, a recent BBC show hosted by Rodny P was especially great. It’s not uncommon to see an interesting documentary showing on BBC or Channel 4, certainly a lot better than they used to be, not to mention the plethora of hip-hop related shows on more niche channels such as Viceland. The advent of streaming has also opened the door to massive amounts of content as Netflix is scattered with rap docs and there is an endless stream of discussion videos on YouTube. There has never been a better age to be a hip-hop fanatic.

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Hip-Hop Connection frequently had comedy articles and they were usually pretty funny. Here they imagine up a bunch of super rare albums from established acts such as a country album from Premier and an Eric Sermon Crooning Record.

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One half of the sublime Organized Konfusion, Prince Po is often overlooked in favour of his former rap partner Pharoahe Monch. Where Pharoahe rose to relative fame after going solo Prince Po became quite inactive, only putting out a few guest verses and one single until his debut solo album that is being promoted in this interview. It was worth the wait though as The Slickness is an incredible album featuring production from Danger Mouse, Madlib and J-Zone while Prince Po shows versatility on the mic.
Po followed up the release with ‘Prettyblack’ in 2006 and ‘Saga of the Simian Samurai’ in 2007, both of which were very solid releases but never got the attention they deserved.

After another hiatus he returned in 2014 with the mighty Oh No on their collaborative album ‘Animal Serum’ but has since gone quiet again. Prince Po has a unique style and I really hope we hear more music from him soon because with the right producer I think he could easily match the greatness of The Slickness or even his earlier work in Organized Konfusion.

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Just before hitting the reviews this regular editorial piece touched on topics raised earlier in the magazine, often referring to the artist on the cover and it’s usually quite poignant. In this issue the subject of selling out is investigated and it’s an aspect of hip-hop that I think has changed a lot in a number of ways.

Firstly, I don’t think people care as much about selling out any more. Most people would like to be rich and successful so why criticise those who use their talent to do so? “Keeping it real” has always been such an important thing in hip-hop, legitimacy was of the utmost importance and for some reason making it big was seen as going against that. Although this attitude still exists to some extent it’s no where near as prevalent as it used to be and as I mentioned earlier many people now judge an artist’s worth by their ability to sell records. It’s strange to see things flip so much and I’m not completely sure what has caused it, although my next point may have something to do with it.

Selling out doesn’t seem to happen as much, or at least it doesn’t seem as dramatic as it did. Hip-hop isn’t as dangerous as it used to be, it’s much more mainstream as a whole so whereas it felt strange to see Busta Rhymes drop a verse for the Pussycat Dolls it didn’t feel as weird to see Kendrick on a Tailor Swift track. Many rappers also seem to stay in their lanes more, people who start making club bangers and radio hits tend to continue doing so while the lyrical MCs stick with their own styles. Part of why this happens is because hip-hop is now big enough to allow for it, you don’t need to change your style as much to gain popularity.

Lastly, the divide between critically acclaimed hip-hop albums and ones that sell well isn’t as present as it used to be (despite what the “hip-hop is dead” crowd want you to think). The critically loved MF DOOM wasn’t doing big numbers in the early 2000s but Kendrick has reached almost unanimous critical acclaim for his last 3 albums which all went platinum. The whole landscape of hip-hop has changed so much in the last 14 years, the mainstream media is more open now so artists can get the radio and TV time they need to sell out, without “selling out”. It’s still hard to make it big but at least now rappers can get there without changing who they are.

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We’re now moving on to the reviews section of the magazine which is the main reason I bought Hip-Hop Connection. I found that the reviews were almost secondary in other rap magazines but HHC always had a large section dedicated to them and covered the majority of new releases. The singles reviews were usually a bit daft, with more jokes than actual critiques and the selection of songs they chose to look at where usually quite obscure.

Single of the month this time went to Jay-Z for ’99 Problems/Dirt Off Your Shoulder’ even though the writer is very negative about the Timbaland produced club hit. In the last couple of years I have seen ‘The Black Album’ lauded as a classic but this always seems strange to me as the reception was mixed, and mostly lukewarm when it was released. Many people where disappointed as the album was touted as Jay’s last and they didn’t think it lived up to the hype, especially as far as the production was concerned which lead to a number of remix versions of the album (most notably the fantastic Danger Mouse produced ‘Grey Album’ which I actually prefer to the original). I guess certain albums look different in hindsight but I still can’t see this as more than an average album. That being said I can’t deny that ’99 Problems’ is one of the best hip-hop hits of the early 2000s.

Elsewhere in this section we have quite a lot of UK releases, some more noteworthy than others. Veteran UK hip-hop producer Mark B collaborated with Tommy Evans for a catchy, fun single, Harry Love was another UK producer who was on fire at the time which is evident on ‘Surprize’ featuring the killer line up of Verb T, Yungun & Mystro. Lewis Parker & Yungun’s ‘The Big Idea’ was a favourite of mine at the time, with a perfect example of Parker’s signature production and some light hearted bars from Essa.
Taz was being built up to be a big name on the UK scene (notably working on the beat for Dizzee’s ‘Jus a Rascal’) and the catchy, grime infused hip-hop of ‘Can’t Contain Me’ showed he had some potential. His debut album ‘Analyse This’ dropped soon after and although it was a solid LP Taz disappeared soon after. Looking back on these UK releases many of the rappers had short careers, especially when compared to their American counter parts. I imagine the lack of money in the scene made it hard to achieve any type of longevity. Looking on the bright side, the few that have managed to stay in the game are still releasing great music. Artists like Jehst and Cappo don’t seem to have lost a step since they were dropping classics in the early 2000s.

The American indie rap scene was in good health at the time with solid releases from Josh Martinez and DJ Nu-Mark. Eyedea and Abilities dropped ‘Now’, a great single from their album ‘E&A’. The duo are frequently brough up as some of the most talented in the 2000s indie rap scene and with good reason. Unfortunately Eyedea passed away in 2010 but he is still remembered in discussions of the lyrical greats of the indie rap scene.

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This issue’s album of the month went to Ghostface for the very underrated ‘The Pretty Toney Album’. Ghostface has a stellar discography so it’s understandable that some albums get forgotten but I feel like this LP gets unfairly overshadowed by ‘Fishscale’ which was released 2 years later. Don’t get me wrong, I think his 2006 release was a very solid album but it doesn’t stand out to me like ‘The Pretty Toney LP’.

Oozing with serene soul samples contrasted by a rawness that perfectly exemplifies Ghostface’s unique delivery, this album was one of my favourites of the era. Tracks like ‘Biscuits’, ‘Beat The Clock’, ‘Save Me Dear’ and ‘Run’ (with a classic Jadakiss feature) all stay in my regular listening to this day. Ghost throws the rule book out the window when he uses an unedited Delfonics track as the beat on ‘Holla’, no looping, no added drums, just him going in over a soul classic. Except on ‘Big Girl’ from ‘Fishscale’ I’ve never heard a track like this where the beat samples a song in its entirety, I’d be interested to hear someone else try it although I’m not sure anything could compete with the greatness of ‘Holla’.

Ghostface was working a lot with Theodore Unit at the time, with Trife having one of the best verses on this album on “Biscuits”. The collective had an album out as a group the year after this which had some really great tracks and a number of the members showed a lot of promise (others not so much, I’m looking at you Shawn Wigs). Apart from Trife who has had a few sporadic releases, I’ve heard very little from any of The Unit since around 2006. I find it interesting how some rappers seem to disappear so early in their careers and it’s almost impossible to predict which ones will stick around, I wonder which newcomers in 2018 will still be around in 5 or ten years from now.

I couldn’t write about this page without mentioning this outstanding picture of Ghostface and his crew, all dressed in matching red and white with some big chains and shiny leather. What a glorious example of the terrible hip-hop fashion that was popular in the early to mid 00s. Lots of the music from this era still sounds fresh today, but I really can’t say the same about the dress sense.

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Now we get in to the bulk of the album reviews, it’s worth giving these a read to pick up on some releases you may have missed. I’m just going to comment on some of the more interesting names and albums I enjoyed the most.

At this point in time garage was way passed its peak popularity and So Solid Crew had pretty much disappeared. Asher D had been one of the more well known of the group and was trying to transition in to a solo career. This album had its moments and he continued to release 2 albums in the 5 years after this but never made a big impact musically. Fortunately for Asher D (real name Ashley Walters) his acting career that started years earlier went from strength to strength and he is now a successful actor.

Boot Camp Clik had been putting out great music for years at this point but it was Sean Price who was about to break out and enter the prime of his career. The year after this group album Price released his debut album ‘Monkey Barz’ which brought him attention from all across the scene. With one of the greatest flows in rap history and production from the likes of 9th Wonder and Khrysis the 2005 album is a perfect example of underground hip-hop. The quality of his music stayed consistent until his untimely death in 2015, a real loss to the genre. RIP to one of the true greats.

Experimental hip-hopper Busdriver put out his third solo album, one of his strangest and jazziest releases to date. ‘Cosmic Cleavage’ is frequently overlooked but may be my favourite album of his, it’s a succinct piece of uncut, boundary pushing hip-hop. Busdriver continued to evolve his sound over the years, going in a more electronic direction on most of his albums with slightly mixed results (although mostly consistent). The catchiness of ‘RoadKillOvercoat’ and sonic variation of ‘Pefect Hair’ have been further highlights in Driver’s discography but my favourite album of his since ‘Cosmic Cleavage’ is the phenomenal LP he put out earlier this year. ‘Electricity Is On Our Side’ is the jazziest album he’s put out in the last 14 years but instead of going back to his old sound it feels like he’s taken all the aspects of his albums in between and merged the best bits to devise something fresh. Over the course of his career Busdriver has continued to reinvent his sound, surprising us with every release, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

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J-Kwon was very popular for a very brief period of time, his hit single ‘Tipsy’ was particularly massive for a while. His album ‘Hood Hop’ gets a favourable review here but I don’t think most people would be able name more than the above mentioned track. He certainly never reached the fame that Nelly did as the reviewer suggests he might, although both have been very quiet for years now.

It’s strange to think that people were ever negative about Pharrell’s 2000s musical output but at the time there were lots of people who were very critical of his work. I think this is mainly due to the snobbery and hatred of “selling out” that I mentioned earlier in this piece. Hip-hop heads would often write off artists purely because they were popular and Pharrell was no exception to this. He has only become more successful since, working on a wide variety of projects but for me his work during the mid 2000s was absolutely groundbreaking and the pinnacle of his career.

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We have an early release from John Legend who later rose to fame as acclaimed singer-songwriter so it’s kind of weird looking back at when he was just “Kanye’s little helper”. The interviewer mentions Kanye’s “Very Good Records” and I’m unsure of whether this is a joke, a mistake or a previous name for the label (although Google gives me nothing so I assume it’s one of the former).

It’s a shame that we never got a proper second album from Non Phixion but ‘The Green CD’ almost made up for it. A real mixtape full of raw freestyles and great unreleased tracks like ‘Skum’ and ‘We All Bleed’. The trio never sounded as good as when they were working together, their chemistry was great and they had production from the likes of Necro in his prime and even a Premier beat. The group split shortly after this release and started putting out solo work which was hit and miss. Ill Bill had the most success with his solid ‘What’s Wrong With Bill?’ as well as a plethora of releases continuing through to present day. Meanwhile Goretex and Sabac Red had a couple of releases shortly after this (Sabac’s album also reviewed in this issue) and have been pretty quiet since. I once spoke to Goretex in a WinMX (old P2P software) chatroom, or at least someone claiming to be him. He said he borrowed ‘The Green CD’ from the library and never returned it. It’s weird that someone would need to steal their own CD from a library but it would also be weird for someone to be in a chatroom pretending to be Goretex.

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Crunk was really prominent around this time and was pretty much the precursor to ringtone rap which was followed shortly by the rapid growth of trap music (although trap preceded crunk, it was just a while before it blew up). Hip-hop Connection was generally very positive about the scene which is evident by the five star rating they gave the above compilation. 5 star ratings were incredibly rare in the magazine, the only other one I remember seeing was given to Kidz In The Hall – ‘School Was My Hustle’. Two strange choices considering all of the other amazing releases they reviewed. This compilation did do a good job of summarising the sound of the time and although a lot of crunk tracks now sound very dated there is something lovable about them.

The man, the myth, the legend, Tim Westwood also featured here for one of his many compilations. He may be a weirdo but he’s done a lot for hip-hop in the UK and generally had a good idea of what was hot. If you told me back then that Westwood would still be active in the music scene in 2018, putting out bizarre interviews online with big names then I’d assume you were having a laugh. Yet here we are, and with all the other odd events of the last year, a video of Westwood awkwardly hitting on girls with G-Eazy actually feels kind of normal.

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A lot has happened in Chappelle’s career since the first season of his show came out on DVD. I’m sure that like me, many other hip-hop fans have spent hours sat around with friends watching this show so it was sad to see him step back from comedy. Although I wasn’t a fan of his recent Netflix specials it is good to see him active again.

I’m almost certain this magazine got a lot of their funding from soft porn producers “Hip-Hop Honeys” because each magazine featured a centre pull out of one of the models and here they are plugging the DVD in the review section. It always felt out of place to me because it’s not really in keeping with the rest of the magazine but I guess they had to make money were they could. With free porn now so widely available online it’s hard to imagine a time when people would pop in to HMV and grab a DVD of girls posing in bikinis to hip-hop music, but these types of DVD were actually quite common, Snoop even had a few of his own.

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Here we have a fun page after the reviews with a few small pieces on it. The “Rapometer” has some interesting points. “Bad Rappers” is on the hot side of things which may have been somewhat of a premonition. For the last few years there has definitely been shift away from needing to be technically skilled on the mic. Many popular MCs from recent times have not been what you would call a traditionally “good” rapper. It was obviously meant as joke but it is interesting that this was around the time that the shift away from technicality started happening in hip-hop. It depends who you ask but I don’t think the change has been a bad thing, just a natural evolution and expansion of the genre.

“Mix Compilations by Name Deejays” being on the cold side of things also seem relevant to today’s hip-hop. Not so much the “Name Deejay” side of things but the fact that so many people are now selling mixtapes as albums, or maybe they’re labelling album mixtapes? It’s hard to know and the line between mixtape and album continues to be blurred.

Elsewhere on the page we have my favourite regular comedy piece in the magazine “My Crazy Hip-Hop Life”. This month it’s a run down of Pharrell’s typical day including a dig at the unnecessary amount of ‘Cot Damn’ remixes they made amongst other things (although I can now only find one remix of that track but I’m certain there were more). We also have the regular hip-hop crossword, this month it’s Organized Konfusion themed. These crosswords were always too difficult for me, I’m not sure whether that’s because I didn’t know as much about rap as I thought I did or the fact I’m just terrible at crosswords in general.

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Before we get to the closing editorial piece I thought it would be fun to look at some of the adverts that featured throughout the magizine. These ads look partiular dated and some are simply bizarre.

Snoop has a large official discography but he also has an almost endless catalogue of unofficial mixtapes and compilations. Here Hip-Hop Connection has an “exclusive offer” for us; an unreleased Snoop Dogg CD for only £10 (plus postage & packaging). Although I’m almost certain this collection of tracks is not worth a tenner I am very curious to give it a listen, especially for the Marvin Gaye “collaboration” (OK, so I found the Marvin Gaye track and it’s actually pretty good). Thankfully, if you can’t afford the CD you can step your game up with one of the incredibly cool mobile phone wallpapers which inexplicably can take 28 days to be delivered.

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The regular advertising block is pretty funny to look back on. The graphic design was poor for the time but it looks really terrible now, I imagine a lot of these were whipped up on Word or MS paint. The record shop ads are fairly standard, it’s the ones for urban fashion shops that look especially dated. Labels like Fubu, Phat Farm, Roca Wear and Ecko were all the rage with their super baggy clothes and bulky shoes, covering people in twice the amount of material than was necessary. I was disappointed as a teen that there weren’t many shops in my area to buy these brands but looking back it was definitely a blessing, checking out old pictures of myself is embarrassing enough as it is. There’s even some UK fashion represented here by “Souljah”, complete with an especially budget looking ad and boasting a “New ‘No Yank’ Design” that I’m sure all of the coolest kids were rocking.

We also have a beautiful add for WellCoolStuff.com which has you covered for all of your borderline illegal needs. If you want to trip on mushrooms and grow weed while firing off rounds from an air rifle then these guys have you covered, they’ll even sort you out with a t-shirt adorned with edgy motifs.

I tried to visit some of the websites on display here but none of them are live anymore, so unfortunately I assume all of these companies are now out of business. As much as I’m chuckling at these old ads it’s sad to think that all of these companies had owners that have since had to go through the stress of a failing business. Or maybe some of them have moved on to bigger and better things, I think this has to be the case for genius behind WellCoolStuff.com, a true entrepreneur.

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Out of all the changes that have occurred in hip-hop since the early 2000s I think the most dramatic is surrounding fashion and this advert is a great example of that. Now even for the time this is terrible marketing, the people behind this clearly had no idea about hip-hop culture. The model looks like a cop going undercover at a school in a bad comedy film, trying hard to fit in wearing his long sleeve shirt under short sleeve shirt combo. You can see what looks like a chain hanging from his pocket and an awkward stance that says “how do you do, fellow kids?”, the whole thing is awful. The tag line “Why’s everything gotta fit for?” is really the icing on the cake, the creators clearly thought that using bad grammar instantly made them very hip. The quote is even attributed to “#Aaron” which is bizarre because this was years before twitter and the era of the hashtag, I guess adding random symbols was also deemed hip by Levi’s clueless marketing team.

Even though this was a pretty out of touch advert it tapped in to the very real obsession that hip-hop had with baggy clothes. Baggy clothes were the norm in hip-hop for so long, from the early 90s right through to the late 2000s but it’s a style that we have recently shaken for the most part. Sure there are still scenes within the genre that have clung to their oversized garments but the general trend has definitely moved towards more fitted clothes. The segmentation of hip-hop in to sub genres has further expanded the variety of clothing styles that we see and has gone hand in hand with a greater importance being put on image. Rappers have always had signature looks but there were usually some universal style choices that covered the whole genre, baggy clothes being one of them.
Nowadays fashion is incredibly important to a lot of rappers whether they’re draped in extravagant designer labels or rocking a casual skater vibe, their clothes are an extension of their identity and it is a way to get themselves recognised.

Hip-hop artists were already getting involved in fashion around the time of this magazine, you had Rocawear from Dame Dash and Jay Z, G-Unit had their own clothing range and others were also jumping on this emerging financial opportunity. The partnership between rap and fashion has never been stronger than it is today and it’s being lead by the skinny jeans gang, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until the bagginess makes a real comeback.

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‘Speak Ya Clout’ always closed out issues of Hip-Hop Connection, a short opinion piece on a specific facet of the rap game. Here they look at the ever poignant topic of ghost writing with a scathing critique of those that choose to outsource their lyrical construction. It’s a criticism that is still regularly thrown at artists, most notably Drake and to a lesser extent Kanye West, although I imagine the practice spreads far wider that.

I think it’s undeniable that the use of ghostwriters drastically discredits a rapper’s technical ranking, you can’t argue that someone is a great MC if they don’t write their own lyrics. I’d argue that delivery is a more important factor but crafting rhymes is such a fundamental part of hip-hop that if an artist can’t do that for themselves then it detracts from their credibility.

That’s not to say that using ghostwriters makes you a bad artist, or incapable of making good music though. Some people work best in a collaborative environment, coordinating a number of contributors to mould a cohesive body of work. Kanye West and Dr Dre in particular thrive in this environment, bringing together a number of artists on all of their albums and acting as the conductor that brings out the best in everyone.

On the other side we have Drake who is more of a brand than anything, the face of a musical marketing campaign backed by ghostwriters. That’s not to say that his music is bad, I just don’t think there is much of a case for him being a great rapper. Regardless of who wrote it, good music is good music, but if a rapper won’t write his own rhymes then they can’t take the credit.

That’s it for this issue. This post has ended up a lot longer than I first envisioned but I feel like there was a lot to discuss, if you made it this far then I appreciate your patience. I’ll hopefully do more of these focussing on the other issues I found so keep an eye out for future posts.

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Graphic Life: June 2018

Comics

It’s almost two months since my first edition of “Graphic Life” where I run through the comics and graphic novels I’ve read recently and I’ve got through quite a lot, including some really great books. Have a read then pop down to your local store to pick up some new comics!

Black Hammer

Black Hammer Volume 1

Author: Jeff Lemire

Artist: Dean Ormston

Score: 8/10

More brilliance from Jeff Lemire in this off the wall super hero series. The story follows a group of super heroes trying to live normal lives in some kind of small town parallel universe. The art is wonderful and the characters are intriguing, I’m looking forward to see where this goes.

4 Kids
4 Kids Walk Into A Bank

Author: Matthew Rosenberg

Artist: Tyler Boss

Score: 8/10

An exciting and funny short series brimming with nostalgia. A group of young friends get involved with some dangerous criminals and plan a bank robbery to save one of their fathers from returning to his own illegal activities. The relationships between the characters is very well written and the panel work is sublime.

Flirting-With-Death
Flirting With Death

Author: Rudra Purkayastha

Artist: Lydon White & Paulina Vassileva

Score: 6/10

A small collection of short stories about life and death. I enjoyed some of the stories more than others but there are a number greats pieces of work here. It’s hard to make an impact in a few pages but some of these little stories have stuck with me, especially one about a lonely robot and another featuring a giant goldfish.

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Spy Seal: The Corten-Steel Phoenix

Author: Rich Tommaso

Artist: Rich Tomasso

Score: 8/10

An old school spy comic but all of the characters are various anthropomorphic wildlife, imagine a cross between Tin Tin and Blacksad (if you’re familiar with them). The simplistic art style is lush and very fitting of the tone while the fast paced story was a whole lot of fun.

Brass Sun
Brass Sun: The Wheel Of Worlds

Author: Ian Edgington & I.N.J. Culbard

Artist: I.N.J. Culbard

Score: 8/10

This elaborate steam punk epic had me gripped from start to finish. Based in a clockwork solar system were planets are dying as the mechanisms start to slow down, we follow a young woman on her mission to fix this fading collection of planets. It can be difficult to make unique sci-fi these days but in Brass Sun we have a very original series that deserves more attention.

Potters Field
Potter’s Field

Author: Mark Waid

Artist: Paul Azaceta

Score: 6/10

A solid detective series about an investigator trying to solve the murder cases of unidentified bodies. A great premise and good pacing but unfortunately I felt it fell in to a few cliches.

Death Follows
Death Follows

Author: Cullen Bunn

Artist: A.C. Zamudio

Score: 7/10

A short series from horror expert Cullen Bunn. An incredibly eerie tale of a farming family who take on a mysterious farm hand who hides a dark secret. This is the first thing I’ve read by Bunn but I’ll definitely be checking out his acclaimed series “Harrow County” because I really enjoyed the unsettling vibes in this.

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Peter Panzerfaust Volume 5

Author: Kurtis J. Wiebe

Artist: Tyler Jenkins

Score: 8/10

A heartfelt conclusion to a fantastic series. As the name suggests, Peter Panzerfaust is based on the Peter Pan story but it is set in France during World War 2 and Peter and his lost boys spend their time fighting Nazis. It’s always difficult to bring a story to an end but this was executed very well with a great mix of exciting action and emotional narrative.

Dr Strange
Doctor Strange: Way Of The Weird Volume 1

Author: Jason Aaron

Artist: Chris Bachalo

Score: 7/10

I’m not much of a Marvel fan but every now and then I’ll pick up a series to give it another go. This run of Dr Strange has definitely got me a bit more interested in Marvel as it’s exactly what I want from a super hero comic. It’s fast paced, the art is over the top and most importantly it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Green Wake
Green Wake Volume 1

Author: Kurtis J. Wiebe

Artist: Riley Rossmo

Score: 4/10

A mysterious character appears in a small town full of equally mysterious characters and no one knows how they got there. There are some good ideas in this supernatural detective story but overall it didn’t grab me.

Punpun
Goodnight Punpun

Author: Inio Asano

Artist: Inio Asano

Scores:

Volume 1 – 9/10

Volume 2 – 10/10

Volume 3 – 8/10

Volume 4 – 9/10

Volume 5 – 8/10

Volume 6 – 10/10

Volume 7 – 10/10

I wasn’t planning to read this whole series so quickly but after reading the first volume I just had to read the rest. Goodnight Punpun has jumped straight in to my top 5 series ever, it truly is a masterpiece. At it’s heart the series is a coming of age story, following Punpun from his childhood through to his 20s, but it’s so much more than that. It’s an intricate tale of love, family, friendship, obsession and depression that uses the medium in ways that I have never seen before. Our protagonist and his family are all drawn as crude bird like stick figures while the rest of the characters are fully realised as detailed, regular looking people. It’s hard to explain why this odd representation of the main character is so effective but it adds another level to the story telling. I was transfixed for the entirety of the series and connected with it on an emotional level that I don’t feel often, I’d strongly recommend this to anyone who’s looking for something a bit different.

Saga
Saga Volume 8

Author: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

Score: 7/10

Image Comics’ flagship series continues with more space opera weirdness. The story seems to be meandering a bit now but it’s still a very enjoyable read and the art is as incredible as it’s always been.

Secret
Secret

Author: Jonathan Hickman

Artist: Ryan Bodenheim

Score: 6/10

Hickman is one of my favourite authors and although this isn’t one of his strongest projects it is a fun heist/spy action comic.

Irmina
Irmina

Author: Barbara Yelin

Artist: Barbara Yelin

Score: 7/10

Based on a true story, Irmina is a German woman working in England shortly before World War 2 who ends up back in Germany, unable to escape as the Third Reich takes over. I was fascinated by the depiction of Nazi Germany, seeing it through the eyes of a regular civilian, the soul destroying environment that made it almost impossible to speak out. It’s easy now to look back and wonder how people let such horrible events happen but this really gave some perspective. Not the most exciting read but I enjoy these slower historical novels and the art was apropos.

One Piece
One Piece

Author: Eiichiro Oda

Artist: Eiichiro Oda

Scores:

Volume 8 – 6/10

Volume 9 – 7/10

One Piece continues to be my go to easy read. The crew once again get side tracked on their quest and although volume 8 was a bit slower than usual it did a good job of setting the scene for the madness of volume 9.

Manifest
Manifest Destiny Volume 5

Author: Chris Dingess

Artist: Matthew Roberts

Score: 7/10

One of the series on Image Comics that I always look out for. It follows one of the first groups to explore America but instead of the regular Natives and wildlife they find the country filled with mythical creatures. Each volume they stumble across another horrific phenomena that puts the expedition at risk and teaches them more about this treacherous land. This volume wasn’t quite as intriguing as the last but with the beautiful art and character dynamic it’s still very entertaining.

Spread
Spread Volume 5

Author: Justin Jordan

Artist: Kyle Strahm

Score: 7/10

The concluding volume to one of the more unique post apocalyptic comics out there (and there are a lot). Set some time in the future when a grotesque, sentient growth has spread across America killing many and infecting others. We follow a loner tough man simply known as “No” as he tries to save the child who may be the key to stopping the spread. The series never slowed down and with this volume it comes to a fittingly action-packed, blood filled ending.

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Kid Savage

Author: Joe Kelly

Artist: Ilya

Score: 3/10

A bickering family find themselves stranded on an alien planet and are saved by a young native. A bit on the basic side for my liking but would probably be a good read for younger audiences and has some great art at times.

Beasts or Burden

Animal Rites: Beasts of Burden

Author: Evan Dorkin

Artist: Jill Thompson

Score: 8/10

A group of neighbourhood dogs (and a cat) band together to battle the increasingly common supernatural forces in the area. It’s a funny and thrilling series with breath-taking art. It reads like a colourful children’s book with surprisingly adult content, a wonderful juxtaposition that makes it a brilliant read, especially for dog lovers.

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Kenya

Author: Leo

Artist: Rodolphe

Scores:

Volume 1 – 6/10

Volume 2 – 7/10

Volume 3 – 7/10

Volume 4 – 6/10

Volume 5 – 8/10

I absolutely love the Aldebaran series from European comic book legend Leo so I’ve been meaning to get through this series for a while. Leo’s comics have a very distinctive style that I absolutely love, he has a great mind for conjuring up these bizarre creatures. The series follows a British academic on a visit to Kenya when peculiar animals start appearing and causing troubles for everyone in the area. A joyful sci-fi romp with a retro vibe.

Regression

Regression Volume 1

Author: Cullen Bunn

Artist: Danny Luckert & Marie Enger

Score: 7/10

An excellent mix of body horror and occult themes with some crime drama thrown in there. A man is plagued by horrific visions and these nightmares become all too real when a hypnotist awakens an entity from a previous life. The elaborate artwork is very creepy and the unique storyline is well executed.

RoyalCity_Vol02-1

Royal City Volume 2

Author: Jeff Lemire

Artist: Jeff Lemire

Score: 8/10

This was my favourite new series of 2017 so I was really hyped to read the second volume and it didn’t disappoint. The series focuses on a troubled family brought back together in a failing industrial town when the father’s health takes a bad turn. This volume goes back and looks at the children of the family in their youth, continuing to add depth to these very well realised characters. I often get frustrated when a flashback lasts a full volume but in this case it’s an integral part of this already exceptional series.

Jazz Maynard

Jazz Maynard Volume 1: The Barcelona Trilogy

Author: Raule

Artist: Roger

Scores: 8/10

The more European comics I read the more I love them, maybe it’s only the good ones that make it over here in England but almost every one I read is fantastic. Jazz Maynard is a trumpeter with a secret set of skills that are very useful in the criminal underworld. He is brought back to his home of Barcelona after saving his younger sister from sex traffickers in New York but soon finds himself in a lot more trouble. The art in this book is so slick, it oozes coolness and perfectly visualises the high octane fight sequences. This could easily have been a typical action-packed crime drama but the the plot twists and effortless style make it into something special.

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God Country

Author: Donny Cates

Artist: Geoff Shaw, Jason Wordie & John J. Hill

Scores: 6/10

An elderly man with Alzheimers gains possession of a magical sword that cures him of his disease but comes with a catch, the god who made it wants it back. This short series has lots of action interspersed with emotional scenes between the man and his son, all very well drawn and coloured. There was lots of very high praise for God Country but I found it somewhat disappointing, it’s solid but to me it doesn’t really stand out.

GRAPHIC LIFE APRIL 2018

Comics, Everything Else

I read quite a lot of graphic novels and comics so I thought it would be good to start blogging about them to spread the word about what’s worth checking out. I won’t be going in to depth, just a very short description/review of each comic/graphic novel that I’ve read and a score out of 10 for how much I enjoyed it.

I’m going to try to do one of these posts around once a month, this is about 6 weeks worth of reading. I’ve been lucky to read a particularly good bunch of books recently, I must be getting better at picking them.

Spaceman

Spaceman

Author: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Eduardo Risso
Score: 6/10

Set in a dystopian future where most of the world is under water, Spaceman follows a man genetically modified for space travel as he tries to save a kidnapped child. This was an enjoyable read that kept my interest but didn’t leave a lasting impression. The characters spoke in a strange English based dialect that the author has concocted, unfortunately I found this more annoying than anything. Fortunately the charm of the protagonist kept me invested the whole way through but I didn’t really understand the ending (probably my fault for being dim).

One Piece 5

One Piece Vol. 5

Author: Eiichiro Oda
Artist: Eiichiro Oda
Score: 7/10

I have read very little manga so I thought a good place to get more in to it would be to read the most popular series ever. One Piece is the story of a young man who dreams of being a pirate, going on an adventure and picking up crew mates on the way. I’m really enjoying the series so far, it’s easy reading but complex enough to keep it interesting. I quickly became invested in these characters and the action is a whole lot of fun.

One Hundred Nights

One Hundred Nights Of Hero

Author: Isabel Greenberg
Artist: Isabel Greenberg
Score: 7/10

I really enjoyed the story in this graphic novel; the tale of two secret lovers trying to outsmart a lecherous man by captivating him with elaborate fables. The book is almost an anthology of short stories tied together by one underpinning narrative. Although I liked this novel a lot I personally wasn’t a big fan of the scruffy, simplistic art style.

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303

Author: Garth Ennis & Jacen Burrows
Artist: Jacen Burrows
Score: 7/10

Garth Ennis has written quite a lot military comics and manages to strike a good balance of gritty realism and overblown action. Set in Afghanistan, a group of Russian soldiers race against a British team to find an important military plane left by the Americans. The main character is a real badass but shows emotional depth as the story progresses. Not Ennis’ greatest work (that’s no criticism, he’s one of my favourite authors ever) but definitely worth a read if you like war stories.

ID

I.D.

Author: Emma Rios
Artists: Emma Rios
Score: 6/10

A short graphic novel set in the future, focusing on 3 people looking to undergo body transplants. There were a number of very interesting ideas but none of them were fleshed out as much as I’d have liked. The art is beautiful but I did get through this quickly and felt a little dissatisfied at the end. I’d love to see this story made in to an ongoing series.

Creatures

Creatures of the Night

Author: Neil Gaiman
Artist: Michael Zulli
Score: 7/10

A duo of deceptively dark short stories. This book is worth it for the sublime artwork alone, every page looks like a classic painting that could be hung in an art gallery. The stories are darkly fun, especially the first one about a stray cat adopted by the author’s family and what happens when it ventures in the garden at night.

Andre

Andre The Giant Close To Heaven

Author: Brandon Easton
Artist: Denis Medri
Score: 7/10

I’m a huge wrestling fan but didn’t know much about Andre so this was a must read for me. Told from the point of view of a retired Andre The Giant looking back on his life, this is a fascinating glimpse in to the wrestling scene of the time. Andre’s life was quite a sad one and the author does a superb job of capturing that, putting you in the giants shoes.

Royal City

Royal City

Author: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Jeff Lemire
Score: 9/10

Jeff Lemire is a genius. I’ve loved pretty much everything I’ve read by him and he just seems to be getting better. He’s a great author and artist but he really shines when he’s taking care of both like he is here. Royal City is about a disconnected family from a failing industrial town, being brought together by the illness of the father. I’m very impressed by the amount of complexity Lemire has managed to write in to these characters so quickly, I’m intrigued by where this story will go.

Deadly

Deadly Class Vol. 6

Author: Rick Remender
Artist: Wes Craig
Score: 8/10

Deadly Class was one of the first Image publications that I read and it remains one of my favourite ongoing series. It’s about an underground school where crime families send their children to be trained as assassins and follows a number of pupils as they struggle with regular teenage problems and also a lot of not so regular teenage problems. I was a little unsure of the new character additions in volume 5 but this latest volume is as exciting as the series has ever been. Fast paced storylines and some of the best panel work I’ve seen make this a must read for any comics fan.

Neonomicon

Neonomicon

Author: Alan Moore
Artist: Jacen Burrows
Score: 9/10

I’ve read some pretty messed up comics and graphic novels but this is right up there with Junji Ito’s work for the most disturbing thing I’ve read. The story revolves around the H.P. Lovecraft mythos and follows a pair of agents investigating a strange string of murders. The edition that I bought also has the short story “The Courtyard” at the beginning which was probably my favourite part of the book although the whole thing was uniquely unsettling but absolutely fascinating.

Departures

Departures

Author: Pierre Maurel
Artist: Pierre Maurel
Score: 7/10

A small collection of short stories about young people struggling in today’s job market. This book really struck a chord with me because I’ve been in these situations myself. The stories were very brief but I liked how they tied in with each other and the content was very poignant.

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Tokyo Ghost

Author: Rick Remender
Artist: Sean Murphy
Score: 9/10

I love stories about dystopian futures and this is one of the best comics I’ve read in that genre. The artwork in this is mind blowing and I’m so happy I bought the large deluxe version to pick up on all of the subtle details. This short series is set in a future where people have plugged themselves right in to the internet to have constant contact with social media and TV, many of these people now addicted to the technology. At its core it’s a tragic love story that follows a young couple, pulled apart by the man’s obsession with online entertainment and the technological modifications that give him super human strength. Too often I find that commentary on our use of technology and modern media comes across as arrogant hyperbole but Remender crafts a world that feels frighteningly realistic.

One Piece 6

One Piece 6

Author: Eiichiro Oda
Artist: Eiichiro Oda
Score: 7/10

I continue to enjoy the action packed ridiculousness of this series, definitely one of the most fun things I’ve read.

One Piece 7

One Piece 7

Author: Eiichiro Oda
Artist: Eiichiro Oda
Score: 7/10

One Piece is certainly addictive, I can’t stop reading more. We got some back story in this volume which brilliantly explained the motives of a couple of the characters. Despite the simplicity of this series the character depth is actually very good and is one of the things that makes it so readable.

Jimmy

Jimmy’s Bastards

Author: Garth Ennis & Russ Braun
Artist: Russ Braun
Score: 8/10

Garth Ennis brings us a new off the wall action comic, packed with dark humour in the same vein as Preacher and The Boys (the fantastic artist and co-author Russ Braun also worked on The Boys). Jimmy’s Bastards is a satirical slant on the James Bond type character as he battles foreigners and comes under attack from a mysterious cabal. Expect the usual filth and weirdness that Ennis is known for in this excellent start to a new series.

Blankets

Blankets

Author: Craig Thompson
Artist: Craig Thompson
Score: 8/10

A very heartfelt and personal story about teenage love; Craig Thompson brings you in to his world with subtle details about his childhood that give this book an intense realism. The narrative jumps between different parts of his life, focusing mainly on his early relationship with his brother and his teenage romance with a girl he met at church camp. The quality of the storytelling and art in this book transform what could be a mundane memoir in to an emotional reflection on personal development.

Kaijumax

Kaijumax Vol. 2

Author: Zander Cannon
Artist: Zander Cannon
Score: 7/10

One of the strangest concepts I’ve seen, but one that has been executed very well. Kaijumax is about a high security prison that houses monsters, think a cross between Oz and Godzilla. Despite the bizarre setting the plot is surprisingly grounded and very human, touching on topics such as racism, addiction, police brutality, rape, gang violence and PTSD. Some of the dialect can be a bit ham-fisted at times but it is a story about monsters in jail so I wasn’t expecting anything too serious. Despite this slight flaw the series has been quite exciting so far and I’m very invested in the lives of the main protagonist and his family.

 

Mook Life Music: Top 50 Projects of 2017

Music

So here we are at the beginning of 2018, a perfect time to reflect on all of the music releases that 2017 had to offer. After having such an abundance of amazing projects in 2016 I thought last year started off quite slowly, there was a decent amount of good music but not a whole lot of great albums. Things really picked up around June though and I’ve struggled to keep up with everything.

2017 was an incredible year for underground hip-hop, a year that saw boom bap make a comeback in a fresh, evolved form. There have been a number of artists creating gritty, minimal and soulful hip-hop for the past few years but in 2017 the sound really exploded. With cold blooded raps about crime and street life, and a vibe reminiscent of mid 90s Ghostface but more stripped down. Griselda records have been gaining quite a lot of attention with releases from Westside Gunn, Conway and Benny, but it’s Mach-Hommy and Tha God Fahim who have dominated 2017 musically. The sheer amount of music those two have dropped is incredible but the consistency of it all is what really impressed me.

The king and originator of this minimal, soulful hip-hop, Roc Marciano dropped an almost perfect album this year, packed with cold lines, complex rhymes and lavishly understated instrumentals. Planet Asia also continued to excel at this sound as he teamed up with heavyweight producer Apollo Brown on Anchovies, one of the strongest releases I’ve heard from either of these artists.

Elsewhere on the underground we had one the hardest boom bap albums I’ve ever heard as Fly Anakin, Koncept Jack$on and Tuamie give us ferocious bars on knocking beats with Panama Plus. Milo and Homeboy Sandman both dropped poetic masterpieces with dreamily smooth instrumentals and we got weird with Quelle Chris’ superb Being You Is Great… I Wish I Could Be You More Often. Billy Woods and Elucid combined forces again to bring us an apocalyptic soundscape on their brutal album Rome. Wiki, J.I.D, Nolan The Ninja and Lando Chill all cemented their places as the future of the underground as they refined their sounds and all dropped focussed, cohesive albums. In the later part of the year we were also treated to another colourful album from Open Mike Eagle who continues to deliver insightful, witty and often emotional compositions.

It was a strong year for UK releases with a number acts evolving their sound a breathing new life in to the scene. UK veteran Jehst dropped one of his strongest albums to date with Billy Green Is Dead, creating his signature gloomy vibe but with a fresh set of interesting instrumentals. Melanin 9 went lo fi with Old Pictures and Strange U crafted a bizarre electronic project laced with no nonsense political bars. Nottingham MCs Cappo, Juga-Naut and Vandal Savage combined for a neon phantasmagoria of brilliant poeticism and hip-hop absurdity.

As well as the hip-hop releases out of England there was some fantastic high energy music coming out too. Grime’s popularity stays strong as the legendary Wiley dropped Godfather, gaining him significant recognition overseas. My favourite grime release of 2017 came from Manga Saint Hilare on his Lewi B produced album Outbursts From The Outskirts, delivering back to back bangers. UK drum & Bass was on top form with Kings Of The Rollers members Serum & Voltage putting out an LP of chest rattling tunes while Alix Perez curated a compilation of forwarding thinking D&B flavoured electronic mayhem on 1985 Music’s Edition 1.

Although I didn’t love a lot of 2017s trap releases there were some notable exceptions such as the solid collaboration between 21 Savage, Offset & Metro Boomin, Future’s self-titled album and Young Thug’s melodic Beautiful Thugger Girls. Rich The Kid, Jay Critch & Famous Dex had one of the catchiest trap mixtapes I’ve ever heard in Rich Forever 3 and Kodak Black got soulful on his laid back Painting Pictures LP.

There was some real experimentation on the bass heavy and electronic side of hip-hop this year. Ethereal released the terrifying Mankind, packed with abrasive beats and slurred raps while Kweku Collins gave us a beautifully off-kilter, R&B laced album. Chicago’s Supa Bwe channelled his inner pop punk fan to create a uniquely energetic melodic hip-hop project and fellow Chicago native Lucki expressed the sadness of an addict on Watch My Back. Pushing the boundaries of hip-hop to their limit was Zelooperz and Shigeto on their challengingly futuristic project A Piece Of The Ghetto that had me hooked for most of the year.

All these releases and many more made 2017 a sublime year for music. Check out my official rankings below and listen to the corresponding episodes of my podcast to get a taste of these projects for yourself.

A track from each release (where available) on an Apple Music playlist here.

A track from each release in the top 50 (where available) in a YouTube playlist here.

50. 21 Savage, Offset & Metro Boomin – Without Warning

49. Oh No x Tristate – 3 Dimensional

48. Conway – G.O.A.T. (Grimiest of All Time)

47. Future – Future

46. Westside Gunn – Hitler Wears Hermes 5

45. Cdot Honcho – Takeover

44. Lando Chill – The Boy Who Spoke To The Wind

43. Strange U – #LP4080

42. Al Divino – Dump Gawd: Divino Edition 2

41. Serum & Voltage – Strike Back

40. Tha God Fahim – Tha Ineffable Conflict Of Roosevelt Creek

39. Supa Bwe – Finally Dead

38. Malanin 9 – Old Pictures

37. Babylon Dead – 2000 BD

36. 1985 Music – Edition 1

35. Tiron & Ayomari – WET: Wonderful Ego Trip

34. Branko – Branko Presents: Enchufada Na Zona

33. Yung Simmie – Big Smokey

32. Wiley – Godfather

31. Dom Kennedy & Hit Boy – Courtesy Of Half-A-Mil

30. Rich Homie Quan – Back To Basics

29. Kweku Collins – Grey

28. Apollo Brown & Planet Asia – Anchovies

27. Shigeto – The New Monday

26. J.I.D. – The Never Story

25. Nolan The Ninja – YEN

24. Zed Bias – Different Response

23. Young Thug – Beautiful Thugger Girls

22. Homeshake – Fresh Air

21. Tha God Fahim – Tha Dark Shogunn Saga Vol. 2

20. Lojii & Swarvy – Due Rent

19. Ethereal – Mankind

18. Kodak Black – Painting Pictures

17. Jehst – Billy Green Is Dead

16. Famous Dex, Jay Critch & Rich The Kid – Rich Forever 3

15. Mach-Hommy – DUMPMEISTER

14. Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream

13. Wiki – No Mountains In Manhattan

12. Manga Saint Hilare x Lewi B – Outbursts From The Outskirts

11. Homeboy Sandman – Veins

10. Milo – Who Told You To Think

9. Tha God Fahim – Dump Goat

8. Fly Anakin, Koncept Jack$on & Tuamie – Panama Plus

7. Armand Hammer – Rome

6. Mach-Hommy – Dump Gawd: Hommy Edition

5. Lucki – Watch My Back

4. Quelle Chris – Being You Is Great… I Wish I Could Be You More Often

3. VVV – Bozo Boys

2. ZGTO – A Piece Of The Geto

1. Roc Marciano – Rosebudd’s Revenge

Mook Life Radio Episodes 1, 2 and 3

Music, Uncategorized

As you may noticed from the lack of new articles on the site I’ve taken a break from writing but don’t fear, you can discover plenty of new music on my new podcast! I’m playing all types of hip-hop as well some grime, R&B, drum & bass, dubstep, footwork and anything else I think is worth sharing. My first episode is a two hour special and going forward I’ll be doing two episodes at a time, split by the type of music I’ll be playing. Check out the first episode below and head to my Mixcloud page here to check out the next two.

The Best Overlooked Projects Of 2016

Music

2016 is over and although it seemed to many like everything was going to shit it was an incredible year for music. Now that the dust has settled I’ve been looking back over all of the music we’ve been blessed with, but instead of doing the usual “best albums” I thought I’d take the time to shine some light on the releases that didn’t get anywhere near praise they deserved. All of the releases below would are in my favourite 40 of the year but I’ve seen them get little to no praise from blogs, magazines and people in general. So take a look through these releases and hopefully you’ll discover some music that could make it in to your own personal end of year lists.

As with my round up articles I’ve included a link to buy/download each release and a YouTube link to a track from each. You can access a playlist of all the tracks here.

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Black Kray – Soulja Luv Rari World

2016 was the year that “mumble rap” became a common and divisive phrase in the hip-hop scene and although I think it’s usually an inaccurate label, in the case of Black Kray it is quite fitting. This is in no way a criticism though, Black Kray’s unintelligible ramblings give his music a unique feel and although it’s certainly not for everyone I love his style. Combine these odd vocals with some spacey cloud rap beats and you have a catchy, interesting album. Imagine Ol’ Dirty Bastard at his most incoherent, rapping over beats that Yung Lean would use and you’re pretty close to the vibe on this album.

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Cappo – Dramatic Change Of Fortune

I loved a lot of albums from last year but this is undoubtedly my favourite. Cappo’s 2004 release ‘Spaz The World’ is one of my all-time favourite albums so I’m always excited when he puts out new material. I certainly wasn’t disappointed when I heard this latest offering from the Nottingham native, this album is nothing short of a masterpiece, meticulously constructed it is a beautifully cohesive piece of music.

Cappo raps like a heavyweight, every word lands with power and precision, switching up his flows to match the multitude of bizarre rhythms that span this LP. The lyrics on this album are superbly poetic and Cappo uses repetition in a way that I have never heard before in hip-hop. Throughout the whole project there are lines that Cappo keeps coming back to which excellently tie up all the tracks. The line “never in your wildest dreams restore your faith” crops up numerous times which innovatively signifies the end of the song or a beat change.

As good as everything else is on this album, the beats are what really give it an edge. All of these instrumentals are sublime, there is such a richness to the sound and an inventiveness to how they’re put together. Cappo produced all off the tracks himself with some help from Theorist on a few tracks and you can tell that he’s taken influence from his previous collaborators The P Brothers because the drums on here are especially hard and crisp. These almost industrial sounding drums punctuate a large range of samples and some wonderfully deep basslines. What makes these instrumentals stand out even more is how they evolve throughout the tracks, riffs are brought in and out while subtle sounds creep in the background.

From the straight brutality of ‘Ellelle’ to the beauty of ‘North’ this album is close to perfect. I implore you all to stop what you’re doing and listen to this album right now, you won’t regret it.

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Dälek – Asphalt For Eden

Dälek were one of the first acts to be labelled with the term “noise rap”, it was certainly the first time I heard the phrase used and it instantly grabbed my interest. I loved the group’s 2007 album ‘Abandoned Language’ but a few years after that release in 2010, they took a hiatus from making music. Fast forward to 2016 and we get Dälek’s triumphant return with ‘Asphalt For Eden’, a desolate and brutal hip-hop soundscape. The instrumentals used by Dälek are unlike anything else I’ve heard in hip-hop, heavily distorted guitar riffs drone and saturate these tracks creating a wall of sound that is backed with steady, unrelenting drums. MC Dälek completes the intense aesthetic with his distorted raps that burst through the powerful instrumentals.

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Greenova South – Kome Ryde With Us

Pepperboy, Squadda B (of Main Attrakionz) and Young God (of Blue Sky Black Death) revive the cloud rap sound and push it to dreamy new levels on one of the year’s most relaxing albums. This is 10 tracks of pure good vibes, an audio massage to put you in a tranquil state. Young God’s production is simply luxurious, packed with sweeping synths, gentle keys and euphoric pitched up samples all combined into subtly complex compositions. Pepperboy and Squadda B deliver unadulterated positivity via their laid back flows that breeze over those lush beats. This is an LP oozing with love and joy, which is something we all need more of in life.

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Havoc & The Alchemist – The Silent Partner

It’s perplexing that a collaborative LP between one half of Mobb Deep and such a legendary producer as The Alchemist could be included in this article but somehow this release has gone almost completely unnoticed. I absolutely loved The Alchemist’s 2013 album with Prodigy and this project with the other member of Mobb Deep is just as good, if not better. If you’re familiar with these two then you know exactly what you’re getting, but that’s in no way a bad thing. Havoc is the king of dark, street rap and The Alchemist conjures up the perfect understated, gloomy beats to back him up. Throw in some stellar guest verses from Prodigy, Cormega and Method Man (who drops one of the best verses I’ve heard from him in years) and you have an excellent album that fulfils that 90s nostalgia but still brings something fresh to the table.

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Ivy Sole – Eden

There are a lot of amazing independent artists on Bandcamp so it’s became a great place to browse and discover new music. I stumbled across a lot of great albums on the site last year but Ivy Sole’s ‘Eden’ has to be my favourite. Ivy Sole has such an enchanting voice, there’s a sincerity to it that you don’t often hear, like she’s completely putting her true self in to the music without any pretence. Sole’s lyrics also reflect this truthfulness as she reflects on her relationships, goals and the desires in life. The instrumentals on the release are soulful and serene, drifting along as Sole’s vocals freely switch between rapping and singing. ‘Eden’ is a highly personal album with a warmth that I rarely feel, Ivy Sole is definitely a young talent to look out for.

Listen on YouTube

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The Kleenrz – Season 2

The Kleenerz is the duo of underground Los Angeles MC Self Jupiter and Los Angeles producer Kenny Segal. I’m familiar with Kenny Segal from his exceptional work with the likes of Busdriver and Milo but although I’ve often heard the name Self Jupiter, I’ve never actually heard him rap so this album served as a great introduction for me. Self Jupiter’s style is quite unique, he’s very expressive and his delivery often sounds as though he’s reciting poetry in a constant stream that could sound off beat if you weren’t paying attention. This complex flow lends itself to the vivid lyrics as he paints Tarantino-eque imagery, telling tales of Los Angeles’ violent underbelly. Segal’s beats are equally cinematic, building tension and working as a fitting score for Jupiter’s tales. The production style that Segal uses is distinctive, his instrumentals feel almost hand crafted, they’re intricate and always switching up slightly with subtle layers of sound. To end most of the songs on this album Self Jupiter lets the beat ride out, giving Segal a chance to shine as he morphs samples into complex and catchy little interludes. This LP is another example of Kenny Segal’s ability to work with some of the most uniquely creative MCs around and mould his sound to them to make something memorable.

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Mr. Lif – Don’t Look Down

10 years ago Mr. Lif was one of the biggest names on the underground hip-hop scene as one of the heavyweights on seminal record label Def Jux, but having taken a 7 year break from his solo hip-hop career the name Lif had faded in to the background for a lot of people. Even though it’s been a while, Lif hasn’t lost a step and has put together a concise and thoughtful album. Every track on the LP serves a purpose, right from the first two tracks that tell the story of an altercation with a home invader which bring Lif to a dark place, then moving on to the next few tracks which become more uplifting but still introspective. The album continues with some epic imagery on ‘Whizdom’ which is features a legendary beat from Edan (I really hope this means he’s going to be releasing more music soon, he’s been missed). We’re then treated to some flawless back and forth raps with fellow Perceptionist, Akrobatik who as always works very well with Lif, especially over the punchy beat on here. Throughout this project the beats are raw and funky, building tension on the earlier songs then lifting the mood as the album progresses. We’re finally lead to the gargantuan finale of the title track with a leviathan of an instrumental layered with a floating organ sweep, sombre piano and a groaning bass sound bubbling up from underneath as Lif closes the album out. On top of this superb album Lif also released a collaborative EP with L’Orange so it’s looks like he’s definitely back for good, and that’s fantastic news for any hip-hop fan.

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Ocean Wisdom – Chaos 93′

High Focus is one of the biggest record labels on the relatively small UK hip-hop scene and although I’m not a big fan of most of their releases this one really stood out. There are so many people making boom bap at the moment (especially in the UK), all trying to capture the much loved sound of the 90s but often ending up with something dull and unoriginal. However Ocean Wisdom has come with his own version of that golden age vibe that breaks away from the generic formula. Classic boom bap style samples and drums are laced with chest rattling bass, the production provided by Dirty Dike is some of the best I’ve heard from him. Lyrically, Ocean Wisdom drops killer punchlines with a classic British flavour while his rapid fire flow is reminiscent of Das EFX (if he was from London). If you’re feeling nostalgic for the 90s but need something with a bit of an edge then look no further.

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Open Mike Eagle & Paul White – Hella Personal Film Festival

Open Mike Eagle gained a lot of critical praise for his stellar 2014 album ‘Dark Comedy’ which gained him a lot of fans and really got his name out there. Unfortunately this buzz seems to have died down because this project with Danny Brown collaborator Paul White has gone mostly unnoticed, and that’s a massive shame. There’s a strange vibe to this album though, I wasn’t sure about it at first but it really clicked with me after a few listens and became one of my favourite albums of the year, so maybe other fans didn’t give it the time it needs to nestle it’s way in to your brain. The project has a very euphoric, psychedelic feel, but there’s something a little unsettling lying beneath, as if you’re having a serene hallucinogenic trip but you’re on the edge of it turning dark.

As with most of Open Mike Eagle’s music the lyrics are often profound, delving in to some serious issues, but at the same time he uses a lot of humour and bizarre imagery. Like on the track ‘Smiling (Quirky Race Doc)’ about the prejudices black people face in public places, it’s a serious topic that Eagle poignantly explores but then goes on to use the line “Grown man avoided like a ghost fart”. This mixture of politicism with joviality makes for a thought provoking and thoroughly entertaining listen.

It’s a real tribute to Paul White’s talent that he produced the entirety of this album and the majority of Danny Brown’s ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ all in one year, because the two sounds could not be more different. While ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ was coarse and abrasive ‘Hella Personal Film Festival’ is flawlessly smooth, using funk and soul samples to construct these floaty, uplifting tunes. There is a richness and depth to the music that you don’t often hear, White is a true musical expert able to create some of the most pleasurable music I have ever heard. Together this pair have made something truly special, an album that is soothing yet sombre, easy listening with a deeper meaning, music that will stay with you long after you’ve heard it.

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Trim – 1-800 Dinosaur Presents: Trim

1-800 Dinosaur is a collective of electronic music producers from the UK, comprised of Foat, James Blake, Airhead, Mr Assister and Klaus. On this project they call upon UK MC Trim to provide vocals for the crew’s vibrant instrumentals. Trim is known for his work on the grime scene but he’s always had a unique flow and has worked with Blake previously, making him a great fit for the unconventional compositions on this release. You could probably slap some silly label like “post grime” on this music but that’s only because you’d struggle to find another way to describe it. The instrumentals here are varied, from stomping, bass heavy tracks to others that with little to no percussion, but despite the range of vibes there is a general aesthetic that links everything together. There are a lot of grime type sounds in the production but the use of space and insane progression takes it outside of that genre. Similarly, Trim uses grime flows at times but his pure poeticness and astute pacing sets him apart. Simply put, this stuff sounds like the future, it’s vibrant, challenging and at times even shocking, a prime example of what forward-thinking music should be.

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Vic Spencer – St. Gregory

Chicago has been an incredible city for music for the last few years with acts like Chance The Rapper, Mick Jenkins, Lucki Eck$, Supa Bwe, Noname and many others putting out great projects, but one of my favourite and also most overlooked artists is Vic Spencer. For years now he’s been putting out his own twisted style of hip-hop with killer bars, jazzy beats and deep bass. This album is one of Spencer’s most refined so far, packed with punchlines and wordplay, also showing his aptitude for storytelling on ‘Gone Fishin’ Pt1,2,3′. With an instantly recognisable voice and unpredictable flow, Spencer brings his A game over off-kilter beats that are almost Madlib-esque but with more bass.

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Yung Simmie – Simmie Season

The first time I head Yung Simmie was on Denzel Curry’s monstrous tune ‘Threatz’ and I’ve been a huge fan ever since. Simmie just has one of those voices I could listen to for days, his cadence is soothing and relaxed yet there’s this underlying violence to it that adds strength to everything he does. His flow shares this type of contradiction in that it’s uniform and laid back but there’s an energy there that gets me hyped. The beats on this tape are beautifully simplistic, facile but effective samples looped over fiercely sharp and punchy 808 drums. Shortly after this release Yung Simmie dropped ‘Simmie Season 2’ which is also well worth checking out, but I give the edge to the first one because of the more varied production sounds and magnificent verse from the mighty Denzel Curry (on ‘Shoot Da 3’).

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Mook Life Music Round Up: Second Half of 2016

Music

2016 is very nearly over and before I put out my top 40 albums of the year, here’s a round up of all the best releases from July-November. Unfortunately I’ve been too busy recently to include descriptions of the releases so you’ll have to check them out yourself.

As always I’ve included a link to buy/download and a link to listen to a track from the release on YouTube. You can get a YouTube playlist of all the tracks here.

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$uicideboy$ – Radical $uicide and Eternal Grey

Listen On YouTube

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2 Chainz – Daniel Son – Necklace Don and Hibachi For Lunch

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2 Fly – Level Up

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21 Savage & Metro Boomin – Savage Mode

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89 Godzilla – Interplanetary Frequencies

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Araabmuzik – Dream World

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Abra – Princess

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Ace Hood – Starvation 5

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Acomplex – Songs 4 Friends

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Adrian Younge – The Electronique Void – Black Noise

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Aesop Rock & Homeboy Sandman – Lice 2: Still Buggin’

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AKTHESAVIOR – Blessings In The Grey 2

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Apollo Brown & Skyzoo – The Easy Truth

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Archibald Slim & Ethereal – Slum Beautiful

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Asaad – Sabbath Trap

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A$AP Mob – Cozy Tapes Vol. 1 Friends

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Ashland Summit – Casper Gulch

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Atmosphere – Fishing Blues

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Audio Push – 90951

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The Avalanches – Wildflower

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Banks & Steelz – Another World

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DJ Base – West XL 16

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Beatking – Gangster Stripper Music 3

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Beenie Man – Unstoppable

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Belly – Inzombia

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Benny – My First Brick

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Bernz – See You On The Other Side

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Big K.R.I.T. – 12FOR12

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Big Scoob – H.O.G.

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Bishop Lamont – The Reformation G.D.N.I.A.F.T

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Block McCloud – The Book Of Ishmael

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Blu & Fate – Open Your Optics To Optimism

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Blu & Nottz – Titans In The Flesh

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Project Pat – Street God 3 and 4

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Prophets Of Rage – The Party’s Over

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Psycho Les – Dank God Vol. 1

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Que – The Dogfather

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Rae Sremmurd – Sremmlife 2

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The Range – Potential

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Rapsody – Crown

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Ras Beats – Control Your Own

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Ras Kass – Intellectual Property SOI2

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Red Pill – Instinctive Drowning

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Reks – The Greatest X

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Remi – Divas And Demons

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RetcH – Lean & Neck

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Rich Forever Music – Rich Forever 2

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Rich The Kid – Keep Flexin’

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Richie Wess & Metro Boomin – Richie Boomin EP

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Riff Raff – Balloween

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Riz MC – Englistan

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/r/ Making Hip-Hop – MHH Mixtape 2016

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Rob Stone – I’m Almost Ready

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Robb Bank$ – C2

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Robert Glasper Experiment – ArtScience

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Route 1 Audio – Free Compilation 2016

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DJ Rude One – ONEderful

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Saba – Bucket List Project

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Sarboza – Fountain Of Youth

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SauceLord Rich – Know Me (King Wolf)

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ScHoolboy Q – Blank Face LP

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Sean Brown – Life Of A Dreamer

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Sho Baraka – The Narrative

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Show Banga – Show Time 2

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Sir – HER

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Skeme – One Night Only Vol. 1

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Ski Mask The Slump God – Drown In Designer and Slaps For My Drop Top Minivan

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Skippa Da Flippa – I’m Tellin’ Ya

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Skizz – Cruise Control

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Slim Thug – Hogg Life, Vol. 4: American King

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Slipmat Brothers & Penpal – Made For The Underground

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SmooVth – SS96J Smoothest Since ’96 J

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Slug Christ – The Demiurge

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Solange – A Seat At The Table

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Sonny Digital – GOAT

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Soulja Boy & Bow Wow – Ignorant Shit

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Spuf Don – Element Of Surprise

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Starlito – Red Dot Free

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Stephen Marley – Revelation Pt. II The Fruit Of Life

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Sterling Hayes – Antidepressant

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Stwo – DTSNT

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Supa Bwe – Dead Again 3

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Supreme Ace – Something I Put Together

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Swet Shop Boys – Cashmere

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T.I. – Us Or Else

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Taku & Waifu – Median

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Tall Black Guy – Lets Take A Trip

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Talley Of 300 – Thanksgiving

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Tanya Morgan – Abandoned Theme Park

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Tasha The Amazon – Die Every Day

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Taylor Gang – TGOD Volume 1

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Termanology – More Politics

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Thane – Topia

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Tinashe – Nightride

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Tink – Winters Diary 4

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Topaz Jones – Arcade

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Toro Y Moi – Live From Trona

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Tory Lanez – I Told You

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Towkio – Community Service 2

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Tragedy Khadafi – The AuraPort

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Trapo – Shade Trees

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Travis Scott – Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight

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Tree – I.B. Tree

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A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

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A Tribe Called Red – We Are The Hallucination

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Trim – 1-800 Dinosaur Present Trim

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Trizz – Leatherface 2 and Lost Recordings

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Troy Ave – Roland Collins

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Tsu Surf – 2am

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Tunji Ige – Prince Of July

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Ty Dolla $ign – Campaign

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Usher – Hard II Love

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Vast Aire – The Heir Vast

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Vic Spencer – St Gregory

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Villa – Fluorescent

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Vince Staples – Prima Donna

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Vinnie Paz – The Cornerstone Of The Corner Store

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Waka Flocka & Sizzle – Lebron Flocka James 4

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Waldo – Be Ever Wonderful

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Wdng Crshrs – CrshrsGotWings

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Well$ – The Way I’m Living Makes My Mother Nervous

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Westside Gunn – There’s A God And There’s A Flygod, Praise Both and Hitler Wears Hermes 4

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Willie Green – Doc Savage

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Wordsworth & JSOUL – Blame It On The Music

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Ye Ali – Private Suite

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YG – Red Friday

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Young Buck – 10 Bodies

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Young Chop – Album 2

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Young Dolph – Rich Crack Baby

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Young Greatness – I Tried To Tell Em 2

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Young Thug – Jeffery

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Yung Simmie – Simmie Season and Simmie Season 2

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Zoey Dollaz – Port Au Prince and October

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Z-Ro – Drankin’ & Drivin’ and Legendary

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Zuse & Nard & B – Trench Zuse

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Mook Life Music Round Up: Quarter 2 2016

Music

2016 got off to a great start and the onslaught of fantastic releases hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. Here I’ll be looking at all of the releases from April-June 2016 (and a few that I’d missed from the months prior) that I think are worth checking out.

I know this round up is ridiculously late, it was nearly finished in July but then I moved house and our internet provider took over a month to get everything sorted. There were too many releases that deserve to be mentioned so I felt I still had to put this article up.

As always I’ve listed the albums with a short description, a link to buy/download and a link to listen on YouTube where possible.

You can listen to all the tracks on a YouTube playlist here.

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3rd Eye Magic – Abracadabra

Charles Hamilton temporarily puts down the mic and gets behind the boards to produce a mixtape for MC C.Young. I really enjoy Hamilton’s beats here, they’re soulful but lo fi and rugged while C.Young has an entertaining style with some clever lyrics.

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6Blocc – Deadly Dubs 4

Seriously heavy dub / jungle / footwork madness from a masterful producer.

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600breezy – Breezo George Gervin (Iceman Edition)

Pure trap music with some great bangers.

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9th Wonder – Zion

Super producer 9th Wonder continues to bring the soul with this beat tape.

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A.CHAL – Welcome To GAZI

Moody, electronic hip-hop with strong trap and R&B influences.

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AD & Sorry Jaynari – By The Way

West Coast gangsta that really slaps.

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Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid

The golden child of backpack rap brings his super lyrical style to great effect.

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Alex Wiley – Tangerine Dream

I haven’t been a massive of Alex Wiley previously but I was very impressed with this release. He has a great flow that switches from rapid fire to smooth and uplifting.

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Aloe Blacc & Rhettmatic – Blaccmatic

We all know Aloe Blacc now for his fantastic singing voice and catchy soul songs but it seems he had this little gem hidden away the whole time. Recorded around 2004 with producer / DJ Rhettmetic, Aloe Blacc shows his versatility as he raps and sings over some great soulful, funky beats.

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Antwon – Double Ecstasy

It’s hard to know what you’re going to get with a new Antwon release but it’s always a treat. On this EP he creates this twisted, down beat, club infused sound with unsettling synth sounds and bumping percussion.

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Apathy – Handshakes With Snakes

Underground hip-hop with thoughtful lyrics and boom bap beats.

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A$AP Ferg – Always Strive And Prosper

A$AP Mob’s second biggest player take his music in a different direction with his second album. Ferg seems to be going for a more accessible sound on this release, losing a lot of the darkness of his first album and bringing more party vibes. I’m not enjoying this as much as ‘Trap Lord’ but there are some superb bangers in here.

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Audio Push – The Stone Junction

Audio Push have been one of the most exciting young acts in hip-hop over the last couple of years and they proceed to improve on this EP. The vibe here is a lot heavier than their work from last year but it really suits them. The duo sound extremely hungry over these dark, bass heavy beats.

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AyOh – III EP

This is the second beat tape I’ve heard from this guy and I’m loving it. Dreamy, soulful instrumentals with more complexities than many other producers on the scene.

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Azizi Gibson – A New Life

Spaced out and macabre trap infused hip-hop.

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BADBADNOTGOOD – IV

Young jazz fusion band who strike a spot on balance between accomplished musicianship and funky grooves.

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Bankroll Mafia – Bankroll Mafia

Atlanta super crew mixtape featuring T.I., Young Thug, Shad Da God, Peewee Longway and MPA Duke. A sublime example of the current Atlanta scene with plenty of high energy tunes.

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Beatking – Club God 5

Trap mixtape with some top notch beats.

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Birdman & Jacquees – Lost At Sea

Rich Gang members with a nice EP of smooth, bass heavy tap.

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Bishop Nehru – Magic 19

Bishop Nehru takes a step away from the boom bap beats he usually raps on and rides some interesting trap style beats.

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Black Milk & Nat Turner – The Rebellion Sessions

Producer / rapper extraordinaire Black Milk teams up with Nat Turner to create a pleasing instrumental album of raw funk and jazz vibes.

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Blended Babies – 6

Gritty blend of hip-hop, funk and rock.

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Blood Orange – Freetown Sound

Spaced out and retro elctro soul.

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Blueprint – Vigilante Genesis

Underground MC Blueprint puts fellow back packer veteran Aesop Rock behind the boards to produce this solid EP. The two work together excellently delivering eloquent raps and dark instrumentals.

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Bodega BAMZ – All Eyez Off Me

Grimey New York style hip-hop.

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