Tag: Hip Hop

Word on the Street: March 2017

Word on the Street: March 2017

Following another month packed full of quality releases, one musician stood head and shoulders above the rest for me. No, it’s not Drake (although we’ll get to him later). The man in question? DJ Q.

Some of you may be familiar with the DJ/producer from his groundbreaking work in the bassline scene about a decade ago. Q became 1Xtra’s youngest DJ, hosting the station’s fortnightly UKG Mix show, and first came to my attention with his 4×4 mix cd series – my best friend and I used to drive around with the mixes pumping out loud, and I still listen to them regularly now. With the bassline scene hitting its peak in 2007/08, he had undoubtedly his biggest success with the release of his huge single “You Wot” featuring MC Bonez.

Fast forward almost 10 years, and Q’s profile has probably never been higher. His 2014 album, Ineffable, on Local Action Records was a well-compiled collection of productions, including two garage tunes of such astounding quality (“Notice Me” and “Be Mine”), that for me made him the king of the UKG vocal chop

It’s the last 12 months, however, that have really seen his output skyrocket. A slew of singles, mostly using well-known samples (such as Rocky, Bell Biv Devoe and Sonic The Hedgehog) have helped build to an outrageous month in March.

Starting in the first week of the month, East London MC Jammz released his latest single “Who’s That Girl?”, produced by our man of the moment. Once again featuring a female vocal chop, Jammz and Aleisha Lee do battle over a girl that’s possibly caught the MC’s eye – it’s incredibly reminiscent of Dizzee Rascal’s “I Luv U”.

Just over a week later, as part of the supergroup TQD (with Royal T and Flava D), one of my favourite albums of the year so far, UKG, saw the light of day. It’s a perfect blend of huge bassline wobblers, crafted 2-step garage, and grime. Check out their video for “A Letter To EZ”, and marvel at the meticulous attention to detail required to put together such an intricate visual.

Not staying quiet for long, it was only another 2 days until Q gave us his next gift. The intro and vocal on “Naked Truth” left me worried the first time I heard them. I thought it sounded too commercial, and not gritty enough, but my fears were allayed as soon as I heard the bassline for the first time. Once again, he hadn’t let me down.

On the last day of the month, the Yorkshireman had another grime production to showcase, this time in the form of YGG’s “Bad”. Comprised of London MCs PK, Lyrical Strally and Saint, the trio are one of the most exciting groups in grime at the moment, and their appearances on NTS and Radar are always must-listens. Q’s production is tropical in nature, and the perfect accompaniment to what the youngsters offer vocally.

Along with this single, there came the release of the Pure Bassline compilation, mixed by the DJ, along with another bassline legend, Jamie Duggan. It features many of our protagonist’s own productions, and really demonstrates the rude health that the scene currently finds itself in – is it due a renaissance, like the current reincarnation of grime? Whatever happens, I hope Q gets everything he deserves, because no-one has worked harder.

While we’re on the subject of legends in the scene producing beats for MCs, Dubstep pioneer N-Type recorded the first single to be released on the new Go Getter Music label, with South London’s Eazyman. “Work Rate” is a pure slice of UK-style trap, as the orator preaches about his work ethic, and how he’s left behind a life of violence and drugs.

Elsewhere in the UK scene, Spyro and Capo Lee finally dropped their Stop Talk EP. I’d previously mentioned how excited I was for this and it certainly wasn’t a let-down. “Tekkers” followed the lead from “Stop Talk” as a single of stunning quality, and the rest of the tunes are just as good.

Another long-awaited EP, this time from Preditah, was also unleashed. Focussing on grime instrumentals, the Birmingham producer enlisted the talents of his brother C4 for the release’s lead track “Touch Road”. It’s visceral and rugged, and is rightly getting a lot of attention on some of the country’s radio stations.

The rise of afro bashment continues at an alarming speed here in the UK, spearheaded by artists like Kojo Funds, LottoBoyzz and Mr Eazi. This Spotify playlist in particular is worth checking on a regular basis to be updated on the latest sounds – it’s only a matter of time before the scene blows up, and it has to be the sound of this Summer.

One afro bashment name that has so far had a mention in every Word On The Street column to date is J Hus, and his latest, “Did You See” is probably my favourite offering from the genre so far. From his opening gambit of “did you see what I done, came in a black Benz, left in a white one” the listener is captivated, and I challenge you not to shuffle wherever you are!

Finally, before we cross the pond, a word on Toddla T. The Sheffield-born DJ has long been an integral part of the Caribbean-influenced side of the UK’s music offering. His two albums to date, Skanky Skanky and Watch Me Dance, have both laid the foundations for his footing in the scene, which has led to his weekly 1Xtra show being essential listening. So imagine my surprise this month when I checked out his new video for the first single from his forthcoming release, “Blackjack21”. It’s a total departure from his usual sound, but really is an exciting prospect for what is to come. The visuals are stunning, and the beat and vocal will leave a lasting impression. Imagine “You Got The Love” being channelled through a live funk band, and you’re halfway there.

Now the inevitable. On a Saturday in the middle of March, Drake finally aired his latest project, More Life. Having been touted as a playlist rather than an album, and following several delays to the release date, it was no surprise to see it sending social networks into the usual frenzy. I won’t wax lyrical about how good it is (oh, it is) – instead I’ll let you all make up your own minds. All I’ll say is that I generally prefer the tracks Drizzy is singing on, rather than rapping. My highlights? Black Coffee’s production on “Get It Together”, Skepta’s “Interlude”, “KMT” featuring UK road rap superstar Giggs, and leading the way, “Blem”.

Drake took a lot of flak across all mediums following the release, for his appropriation of UK culture. Some British fans seemed outraged at his use of phrases such as wasteman, and even the fact that he named one of the tracks “Gyalchester”. American fans were horrified at the inclusion of what they considered to be inferior British rappers – they really didn’t like Giggs. As far as I’m concerned it can only be a good thing. No, the UK scene doesn’t necessarily need any help, but when was the last time that a huge worldwide artist championed another country’s talent in this way? Let’s embrace his love for our nation, and appreciate all he’s doing to showcase it.

Kendrick Lamar also made his comeback in March with the release of “The Heart Part 4”, and a video for “HUMBLE.”. Both give a hint as to what we can expect from his next album, which must be imminent.

In club culture, one release really grabbed my attention in the last month. Canadian producer Jacques Greene has been consistently making and releasing music since 2010, so his debut album has felt a long time coming. Mixing up a blend of garage, house and r&b, I’m pretty sure Feel Infinite already has the potential to be one of my favourite albums of the year.

For once, I don’t have any other business to bring to your attention, so I’ll leave you to enjoy the usual Spotify playlist below. As always get in touch and let me know what I got right and wrong – astralpenguinsmusic@gmail.com. See you again next month!

Word on the Street: February 2017

Word on the Street: February 2017

Better late than never, here’s the monthly round up of all things “urban”.

February picked up where January left off. This time, in place of Wiley, the spotlight was hogged by another grime heavyweight: Stormzy. For the past couple of weeks, everywhere you’ve looked, there he was. On stage at the Brits with Ed Sheeran, finally dropping his long-awaited debut album, and hitting the DIY PR trail harder than anyone else, with numerous surprise pop-up performances and TV appearances.

The album in question is “Gang Signs & Prayer”, and boy is it good – packed full of grime bangers, interspersed with on trend slow jams, the wait was totally worth it. I’m not the biggest fan of these love songs, but with grime albums they certainly help to break up what would otherwise be an all too aggressive affair. The only problem being that they are all too formulaic these days, whether about significant others, mothers or God.

Putting my struggles with Stormzy singing to one side, there are more than enough highlights to get my attention. “Cold” is grime at its purest. “Bad Boys” lowers the energy levels and packs a serious chorus from one of last month’s big tips, J Hus. On “Mr Skeng” the MC calls out all of those that previously doubted him. His smash hit freestyle “Shut Up” features towards the end of the album, and even though it’s still a massive tune, its inclusion stinks of additional tracks to score higher in the new chart format – an issue that was covered excellently last year by Fact Magazine.

By now you’ll have heard “Big For Your Boots”: Sir Spyro continues his unbelievable purple patch with a beat so energetic and raw that you can’t help but shuffle wherever you are. Stormzy doesn’t hold back on the vocal, and there are bars in here that will be hailed for years to come. The video is the perfect accompaniment, directed by filmmaker Daps, and starring some of the most talented creative women around right now – Maya Jama in the chicken shop makes me weak at the knees!

With the month he’s had, Stormzy will be viewed as a masterclass in do it yourself PR for a long time.

Elsewhere in grime, there wasn’t much action, with the exception of a pair of strong singles.

Grim Sickers led the way with his Mike Skinner approved single, “Kane”. Featuring JME on the remix, all month this one has left me wanting to end every sentence with the same word.

The aforementioned Sir Spyro came good again with the lead track from his forthcoming EP with North London MC Capo Lee. “Stop Talk” features a beat made almost entirely from mobile phone samples, as Capo Lee tells anyone and everyone to shut up.

Staying this side of the pond, a handful of promising releases finally saw the light of day. Last month, I mentioned how much I was anticipating the new album from Devlin. “The Devil In” unfortunately didn’t live up to my expectations. For me it was the shortage of 140 bpm that did it. Devlin’s flow has always been the perfect match for a grime beat, and here it was just too rap heavy for my tastes.

Not to say that UK rap isn’t to my liking. Hot on the heels of his 2016 hit “Trapper Of The Year”, North West London’s Nines released “One Foot Out”. At 49 minutes, and 15 tracks, it’s a blistering statement of intent that sets a new standard for rap in the UK. It’s racking up streaming numbers alarmingly quickly, so make sure you’re not left behind on this one!

Having first heard his vocal talents on Sbtrkt’s 2011 self-titled debut album, Sampha’s “Process” has been a long time coming. Neo-soul is certainly the music industry’s flavour of the month, what with Rag’n’Bone Man’s album riding high as well, but Sampha does it with a difference. He’s appeared on tracks with Drake, Kanye, Frank Ocean and Solange, but it’s nice to finally see him take centre stage, and the high praise he’s receiving for “Process” is well-deserved.

Last month was fairly quiet on the American front (with the exception of the outstanding “Culture” by Migos – you can read my review here), so it was nice to see a flurry of activity in February.

The most active artist was easily Future. Mid-way through February, the Atlanta native released his 5th studio album, the self-titled “FUTURE”. A week later, he surprise released his 6th, “HNDRXX”. Both albums rate highly, but it’s the second of the two that really delivered – Complex went as far as suggesting that the album might turn out to be his masterpiece. One thing’s for sure: Future has further cemented his credentials as a hit-maker. Check out the album’s lead single “Selfish”, featuring Rihanna, below.

Another rapper to have a strong month was Big Sean. Backed with some serious guest vocals – Jeremih, Migos, Eminem, The Dream – “I Decided” is a concept album revolving around the theme of rebirth, exec produced by Kanye West. It might not hit home as well as his previous releases, but there’s a deeper, more introspective feel to the album that adds weight.”Bounce Back” and “Moves” in particular are worthy of your time.

Stepping away from hip hop, there were a few other releases on the other side of the pond that certainly struck a chord with me, the first of which came from The Internet and Odd Future’s Syd. The DJ/producer/singer’s first album sees her leaving the beat-making to others, while she steps up to the microphone solo. It’s got a real 90’s R&B feel to it – a sound I’m always down with, being an Aaliyah superfan. “Fin” might be a step in a different direction, but it feels well-thought out, and might just usher in a new superstar in the genre.

Away from the mainstream, THEY. are a self-proclaimed Grunge&B duo from LA. Stating their influences as Nirvana, Taking Back Sunday and Babyface, and having toured in support of Bryson Tiller, it’s certainly a fresh take on R&B. There’s a hint of The Weeknd’s early mixtapes (and possibly even boybands like Backstreet Boys?), and the group clearly aren’t afraid to forge their own path. I would expect “Nü Religion: Hyena” might just get enough people to take notice, that they’re able to move to the next level.

Speaking of those that are blazing their own trail, February brought the return of Thundercat from a 4 year break. The Grammy-winning, Kendrick Lamar collaborator revealed his latest, “Drunk”. The usual mix of all styles possible combine to great effect, and the result is an album that is serious, fun, groovy and melodic all at once.

In the world of club-friendly music, LA’s Kingdom stamped his mark on a UK-influenced sound that is growing nicely on the other side of the pond. Taking influences from UK funky and garage, and in particular the label Night Slugs (Kingdom’s own Fade To Mind label is an affiliate), we’re treated to a blend of electronica and R&B that will surely see him being called upon for productions for bigger names – indeed, Kingdom has already delivered some of his best work for Kelela and Dawn Richard.

Before I leave you, I should mention one upcoming release that almost has me wetting myself with excitement. On their own, Royal-T, DJ Q and Flava D are heavyweights of the current UK garage/bassline scene. Put them together, and the results are spectacular. Their debut album as the supergroup TQD is available for pre-order, prior to its release on 17th March – click play below and listen to “Vibsing Ting” right now! The night before its release, the trio are hosting an album launch party at XOYO, joined by the excellent Swindle and Skilliam – get tickets here, and find me somewhere on the dancefloor, with my eyes closed and my arms in the air.

Finally, if you have a spare two hours, go and listen to My Nu Leng’s Essential Mix before it disappears in just over a week. They embody everything I want to be as a DJ, and in terms of styles cover everything I love. I assure you you won’t be disappointed!

As always, if you discover something you love, or want to tell me what I’ve missed (or that I’m wrong!), then get in touch via astralpenguinsmusic@gmail.com. Again, most of the tracks mentioned above can be found in the Spotify playlist below. See you all in a month!

It’s Album Time: Migos – Culture

It’s Album Time: Migos – Culture

If you haven’t yet heard of Migos (pronounced like amigos, without the a), where have you been? Following a decent debut album in 2015, the Atlanta trap trio have taken the last couple of years by storm. Whether it’s with hit single “Bad & Bougee”, an appearance in the excellent Atlanta created by and starring Donald Glover (what do you mean you haven’t seen it yet?), or the fact that they are credited by some with creating the dab, it’s been pretty hard to avoid them. With their sophomore album, “Culture”, they’ve really hit their stride.

Firstly, I feel obliged to point out that clearly the average trap album isn’t likely to include themes that I can relate to. I’m a thirty-something accountant, living on the Essex coast. But fear not, it doesn’t detract from the huge amount of enjoyment I take from listening to this one, and it won’t for you either.

Every album should start with an intro from Snapchat hero, DJ Khaled – I’d actually quite like it if he could just walk into rooms before me and scream my arrival. I’m also a huge fan of what appears to be a xylophone loop playing underneath the vocals, and from the off the tone is set for what proves to be an incredible first five tracks.

“T-Shirt” is easily my favourite song on the album. The sample fading in and out on the production works perfectly with the vocal, and I can’t ever remember loving a tune for essentially having two choruses. The swagger and bravado you would expect from a release of this type is evident from the very first verse as Takeoff, in his trademark stacatto style, proclaims:

Lotta niggas copy, name someone can stop me

It’s Offset though, with his auto-tuned singing style, that makes it for me. This one stayed on repeat the first time I heard it, and hasn’t stopped looping in my head since.

The high standard continues with the infectious “Call Casting” – you’ll be hearing that piano for days – before we launch straight into the track Donald Glover described as “the best song ever”. I won’t bore you by describing it, or giving my insight. The best thing you can do is listen to “Bad and Boujee”, right now.

“Get Right Witcha” completes the outstanding opening to the album, with a great asian-style flute sample, and an even better drum track. It’s just a shame the track fades out at the end, because I could listen to that instrumental for weeks.

At this point, the album takes a dip in quality. That’s not to say that it’s bad, or not worthy of your time, more that it’s hard to top what has come so far. It does feel a little like listening to the same song over and over, but there are still some highlights.

“Slippery” sees Gucci Mane guesting, but it’s still Takeoff, Quavo and Offset that shine as they brag about women and cars. On “Big On Big”, I find it hardest to relate to the lyrics. I’ve never owned a Benz – in fact I don’t own a car full stop – and certainly not a mansion with a four car garage. And yet there’s still something pleasing in hearing the trio boast about their well-deserved spoils.

Short but sweet and with a killer hook, “What The Price” opens with a guitar sample that wouldn’t sound out of place on one of Prince’s finest tracks, and “Brown Paper Bag” goes straight in at the deep end as Offset hits a perfect flow. “Deadz” follows with a huge brass arrangement, and a slower tempo.

Before the album reaches its conclusion, there’s time for one more killer hook. “All Ass” is the closest Migos get to a love song, professing their adoration for strippers and booty, and it probably delivers my favourite chorus:

Yeah, beat the pot, beat the pot, beat the pot, oh
Bad bitches walkin’ out with bags at the store (bad)
Stripper girl shakin’, all ass on the pole (all ass ay, all ass ay)

Things get a little weird on “Kelly Price”, with tales of drug-fuelled lovemaking sessions, and making girls “sing” like the aforementioned grammy-nominated r&b singer. Unfortunately, it’s about two minutes too long for me.

“Out Yo Way” completes the release, and one lyric in particular sums up exactly how they should be feeling:

Everybody said that we would fall away
Nobody thought that we would go up
But we blew up, blew up, blew up

Migos really have delivered an outstanding piece of work. As I said, the first five tracks are truly incredible, and set a very high bar that the rest of the album only just fails to reach. It’s a real statement, and deserves all the praise it’s getting. More importantly, it lives up to all the pre-release hype.

HIGHLIGHTS: “T-Shirt”, “Bad and Boujee”, “Get Right Witcha”, “All Ass”.

Ramblings: new monthly column, Black Madonna intrigue, Kasabian and Cortes News

logomakr_6gasea

Yesterday we unveiled our new monthly column: Word on the Street. George has for many years been a passionate follower of beat-driven music (he hates the term ‘urban music’) and if you have an interest in grime, garage, dance, hip hop or r’n’b, then the column is going to be a ‘must read’. I think its a fantastic read and I’m very grateful to George for pulling it all together.

On Friday evening George sent me an intriguing Black Madonna-related link; you can find it here. What does it mean? a UK tour? a residency? an album? I guess we’ll find out on Tuesday, but any new Black Madonna news is welcome in my world.

Speaking of welcome news, there was a distinct whiff of 2002 about two of this week’s biggest new releases; new singles from Missy Elliott and Jamiroquai. The latter has also announced a gig at the Roundhouse in London. Both of these artists were huge influences on my music taste in my teens so I’m pretty chuffed that they’re back.

The Astral Penguins blog is growing in content and readership, and over the next couple of weeks we’ll be unveiling some new regular features. (at least) One of those features revolves heavily around the festivals coming up over the summer, and on a related note Kasabian were announced as the second of three headliners lined up for Leeds and Reading Festivals (the third is rumoured to be Eminem).

I confess I have a massive soft spot for Kasabian. I first saw them supporting the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at the Leadmill in Sheffield many years ago, and it was obvious then that they were supremely talented. They’re one of the few British guitar-heavy bands to ascend to the top of festival line ups and stay there in the past decade, and with a new album on the way, this could be – yet another – big year for them.

Kasabian gigged day in and day out to hone their craft, and another British band who are following a similar approach is Cortes. I first saw them a couple of years ago as a support act and have seen then around five times since then. They posted two things on Facebook this week; (1) they’ve passed a million streams on Spotify – congrats! – and (2) they’ve been in the studio recording new music. Every now and then you see a band and think ‘these guys could – and should – be massive’; Cortes are one of those bands and I only hope Radio 1 and others continue to give them the support and air-time they need.

I’ll be back later on with the A List and tomorrow with the This Week Playlist. Until then…

Mark