It is appropriate that I should hit the much-delayed five-zero-zero with an album which was also tardy, numerically inclined, and from an act who’ve been occupying a very high possie on my all-time rankings since way back.
Even more exciting is that this album is a welcome return to form from an act who I felt had gone off the boil.
Despite looking like crusty old bastards, the trio have clearly supped from some magic youth-rejuvenating potion.
The album takes a thankful glance over the shoulder to a simpler time of MCing. The beats are both tinny and fat. The effects and samples feel like they were patched together in an analogue world, and I personally feel like I’m in a happier, simpler time.
The humour doesn’t seem forced. The name-dropping (Lee Majors, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam amongst many) will have anyone under the age of about 38 scratching their head, yet it’s hard to imagine anyone not feeling the urge to throwthemselves around and to party for their MFing right to fight!
While the album is startlingly coherent, my only real criticism is the lack of an absolute killer single (other than the celeb-heavy clip above goes damn close)… but I wanna hear everything on here again.
File under: No hidden agenda
Bonus for the 500th review: the extended 30 min version of the above clip (with much more silliness and a few more famous folks):
I bought this CD from the same Vietnamese retailer as the Lamontagne album (I guess they’d alphabetised pretty well).
This combo of black-power poetisisers are one of the frequently cited forebears of hip-hop, and I already was familiar with their track When The Revolution Comes from a couple of different compilations.
This 1970 debut album is a pretty mindblowing collection of bongo-backed tirades about the plight of the black man (and presumably woman) in post-civil rights, economically depressed, Black Panther-framed inner-urban milieu (or something like that).
If you’ve ever heard any of Gil Scott Heron‘s work then you’ve got a good sense of the style, content and right-on-ness of this album.
If anything these guys are angrier, less hep-catty, and much more willing to throw around the nigger word than GSH:
This is highly entertaining stuff. It’s beat poetry without all the skivvy wearing and artiness. It stands also as a testament to an important moment in history.
You can’t dance to it, but then, there ain’t too much spoken word that you can.
File under: The seed they sew’d it
Not surprisingly a number of my reviews begin with some variation of “I was at a festival and spied…”. I say not surprising, because discovering new acts is very much a festival raison d’être for me.
K’Naan well and truly fits that bill. A few days in at a Bluesfest we sort refuge at a smallish indoor tent and were mightily impressed by this Somalian Canadian fellow and his wicked rhyming.
This album captures much of what delighted us. As K’Naan makes clear on the standout What’s Hardcore? track, his experiences in war-torn Mogadishu makes the gangsta tales from the First World pale in comparison:
K’Naan showcases a real breadth of skills and styles on here. He shifts from pared back a capella and spoken word pieces, to much more bombastic rocky numbers. He isn’t afraid to break into song. His roots in poetry and more traditional African music (of course, rapping shares these roots) are apparent.
This is hip-hop at its story-telling best. It is not a ‘background music’ album, but rather a strong testament to the spread and power of the hip-hop format.
File under: Digging this philosopher’s tome
Way back before Al Gore invented the internet and digital music, I owned two fantastic albums from the Jungle Brothers on a medium known as the cassette (a.k.a. tape).
These were the first full-lengthers in the JBs’ long career – ‘Straight Out the Jungle’ and ‘Done By the Forces of Nature’. Both were an innovative mix of hip-hop and house music, coupled with a ‘black and proud’ Africanistic thing. They were a distinctive companion pieces to the works of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest.
This here CD was released more than a decade later, and hits none of the cassettes’ heights. The JBs’ earlier experiments with the house and dance genres are expanded, as they hook up with a Propellerhead. This means loads more simplistic chanting than warranted, a higher level of repetition, and very little quality rhyming.
That is not to say this is a tough listen. It’s all very light and breezy, and you’d have a better than 50:50 chance of getting folks dancing with the majority of the tracks. The jazz crossover on Get Down is closest to their classic material:
And here’s one of their old gems (as a reminder to myself to go shopping for those two albums on CD):
File under: What does the V stand for? And the I?…
A peril for suddenly successful acts is that they rush out a follow-up that lacks the power and pullof their breakout release.
The Hilltop Hoods didn’t fall for this trap, perhaps because of their veteran status by the time they won us over.
This album keeps up the pace, with a heap of very solid tracks. The themes often don’t venture far from their usual: Hip-hop as the big joy in a strife and struggled-filled life; the potency of these dudes’ rhyming versus the rest; and the joys of alcohol consumption:
But there is welcome attempts to stretch the boundaries. Stopping All Stations works as a layered, multi- narrative short-story on par with Michael Franti’s best efforts like Hole in the Bucket.The track is a harrowing tale of the failings of rail privatisation…
An Audience with the Devil is an amusing attempt to probe the nature of good and evil.
Musically, the sampling is still strong (although I probably don’t need any more flute riffs), with perhaps more musicality than previous releases.
All in all, this is a long player I still enjoying diving into.
File under: Aren’t all roads hard?
Like an enormous proportion of their fan base, I jumped on the Hoods’ bandwagon with this release.
There was a lot of reasons for that. Firstly, it was the first time I remember hearing them. But more than that, it was the first time I heard Aussie hiphop that felt globally competitive. The rhymes were strong and the samples and beats added up to something catchy and creative.
The guys do a great job of building a strong narrative across the album about their experiences as a band, while showcasing their skills. I love some of the passages on Dumb Enough (especially the tsunami/origami pairing):
The ‘stickiest’ track is probably the big single too. Nosebleed Section speaks to anyone whose jumped around at the front of any gig hiphop or otherwise. I love that it’s built around a relatively obscure folksinger vocal too:
The album does quite maintain the quality throughout ther 17 tracks (it gets a bit sloppy on a couple of the ‘guest’ tracks and on Walk On and Working the Mic), but this is stronger than most hiphop longplayers in my collection.
File under: Answer the call
If there is such a thing as Aussie hiphop royalty, then I guess these blokes would be the wearing the fancy robes, jaunty crowns and wielding sceptres shaped like mics.
They were the first to overcome the cultural cringe about Aussie accented raps and really win over a broad audience.
But that was an album after this one. Here they are still finding their feet and talking to much narrower, and perhaps more sophisticated, ‘home ground’ crowd.
What is clear is that the MCing maturity and acumen was already well-honed by this release. The lines are spat out at a rapid pace. They are funny, and biting, clever and thoughtful. It is refreshing and liberating to hear language and themes that are much closer to home (despite the occasional Adelaide pronunciations).
The tales of shit jobs, sneaking off on summer days, preferring pubs to clubs and struggling to make it are well-structured.
The weakness, or rather the real area for improvement, is on the musical side of things. The beats are a little laboured and lacking in variation. The samples don’t often hook.
There is all a tendency to fall-back on MC battles, which, while amusing and impressive on first listen, to get a little tiresome on repeat play.
File under: Like a stumbling foal