Category Archives: Hip Hop

Zeroh – Tinnitus

(Hit+Run, 2016)

The global live-screen-printing and musical collective Hit+Run has been putting out interesting stuff for many years, including names like Crimekillz, Kate Mo$$, Kutmah, Skrapez and Zackey Force Funk. The name has been to me synonymous with originality, creativity and DIY-mentality, and this album by the Los Angeles native Zeroh is certainly no different.

The music on this album ranges from Madlib-like beat-crafting to full on cacophony. Half of the songs don’t even have a beat, and dance somewhere between rhythmic Ambient and Noise (and Industrial Music if you will), and some have very traditional but minimalistic Hip Hop vibes to them. Always gritty, noisy, full of effects and experimental (playful) as hell, the production of this album often brings to my mind a mixture of Ka’s “Honor Killed The Samurai” and Gonjasufi’s “Callus”. Still, this stuff stands originally on its own, and shows the awesome skills of Zeroh as a producer.

The rapping gets the same treatment as the music, when it comes to heavy effects and experimental production. Besides that, Zeroh is one of those MCs who uses his voice like an instrument for jamming, and his verses are thoughtful and cool as fuck. He likes to play with his voice, changing style even many times in a sentence, wacky as shit, but still sounding totally in control. At times he sounds dark and serious, and at times he sounds cartoonish and comical. Which fits his style of writing lyrics perfectly. The symbiosis of the two put you in a concentrated yet psychedelic and sometimes even spiritual zone. The previous comparison with Gonjasufi often applies to the vocals as well, but there is so much more going on here. Zeroh is in a league of his own. The only two guests on this album, The Koreatown Oddity and Low Leaf, blend splendidly with the rest of the material.

This album is a treasure-chest of lyrical and vocal imaginativeness and hazy musical experimentality. Given the apparent skills of Zeroh as a producer of music (besides being an awesome rapper), I would have liked to hear a bit more variety on the beats (such as more drum-beats), but then again the stuff on this album works great as a whole, and does justice to the awesome cover-picture (or vice versa). If you are into experimental Hip Hop and interesting textures of sound, check this totally impressive album out. And while you’re at it, check out the collaboration-album between Zeroh and Jeremiah Jae, “Holy Smoke”, as well. Pure bliss.

Zeroh

Hit+Run

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Gonjasufi – Callus

(Warp Records, 2016)

Gonjasufi came to my attention in 2010 with his Warp debut “A Sufi And A Killer”, and after 2012’s “MU.ZZ.LE” I’ve been very eager to hear more of the Sufi’s deeply personal and original, melancholic experimental psychedelia. It took about four years but now the next chapter of Gonjasufi is out, taking his music even into more darkly psychedelic and intimate directions.

The music of Gonjasufi has always been rooted in Hip Hop culture, the Sand Diego scene to be exact, and he has done collaborations with awesome artists such as Flying Lotus, The Gaslamp Killer and The Bug. The minimalist and low-fi atmospheres of his sampling and instrumentations, which are usually a blend of urban and almost shamanistic vibes, have been as individual as his voice, which is hard to compare to anyone else, and once familiar with it you will definitely recognise it.

When it comes to musical atmospheres and of course his voice, this album can be immediately identified as Gonjasufi, but there are a few new things he is trying out here. I’m getting almost Lynchian feelings of grey scenes of nightly California, intoxicating and hot under the silhouettes of waving palm trees, with flashing neon lights here and there telling of the liveliness of these grainy and strongly contrasted inner soundscapes. The term “noir” comes to my mind constantly. The heavy and slow very organic drumbeats mixed with distorted and reverberated guitars and basses often give an almost Doom-like feeling. On other times the classic Punk influences are very clear and function perfectly with the rest of the musical styles encapsulated on the album.

There are actually not many purely Electronic-sounding moments in these songs, and when they do appear, they are glitchy or vintage-sounding and delightfully noisy, which fits the overall atmosphere of the album nicely. Parts and samples of Ethnic music add to the psychedelic agenda of the album and the persona of the artist himself. The at the same time sensitive and strong vocals are again put through filters of strong reverbs and distortions, making them sound almost like samples of some weird movies, as the music is also highly cinematic in nature.

The whole experience is actually pretty 3D cartoon-like and very dreamy, with each of the 19 songs displaying a different scene strong in mental aesthetics.

If you are a fan of Experimental Hip Hop (with a strong emphasis on low-fi and DIY-mentalities), and especially of cinematic music, you should definitely check this album out. And if you are already familiar with Gonjasufi and liked his previous stuff, this album will not disappoint you. One of the best ones this year.

Warp Records

Gonjasufi

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Death Grips – Bottomless Pit

(Third World / Harvest, 2016)

In my case, with “Exmilitary” and “The Money Store”, Death Grips instantly became one of the most exciting new acts out there, blowing my mind with basically every delightfully minimalistic yet psychedelically complex and intense song on these albums. Coming from a background of extreme Punk and Metal as well as oldschool Hip Hop and various styles of Electronic music, the music this trio (consisting of Zach Hill’s percussions, Andy Morin’s electronics, and MC Ride’s vocals) was giving birth to clicked perfectly with my musical tastes. And altho many seemed to find Death Grips to be too “insane” for their membranes, I felt right at home when it came to the multifaceted twisted beats, sounds and rhymes the band was at this point known for.

While “No Love Deep Web” went more synthetic and even etherial in its approach and delivered perhaps a bit more catchy songs compared to the first two, “Government Plates” was a bit too artsy (and in this case boring) for my taste with its large yet kinda weak arsenal of electronic sounds, but then again the instrumental album “Fashion Week” hit my good spot while being mostly electronic in nature as well. In any case, the double album “The Powers That B” has been to many perhaps the pinnacle of the evolution and career of the band, gathering all their past experimentation and honest insanity in eighteen songs.

As the band is no stranger to controversial behaviour such as releasing albums for free online or cancelling tours (and even cancelling a breakup), it has often felt every new Death Grips release is a kind of a miracle to behold. Every time a new album is announced, two things usually come to mind: Is it really gonna happen and when, plus are they gonna top or overdo or reinvent themselves yet again?

With great pleasure I can say this album is not by any means a disappointment. All the deranged vocal fury, the often overwhelming yet controlled rhythmic chaos, all the right usage of weird minimalistic or massive psychedelic electronics at the right places still holds up to the standards of the band, going even further in many areas.

The album has many similarities with the previous album “Jenny Death” when it comes to repetitive lines and swirling intense soundscapes, but this album is not by any means as chaotic as the first song which became available, “Hot Head”, hinted. In fact most of the songs have a very certain personal atmosphere and quality to them, making this album perhaps for many a bit more pleasant listen music-wise when compared to some of the band’s previous releases.

Still, pleasant is not a word that first comes into most listeners minds when describing the atmospheres of this album, as it is again filled with very intense almost hallucinatory parts and scenes, reminiscent of bad psychedelic trips. Meaning the band will most likely not gain new fans with this release, but that has probably never been their main agenda anyway.

“Giving Bad People Good Ideas” takes a pretty comical spoken sample and turns it into a synth/instrument, industrializes a very Black Metallic riff and a blast-beat, throws in some weird electronics, and tops it with Ride’s furious shouting rhymes. What a great Death Gripping way to start the album. “Hot Head” switches between a section which could be the most chaotic and Breakcore-like shit ever heard on a Death Grips record, and a calmer slower more vocal-driven part, making it a very personal song as well.

“Spikes” is a very classic Death Grips sounding piece with glitchy fuzzy electronics and whipping beats. “Warping” takes likewise a very traditional approach (considering the band’s standards) consisting mainly of slow and groovy dizzy straightforward jamming, being still a total banger. “Eh” is a very airy yet energetic song with a classic IDM-mentality (in my opinion) and thin snapping beats, making me think of even Aphex Twin, while the vocals are clear and audible, full of cool little ideas of performance.

“Bubbles Buried In This Jungle” has some fuzzy noisy wobbly synths working together with a Trap-like beat and vocoder-parts, making it perhaps a very “current” (considering the trends of the music world) song. “Trash” has a fizzing and airy electronic feel to it in that “Get Got” and “Artificial Death In The West” kinda way, with the addition of massive noisy brasses. Cool.

“Houdini” again offers musically nothing new to the band’s repertuare, but sounds like metal wires moving and tightening and snapping in a very reverberated hall, functioning with its cool lyrics as a very cool atmospheric breather at this point in the album. “BB Poison” has rubbery, bubbling and zapping synth and drum sounds spiced with rocking organic guitar parts. Once more nothing too special but sound-wise very cool. “Three Bedrooms In A Good Neighborhood” picks up the pace being a vigorous groovy piece full of cool details in all areas.

“Ring A Bell” brings back the heavy and phasing, flangy and twangy electric guitars sampled in various cool ways, familiar from previous songs like “On GP”, making it the most organic song on the album sound-wise.

“80808” is synth-sound driven ominous and eerie song full of calm fear and heavy aggression, before the title song “Bottomless Pit” finishes the album in style. The heavy noisy accelerating synths mixed with the steady energetic beat and tireless vocals make this song sound like an IndyCar speeding on the edges of a hurricane with Punk Rock blasting from its speakers.

In general, the soundscapes and mixing of the album is again pretty much along the same lines with the previous releases, with electronics ranging from heavy fuzziness to thin airiness, with pounding or snapping drum-sounds and various effects in the vocals, from multiple layers of well-managed chaos to stripped minimalism, perhaps this time around improving from past gritty rawness into a more thoughtful and better-produced whole.

While “The Powers That B” featured songs with some really personal lyrics from vocalist MC Ride, “Bottomless Pit” is possibly the most personal album lyric-wise the band has in their catalogue. All the mental delirious ranting rhyming insanity Ride spits and shouts is still here, only this time he often opens the door to his inners (and also to the band’s inners) more than before. Or at least that’s how it seems.

Altho personal-sounding, all the songs are pretty much equally good in my opinion, making it hard to pinpoint any favourites or clear highlights on the album, making this a steady release of high quality. While taking the organic freshness of “Jenny Death”, “Bottomless Pit” combines all the best elements of “The Money Store” and “No Love Deep Web” and adds a few new brilliant ideas, making this a solid, strong, familiar, high quality Death Grips album, and I’m bound to have many intimate and delirious moments with it. Loving it, as always.

Death Grips

Dr. Yen Lo – Days With Dr. Yen Lo

(Iron Works, 2015)

Brooklyn rapper Ka (Kaseem Ryan) has been involved in the groups Natural Elements and Nightbreed, as well as on Gza’s “Pro Tools” album, besides releasing his three magnificent solo albums. On this album he has worked again (after their “1200 B.C.” EP) with the producer Preservation (as Dr. Yen Lo), both doing their trademark styles.

Ka’s vocal-style is chill to say the least, altho extremely effective. The volume of his voice is almost at the level of whispering, making his style of spitting rhymes remind me of spoken-word art. The way in which he speaks his heart is pretty much the opposite of the usual boasting of traditional Hip Hop, but very much of the same strong effect. Altho the album is conceptually influenced by the film “Manchurian Candidate” (and using samples from the movie), Ka’s verses speak of the same issues as on his previous work, namely life in the streets, surviving, social issues and hope. Ka might not be as intense in presentation as most rappers, but he is definitely intense in content and effect.

The beats of this album are a perfect match with Ka’s vocals style. Almost Ambient-like in nature, most songs consist of Jazzy and Funky chill sounds full of the atmospheres of the nightly city. Organic-sounding basses, saxophones, guitars, horns, organs and other traditional instruments backed with simple percussions paint minimalistic melodies full of feelings behind Ka’s striking lyrics. The music continues the awesome feelings begun on the duo’s previous Ep, making Ka and Preservation truly a match made in Hip Hop heaven.

This album is a must hear to everyone into intelligent rapping and/or musical-feelings (of “nostalgic” nature) of the almost silent and hidden, dark sides of NYC. Also, as is the case with the previous material of Ka, adding to the atmosphere of the album, many of the songs have also been transformed into awesome music-videos (of the similar calm yet powerful style as the music), which can be found on Ka’s Youtube-channel, and are a must see, making these songs of the album awesome works of audio-visual art. After hearing this album, I can honestly say Ka (and Preservation) has become most def one my most my favourite artists in Hip Hop and in general.

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Tyler, The Creator – Cherry Bomb

(Odd Future Records / Sony, 2015)

Tyler Gregory Okonma, at the age of only 24, is pretty known from stuff like the work of the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (Hip Hop collective) or the Adult Swim sketch series Loiter Squad. First heard of by many when his debut album “Goblin” came out, he has created for himself a reputation as a very imaginative and talented man with a great sense of humour and fucks-given attitude. This is his fourth and much awaited studio album.

The album starts with the very N*E*R*Dy “Deathcamp”. I’m not sure how large Pharrell William’s involvement in the production of this album is, but I’m hearing something pretty familiar here, and this is not the only song. In my opinion there are many similarities on this album to the logic of albums like “Nothing”, with each song having a certain theme, yet keeping the whole thing similarly groovy, organic and electronic at the same time. In this particular song, nice electric guitar sounds and moogy synths work amazingly well with Tyler’s intense introductory cursing.

The second song “Buffalo” features powerful booming basses and a cool raw beat (besides the vintage synth sounds familiar from the first song), with perhaps more gangsta-like rapping in Tyler’s lower style familiar from for example the first Tyler-song I ever heard, “Yonkers”. “Pilot” has some heavy and noisy sounds atop a quite glitchy and eccentric beat, showing yet again something a bit different from the first two songs. While “Run” is an interlude-like ominous song, “Find Your Wings” features an awesome Jazzy saxophone and jamming organs with cool synth-bass and string sounds, as well as nice female vocals besides the few rhymes.

“Cherry Bomb” has the heaviest and noisiest sounds of the album thus far, featuring powerful basses and Jungle-like nicely organic beats. The vocals are intense and shouting yet sound dreamlike and etherial in their reverberation. Some might see this as the “Death Grips -song” of the album, but not necessarily, as the similarities might not be that obvious to others. “Blow My Load” has that laid-back porn-feeling in it’s easygoing but strongly moving groove and appropriate sound effects. The most uneventful song yet, altho has very interesting lyrics no doubt.

“2Seater” has a very nineties Hip Hop -sounding overall groove to it, still featuring the same familiar vintage synths, low basses, saxophones and strings heard previously. Together with the previous song, maybe the most unexciting songs of the album, yet works fine as a breather between the more intense songs. “The Brown Stains Of Darkeese Latifah Part 6-12 (Remix)” brings back the more experimental and humorous attitude of Tyler, still being hard-hitting as fuck. The song features Schoolboy Q.

“Fucking Young/Perfect” (featuring legendary Charlie Wilson and the younger talent of Kali Uchis) is the first video-song of the album, and in the same time perhaps the most pop-like of the songs, having very easily approachable and listenable sounds and melodies (and general atmosphere) compared to the more experimental songs. “Smuckers”, which features the big personalities of Kanye West and Lil Wayne, has its instrument-sounds mixed quite distant and low-fi, making it perhaps quite a non-commercial sounding song, despite the names involved. It is however a good song with all three vocalists giving entertaining performances.

“Keep Da O’s” features Pharrell Williams in vocals (mixed to the point of unrecognition) and is (in a similar non-commercial way as the previous song) a very experimental and psychedelic-sounding piece of work. “Okaga, CA” ends the album in style with it’s chill rhythm and pace, altho personally I would have liked to hear something more intense after the previous quite mellow tune, but all in all a very good song, despite it’s place on the track list.

This highly entertaining album is full of different sounds and ideas, in form of (mostly) 3-4-minute long catchy but personal songs. Although the songs are quite individual and unique compared to each other, they still have some common threads (such as similar instrument sounds) flowing through them, tying them together as a solid and high-quality album. The production is at all times excellent, and Tyler’s rhymes and vocals are clever and original.

If you can imagine liking for example the easygoing and more approachable atmospheres of the already mentioned N*E*R*D, together with the more obscure sounds and beats of for example Madlib, spiced with vintage synth-psychedelia, and approve the original (sometimes crazy, sometimes funny-as-fuck) vocal and rapping styles of Tyler, The Creator himself, you can’t go wrong with this album. Definitely one of this summer’s soundtracks.

Odd Future

Death Grips – Jenny Death

(Third World / Harvest, 2015)

During their (about) five year long career, the Californian experimental Hip Hop group Death Grips has been a constant cause of controversy among labels and fans alike, with cancelled tours, albums offered free for download and break-ups paving their way to genuine obscurity and cult-like status, keeping the audience and press on their toes.

With four amazing albums released before the first part (“Niggas On The Moon”) of their latest double-album “The Powers That B” came out in 2014, people have been anxiously waiting for this the second part, “Jenny Death”. Between the releases of the two parts of the double album, an instrumental album “Fashion Week” was given to the fans to satisfy their hunger. The band also announced their disbandment in 2014, leaving the music-world cautiously waiting to see the future development of the group unfold. It is possible “Jenny Death” will be their last album, but then again, who knows.

Once again, the album is filled with the groups trademarks of violent low-fi synth-sounds, complex beats and intense vocals, attacking harshly into our consciousness, like the Electronic Punk of the first song “I Break Mirrors In The United States”, breaking reflecting surfaces and shields of expectations like some violent but pleasant drug.

The second song “Inanimate Sensation” has been released earlier, showing magnificently the groups talent of creating powerful arrangements besides their hard-hitting musical approach. The whole song vibrates like a psychedelic amusement park with cathartic agendas.

The third song “Turned Off” features electric guitars, organic-sounding drumming and drony noisy synths which really sound like played (and not programmed), while delivering the same intense stuff we are used to hearing from these original individuals.

The fourth song “Why A Bitch Gotta Lie” continues quite along the same lines with the previous song sound-wise, with more straightforward and simple grooves, and for example awesome vocals through a vocoder (?).

The fifth song “Pss Pss” is a weird and (naturally) intense one, mostly minimalistic in nature, with vocal-performances reminding of a mental breakdown, reminding us how little the band has actually ever changed its fundamental style during the years.

The sixth song “The Power That B” has also been released earlier, being quite anxious and ominous in it’s lyrical content and overall atmosphere, being surprisingly elevating and positive at the same time.

The seventh song “Beyond Alive” features once again some electric guitars and live-sounding drumming bringing some sixties and seventies playing, groove and overall psychedelia to the music. Once again, a very welcome experimentation from the band.

The eighth song “Centuries Of Damn” is a slower but heavy piece, taking some of the psychedelia of the previous song with it, partly in a form of kinda Stoner or Doom-like elements.

The ninth song “On GP”, was released as a mysterious music video earlier, being sound-wise a minimalistic one (compared to the usual Death Grips material), containing awesome multilayered heavy guitars and organ-sounds. The most melancholic song of the album in it’s own way, showing the groups talents for creating music with “only” traditional organic Rock-instruments (kinda).

The tenth and final song “Death Grips 2.0” is an intense and fast instrumental Electronic piece (in nature), sounding indeed like some futuristic (or perhaps nineties Jungle-like) version of the music of Death Grips, ending the album in style.

The talents of this band can not be emphasized enough. Zack Hill is undoubtedly on of the best drummers of this modern world. The vocals and rapping of Stephan Burnett are beyond phenomenal when it comes to technique, voice and intensity. But in the end, it’s the electronics of Andy Morin, and the production and crafting of the soundscapes, that create the style and sound of Death Grips just as much as the two other areas of the music, making them truly a trinity functioning in perfect equilibrium.

If this really is the final album of Death Grips, it must be their finest one. Although I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this is not the last we’ll hear from the band.

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Death Grips – Fashion Week

(Self Released, 2015)

Since they released their first mixtape “Exmilitary” in 2011, Death Grips has attracted open-minded listeners of different musical backgrounds and preferences (for example from fans of traditional Hip Hop to Hardcore and Electronic music) with their diverse and extremely Experimental form of Hip Hop. Although highly recognisable and quite low-fi in nature, relying on the weird electronics of Andy Morin, the organic highly skilful and rhythmic drumming of Zach Hill, and the aggressive and original rapping of Stefan Burnett, Death Grips has managed to deliver songs of great variation on their highly acclaimed albums “The Money Store”, “No Love Deep Web” and “Government Plates”.

With a history “drama” such as the case of leaking their album online due to debates over the release-date with their label, or cancelling a tour, it came as no surprise to many when the band announced their disbandment in 2014, with their double-album “The Powers That B” being their last. As the first half of the double-album, “Niggas On The Moon”, was released last June, people have been anxiously waiting for the second half “Jenny Death”. However, to the surprise of many, the band released an instrumental album free (again) online titled “Fashion Week”. The album consists of fourteen tracks, with initials at the end of the song-titles spelling “JENNYDEATHWHEN”, hinting the album to possibly be a kind of a promotion of the upcoming final (?) album.

The album delivers the classic Death Grips sound familiar from all their previous releases, with perhaps more emphasis on what’s actually going on in the songs musically, due to lack of vocals. It’s also possible these eventful songs were supposed to have vocals, and they only seem a bit more “musical” since the vocals of Burnett are not here to distract our minds even further. And distracting the music of Death Grips is indeed for those who want “peace and equilibrium” into their lives, but for those of us shaking hands with all the angels and demons of our psyche, the tunes of Death Grips serve as a perfect soundtrack to our days, or if listened intently, deliver amazing roller-coaster-like trips of thousands of colours as intense and psychedelic sounds.

Low-fi electronic sounds and weird intense melodies fuse with the organic (yet electronic-sounding since mostly played with electronic drums) drumming, sometimes slow and almost hypnotic, sometimes fast technical and jamming, but always excessive and extraordinary in the special deathly gripping way. From Hip Hip to Industrial and even electronic Hard Rock, extremely good!

Anxiously waiting for “Jenny Death”.

Fashion Week (Streaming)

Death Grips (Facebook)