Tag 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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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 – 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)

Arca – Xen

(Mute, 2014)

Venezuelan-born producer Alejandro Ghersi, despite his young age of 24, has already been working with artists like Kanye West and FKA Twigs, now joining the well-earned and respected ranks of Mute.

“Xen” features elements from a lot of styles of the past and present, bringing them under one banner (which looks a lot like the cover picture of this album, fitting the music perfectly). Weird samples and hectic drum-loops are placed atop atmospheric nineties club-sounds or electric pianos, Hip Hop beats walk hand in hand with glitchy synths or ambient sounds of bizarre organic instruments, while dissonant classical orchestras are interrupted by groovy ethnic beats from the future.

There is something of that Madlib or J Dilla -mentality found here, but also that chaotic psychedelic logic of artists like Flying Lotus or Prefuse 73. There is something rugged and slightly distorted in the world of Arca, but also something luminous and touching, like a weird moving formless underwater angel. Sometimes quite disturbing or almost anxious, sometimes ecstatic, joyful and beautiful, this album is not for the faint of heart. But for those well experienced in different kinds of electronic and urban music, this might just be the kick you need to get those certain parts of your brain working again.

Definitely a work of a truly gifted artist, I can see Ghersi working with a multitude of artists of different kind, or making soundtracks for film-art, in the future. I’m definitely waiting his next adventures to the far (or closest) reaches of the human psyche with much excitement and anticipation.

Arca (Facebook)

Mute

Fujako – Exobell

(Ånsgtröm Records, 2014)

The international duo of Fujako (Jonathan Uliel Saldanha and Nicolas Esterle) create Experimental Hip Hop with sounds quite different from the typical stuff you usually hear in music like this. Adding vocals of MC Black Saturn bring some old-school Hip Hop elements to the already urban-sounding grooves of the mix, yet Fujako also has a weird natural (as in coming from nature) vibe to their beats, not just sound-wise. There are also some Industrial and IDM-like Psychedelic elements to be found in the music, all in perfect harmony. This stuff is not minimalistically Electronic like Death Grips, yet there is also something similar in attitude to be found here, intensive without aggressive sounds.

The first release I heard from Fujako, “Soul Buzz”, has an extremely catching and interesting sound and vibe to it right from the beginning. I’m hearing the clanky off-beat drums of “My Kingdom”, mixed with weird loops from Prefuse 73 meeting later COIL, with Black Saturn’s rhythmic speech, not quite rapping, without rhymes but still very Hip Hop in nature, taking the music to urban landscapes in some weird futuristic Tribal way. There is a lot happening in the first song alone, giving new weird sensations with each listen, when listened to concentrated (although this stuff grabs you by your brain concentrated or not). The second song is a bit more Ambient in nature, while the last two have a Trip Hop -like Industrial feel to them, with weird vocals.

Fujako 02

The latest release from the collective, “Exobell” features eight songs of various personalities, while having the unique personal Fujako-mentality to all of them, familiar from the previous release. Again, half of the sounds are familiar to me from nineties IDM like Future Sound Of London, while half is wooden- and leathery-sounding in a Tribal way. Percussions made with Organic and Electronic sounds, cool loops of Ethnic and Industrial nature, synths and sounds of flutes and horns bringing (even more than before) visions of nature and the cities. Ambient in character in some aspects, yet each track featuring the trademark unique beats Hip Hop style, sometimes controlled and simple, sometimes off-beat and more chaotic, but always distinctive of Fujako. MC Black Saturn’s quite minimalist yet personal-sounding vocals are done again with the rapping attitude, yet contain usually no rhymes per se, but rather sample-like spoken parts.

All fans of Ambient music, nineties IDM-acts with beats, or more modern Experimental Hip Hop like Death Grips or Flying Lotus, should feel welcome in the weird psychedelic natural yet urban world of Fujako.

8.5/10 – Antti Mikonmäki

Fujako (Facebook)

Ångström Records (Bandcamp)