Are we done yet?
For some reason, I thought we were done but I woke this morning and realized yeah, this country is still a mess. Of course it is. Nothing is going to be fixed within the next 4 years and even doubt the next 20 will see much of a change. But aside from what I think, we still don’t have a definitive answer regarding a president. Is there tension on all sides? Again, of course! A conversation I had with my aunt yesterday made me realize her disdain for Biden’s $400,000 tax proposal and views on immigration. Well, I need to stress she’s far from being in that tax bracket and, well, she’s also an immigrant. The irony doesn’t escape me. #Murica, where one lives and views are warped. I took that opportunity to explain both sides to her but alas, it was in vain. It was fodder for a comedic moment though. I’ll stress, I have my own disdain for political
By this point, anyone who knows anything about Hip-Hop should be familiar with Aesop Rock, the emcee whose prose has impressed and confounded listeners for over 20 years now. 97’s Music For Earthworms (self-release), there’s never been any way to box in the prolific lyricist and that’s just a simple fact.
This go around for Spirit World Field Guide (Rhymesayers), Aesop Rock takes a completely different approach in that he’s released an album almost completely self-produced. He’s no stranger to production, comfortably nestled behind the boards for Felt’s 2009’ Felt 3: A Tribute To Rosie Perez. Here is where we would discover a different side of the artist creating heavy beats for Murs & Slug that were rich in texture.) With his new album, he utilizes what’s available, from musicians to emcees, in order to breathe life into the new album. Aes has had a storied relationship with the groove-oriented freeform Philly band Grimace Federation over the last decade, who is featured throughout the album. The band assists him in realizing his vision of the release providing “additional instrumentation.” As a musician himself, he’s able to navigate through the album pretty seamlessly with other musicians in tow.
Aesop Rock opens with the “Hello From The Spirit World” intro which serves as a prologue for the album where he offers that the album contains “anecdotes, recipes, survival tips, warnings, maps, drawings & more.” These things are to help direct listeners through the album. Lightly plucked bass, altered samples, and repeated marimba notes provide the backdrop but don’t prepare anyone for what’s to follow. “The Gates” opens with Mega Ran-like enthusiasm, mashing 8-bit video game retroisms with fat & juicy rhythms as guitar notes bleed in and out around keyboard notes as well as he waxes poetic.
The well-informed all know damn well Aesop’s heady lyricism can work its away around subtle darkness and his own struggles through use of clever wordplay but here, it’s the beats and the way he manipulates the rhymes around the rhythms. “Button Masher,” he wraps his words around deep beats, and Hanni El Khatib guests as he adds what I can assume are his distorted guitars that occasionally bleeds in. But it’s “Gauze” that’s hypnotic, with a heavier than usual bass end envelops me with crash symbols all around it. Scratches and keyboards fill out the backdrop but again, it’s that bass – by James Lynch – that mesmerizes. He also guests on “Pizza Alley,” which takes a different approach until it morphs midway through into a beast of a song, with kick drums & snare assaulting, full-frontal, as bass notes drone on. “Sleeper Car” is the only track that isn’t solely produced by Aes, as he enlists Hanni El Khatib & Leon Michels on the handoff for the assist. Khatib has worked with other emcees (GZA, Freddie Gibbs) and he and Michels comfortably wrap the odd beats and keyboard washes around Aesop Rock’s flowing rhymes.
With 21 tracks filling Spirit World Field Guide, you won’t find any filler or track that doesn’t move you in some way. For the most part, the music moves as quickly as Aesop Rock’s vocal dexterity, sometimes leaving very little space to breathe. But it doesn’t matter when you realize the album is filled with track after track of sheer bangers. Even when he allows the elbow room on “Fixed and Dilated,” it’s full. This is an album that should be listened to from beginning to end without jumping from song to song. If you do, you just might miss the closing “The Four Winds” where the music can stand all on its own but with Aesop Rock’s lyrical manipulation, it becomes something spiritual altogether. Yes, this is one of the greatest albums of 2020. Easily.
Whenever I encounter beat miners, I usually find myself…disappointed. Over the past 10 years, I’ve received some releases with rappers that have had so much cache value spitting over beats that were ok but would fall flat without those verbose emcees. Again, this is my standard take and expectations are usually pretty low.
Enter: Quakers, a collective of beatsmiths consisting of Supa K (fka Katalyst), 7STU7, and Fuzzface aka Geoff Barrow who have just dropped its sophomore release, the appropriately titled II: The Next Wave (Stones Throw). This is the group’s first release in 8 years and while they’ve brought along a number of wordsmiths & emcees for this go-around, it’s definitely not just about the lyrics but the beats as well, which could probably stand on their own. For the most part, the music Quakers have created are filled with searing soul, drenched in melody and hark back to the golden age of Hip-Hop, but have their feet firmly planted in 2020, eschewing any nostalgia.
It’s not hyperbole, it’s reality I’m dealing with here. They fit interludes throughout the release, but here we have 25 tracks with emcees rhyming throughout II: The Next Wave. Some are familiar and others not so much but regardless, no one seems to take a back seat to anyone else. There are interludes throughout the release and the intro “Electrify” doesn’t really prepare anyone for what’s to follow. It’s grandiose, explaining the ability of the emcee to move the crowd. The proper opener “Start It Like This” features Phat Kat who many know as a frequent J Dilla collaborator and here we can understand why, he maneuvers around the Quakers dirty, Wu-inspired track with ease. It’s braggadocio without being a braggart, pointing out the flaws of others mostly, with a cadence that matches the beat. Guilty Simpson spits on the heavy and melodious beat drop of “One Of A Kind.” Simpson walks tight-rope with ease over the music here that’s filled with string samples. The track is a mere minute and a half but it’s a banger.
The four-man crew out of Houston, TX, The Niyat, burn the bluesy guitar-driven “Bare Essentials” right to the ground. Here they sound more Brooklyn than Houston but they’re no-holds-barred fire-spitting beasts! You’ll have to keep coming back to the track because playing it again and again is the only way to satisfy your soul. But Quakers don’t focus solely on the Boom-Bap here, they get spacey in compositions as well like on the “The Station” featuring Chicago rapper/producer/multi-media artist Jeremiah Jae. The combination of the two seems to work well with Jae’s lazy drawl fitting perfectly against the Blade Runner like beats. But I’m drawn to the Koreatown Oddity on “Double Jointed.” Here he takes a political stance on police brutality and racism on the militant beat. His imagery of the 60s mirroring 2020 is worded well with perfect storytelling effect. Using humor and reality, the song comes across as darkly comedic yet documents American history.
The sorely underappreciated Sampa The Great is featured here on the reggae-inspired “Approach With Caution.” The African rapper isn’t only underappreciated but underrated. Here her rhymes are delivered effortlessly with a repeated keyboard sample and thick bassline behind her. She is a master at her craft. Words cannot express how amazing Sampa The Great actually is. To be clear here, there’s an over-abundance of dope tracks with a number of rappers that deserve your attention and respect. Denmark Vessey drops verses on “Looking For Love,” Hip-Hop staple Jeru The Damaja kills the beat on “Fo Real,” and Jonwayne gets ill on “Test My Patience.” Nolan The Ninja, Cazeaux O.L.S.O, Boog Brown, Fat Ray, Sav Killz, Cavalier, and Dionté Boom all need to be mentioned as well because the album wouldn’t be the same without them as well.
This right here is in fact, real. II: The Next Wave isn’t anything to fuck with. And that actually reminds me. “Duck And Cover” featuring Guilty Simpson & Cysion takes an ODB vocal for the hook, sampled off of “Shimmy…” Quakers are obviously fans but they bring their own mixture of styles here for a fantastic journey through Hip-Hop on this release. Welcome back.