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Full Clip: January and February's Hip Hop Reviewed
Tara Joshi , February 26th, 2018 08:59

How are people still so surprised at rap ruling festival lineups? Tara Joshi considers the backlash to a wave of festival announcements, along with reviews of January and February’s hip hop releases.

I once had an argument with my friend’s dad about the legitimacy of hip hop. This was around four years ago, and even then - in a post-Kanye at Glastonbury world - he still felt that rap in general was a fad. It lacked, he said, the ingenuity and the musicality and the innovation of rock.

Partly this was said to play devil’s advocate, but still his opinion isn’t exactly an unusual one – it remains true that certain sections of society do not consider rap and hip hop as ‘real’ or powerful music when compared to rock. The reaction to some festival line-ups this year has been testament to that. Longitude, a Dublin festival that has always catered to the young pop zeitgeist (eg when I went a couple years back we saw Todd Terje and SBTRKT, and Hozier headlined), has this year announced a weekend full of hip hop, R&B, trap, grime and afrobashment. At the time of writing, the closest thing to a band on the bill is The Internet – but then, when you look at the charts and what pop music consists of in 2018, the lineup makes complete sense. If an artist like Katy Perry wants legitimacy now, she gets one of the Migos to hop on a track.

Even more recently, Reading & Leeds, a festival that has long had a reputation for rock music, revealed Kendrick Lamar as their headliner. Needless to say, for certain people, this has been cause for complaint. Sure, Kendrick might just about be the biggest act on the planet right now, but where are the indie bands for the lads?

Race of course, infuriatingly, plays a part in the perception people still have about artistic legitimacy, but time and time again rap has more than proven its share of rockstars and showmanship and artistry. Kendrick’s DAMN tour, for example, is phenomenal – a show that is outstandingly conceived and narrated; big yet somehow deeply intimate, leaving the audience in awe of Kendrick, the artist. His behemoth Black Panther soundtrack too shows a master at work: its an exquisitely curated showcase of black musical talent that is suitably, well, cinematic and uplifting (and such a great introduction to lesser-known acts like SOB X RBE). It’s an epic that works just as well as a standalone album.

Various - Black Panther:The Album - Music From and Inspired By (TDE / Aftermath)

Whether my friend’s dad is willing to concede all these years later I’m not sure, but the proof is there on those lineups (no matter how begrudging some people remain), in the soldout superstar tours, in the Black Panther OST going straight to number one. Hip hop is here to stay, and - as far as its relation to pop music goes - it is far, far more relevant, instructive, pervasive, and innovative than mainstream rock music in the past five years has bothered to be.

Migos - CULTURE II (Quality Control)

There is some irony in Migos releasing on Quality Control when Culture II is a gluttonous 25-tracks long. It is shameless playing of the streaming game, and it requires serious patience from the listener; it’s quite a contrast with its slick predecessor. There are some huge songs, of course, replete with Migos’ consistently fresh-sounding staccato delivery, and features from Drake, Cardi and Gucci Mane all embellish proceedings. Pharrell’s production on ‘Stir Fry’ takes them to a poppier level, and it is a lot of fun. But for a one hour and 45 minutes album, the pay-off doesn’t feel worth it.

Rejjie Snow - Dear Annie (300)

Dublin rapper Rejjie Snow’s career so far has been a teasing slow-burner. He dropped out of a football scholarship in the States to pursue music, and his 2012 Rejovich EP got him a lot of wide-eyed press – he had a flow like Tyler (albeit with subtle Irish inflections), and incredibly smooth beats. So this debut album has felt a long time coming – and it’s worth very much been worth the wait. While Migos’ near-two hour effort was indulgent at best, the 60 minutes on display here are a joy – chill, uplifting beats (that are much more in keeping with lithe US hip-hop than anything that’s going on in rap this side of the pond), enriching features from Anna Of The North and Aminé, and lyrics that deal with love and emotion in a strikingly candid way. There’s also a wry radio interview that appears to be set over bars by a certain Edgar The Beatmaker. A delightful listen, and Rejjie Snow doing a colourful Republic Of Loose cover is about as Irish as it gets.

Foreign Beggars - 2 2 Karma

The long-awaited seventh album from the UK hip hop trio explodes to life with ‘Flashback’, a track that sounds straight outta 80s Compton, all record scratches and stripped-down beats. The past somehow feels an exciting place to start, and it ramps things up for a distorted but thrilling album. There’s always been a fierce, bold energy to Foreign Beggars, and 2 2 Karma is no exception: in fact, it is perhaps bolder and more ferocious than ever. They’ve selected the perfect array of featured artists - Kate Tempest, Kojey Radical, long-time collaborator Alix Perez, Bangzy, OG Maco, Afronaut Zu and more. Pulsing as always with the UK’s best underground sounds (lots of bass and lots of grime), and lyrics confronting capitalism, this is a dark, twisted, and genuinely gripping listen.

Shirt - PURE BEAUTY (Third Man)

Out on Jack White’s Third Man Records (but don’t let that put you off), this is that label’s first ever hip hop release. Initially, it feels pretty obvious why New York rapper Shirt got this signing for his debut – the first track off PURE BEAUTY, ‘SNOWBEACH’, is replete with a bluesy guitar riff that renders his actual bars a little forgettable. This is seemingly old school, traditionalist stuff (aka he doesn’t use autotune). But as the record goes on, and the production gets more interesting (‘ENERGY’, for example, is exquisitely weird and abrasive), it’s clear Shirt knows how to craft some fascinating moments, and he knows how to spit. It’s just a shame then that the actual lyrics seem to get a bit lost – and when you can hear them, he doesn’t seem to be saying anything all that potent.

Ebenezer - Bad Romantic (Universal)

Sitting on that beautiful bridge between rap and R&B, north London artist Ebenezer’s V-day EP flits between woozy romance and brazen sexuality – opening track ‘South Of France’ manages to deliver “Girl, I need you face down with your ass up / I wanna catch up” like it’s a Shelley sonnet. With bubbling, airy synths and spacious beats underpinning his echoey, autotune ruminations on break-ups and seductions, it’s a sweet insight into perhaps misguided youthful encounters – even if it is endearingly lyrically dubious at times (“I get nostalgia when I’m not around ya” really shouldn’t work, but it definitely does).

Tracks:

Ms Banks - ‘Come Thru’

Ahead of her tape The Coldest Winter Ever, out at the end of March, south Londoner Ms Banks knows how to whet the appetite. With a winding accordion-style riff and killer flow, the MC celebrates black girl magic and confidently living your best life.

Flohio - ‘Bands’ (COLORS Live session)

The cosmic, industrial-style production of south London’s MC Flohio definitely has its roots in grime, but tracks like this live COLORS session banger prove she’s a little more out there. Abrasive in her fast-paced delivery and her squelchy beats, Flohio’s showing she can go hard ahead of an EP later this year.

Cardi B - ‘Bartier Cardi’ ft. 21 Savage (Warner)

This dropped at the end of 2018, but it merits inclusion in case it somehow slipped under your radar. Regardless of your feelings on its lyrical content (some people were irked by how much she references Offset), you cannot deny the sheer impressiveness of Cardi’s powerful, tongue-twisting flow.

Drake - ‘God’s Plan’ (OVO)

Everytime you think Drake cannot possibly get more Drake, he goes and excels himself. The video for ‘God’s Plan’ finds Aubrey giving close to $1 million in donations to people around Miami, and to be honest it’s impossible to be cynical when you see how much joy he is bringing. The song itself also serves as Drake brand consolidation, all breezy music and kind-of-lame-kind-of-lovable sentiments (“She say, ‘Do you love me?’ I tell her, ‘Only partly / I only love my bed and my momma, I'm sorry’”).

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