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Album Review: Swet Shop Boys – Sufi La EP

 
By on Tuesday, 6th June 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Swet Shop Boys Sufi La album coverThe Swet Shop Boys are transatlantic rappers Riz MC and Heems (ex-Das Racist) and producer Redinho. One part Queens, one part London, Indian-American and British Pakistani, you get my point. In Swet Shop Boys, you have a nice melting pot of influences and cultural heritage in a unique package: artists not afraid to be both political, yet funny in their approach.

Some obligatory background information for you: their debut album ‘Cashmere’, released in 2016, was a breath of much-needed fresh air by approaching a difficult topic. We are living during an exceptional time in our history, where the charged political climate in the West means a different cultural background such as being an Asian Muslim can come with additional baggage. This powerful subject, paired with the sharp vocal delivery of Riz MC, Heem’s laid-back flow, and experimental production from Redinho, makes for a sound that both stands alone and stands for something.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4Yb8AWXgLI[/youtube]

With six all new tracks, latest EP offering is ‘Sufi La’ – the word ‘Sufi’ translates as a Muslim mystic – and yes, it’s good in case you where wondering. ‘Sufi La’ offers a slightly less dissident voice than previous record ‘Cashmere’, instead giving us more of the party, or the partaaaaaay, depending on how you like to get down. Opening track ‘Anthem’ starts with an infectious beat reminiscent of a ‘90s hip-hop party track, but with a slightly more contemporary twist. The track also delivers some seriously witty lyrics; Riz Ahmed may be single-handedly bringing back the word ‘yatty’ (old school London slang for girls) when he proclaims that his ‘Yatty is Paki Onassis’, and goes on to call himself ‘Paki Chan’. The focus on race is still a central theme that hovers around these songs, but this focus doesn’t stray too far from sharp, comedic play on words. Moving on to ‘Thas My Girl’, another up-tempo banger with tongue-in-cheek lyrics: “You know it’s real when you stop watching porn hub”. The contrast in Heems and Riz’s accents can take a moment for the listener to absorb together on the same track, but it’s also this meeting of styles and vocal delivery that makes their sound unique and enables the two to play lyrical back and forth with each other.

‘Birding’ is a charming little number that pays tribute to the Mughal past time of bird watching, while title track ‘Sufi La’ provides a languid, hypnotic vocal looped intro that is soon met with fast drums that conjure up images of the Sufi whirling dervishes of Turkey. The beat pairs well with a vocal delivery from Riz MC that is reminiscent of a UK drum ’n’ bass MC riding the beat. With a similar relentlessly fast tempo hyping up the listener, Riz’s roots in London MC culture to subtly merge into the tune. Final track ‘Need Moor’, seemingly a play on the Muslim North Africans who settled in Spain, has an infectious chorus and plays around with the theme of wanting more, more of everything. It sweeps along at mid-tempo rhythm, carried by some beautiful sitar sounds. In ‘Zombie’, we have a traditional Indian folk-tinged sound paired with almost whispered lyrics addressing the feeling of belonging that has become lost for many in their own country since the UK’s Brexit vote and Trump taking up residence in the White House, “You see the results of the vote though / so where we gonna go bro?” The question hangs in the air, as if waiting for an answer. “If you black or brown, Babylon coming for your head” are the heated words Heems sleepily spits.

‘Sufi La’ offers a strong awareness and commentary of identity, paired with humor and progressive, multicultured sounds. Songs are short and end abruptly, with the longest track clocking in at just over 3 minutes long. But they hang in the air long after they have been played, as do the laughs.

7.5/10

The ‘Sufi La’ EP from Swet Shop Boys is out now via Customs. A limited edition white vinyl of the EP are available now from the band’s official Web site.

 

Album Review: J Hus – Common Sense

 
By on Wednesday, 31st May 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

J Hus Common Taste album coverIt’s been quite a year for J Hus, the young East Londoner. He has made a notable transition from an underground Afrobeat, trap beat artist, mainly heard pumping out of the back seats of London buses, to a Black Butter Records-signed artist who has made one of 2017’s most anticipated UK releases, ‘Common Sense’. J Hus also notably made newspaper headlines when he was stabbed five times in 2015: luckily for us, he survived to tell the tale. His past street life informs much of his music, as does his Gambian heritage and Stratford upbringing. Despite being only 20 years of age, there is a unique melting pot of cultural influences that you would expect from an artist who has lived longer, and it’s this eclectic sound that sets J Hus apart from his peers. Most notably he moves effortlessly back and forth between rapping and singing in his native accent, to his east London twang.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/tsO01Nl5TO4[/youtube]

Title track ‘Common Sense’ opens the album and sets what I can only describe as a pretty euphoric pace, complete with slick production from The Compozers, JAE 5 and Mark Crown. “The money had me riding brutal” Hus tells us on ‘Bouf Daddy’, a toe-tapping track conjuring up a nighttime ride around London with Hus in the driver’s seat. “Find out who you are by the company you keep / as kids we saw things no man should see” are the powerful opening lines to ‘Who You Are’. Now it makes sense how at only 20 J Hus is wiser than his years would suggest. ‘Clartin It Off’ is possibly the most hard-edged track on the album. “Smile of an angel / don’t let that deceive you / sometimes I’m evil”, the track takes us on a tour of Hus’ local hotspots, complete with gunshots and an aggressive letting off of lyrical fire. It’s imposing, threatening and most importantly, real life.

Reality continues to come through in ‘Spirit’, a mellow yet uplifting, anthemic sounding track tackling J Hus’ early days seeing his mother struggle to make ends meet and the hustling lifestyle that ensued. His resilience kept him reaching for more, and the track is nothing short of, well, touching: “Even when we never had a penny we always had spirit”. His tone is emotive and from the heart, while the beat takes the somber lyrics up a notch. With the words “All we hear is sirens and skeng fire / bill a zoot then build and empire”, he calls out to his fellow street soldiers to rise above their circumstances. ‘Leave Me Alone’ slows down the tempo, but with similarly uncompromising lyrics: “It’s like everyday beef with another geezer / they don’t like me I roll with a common squeezer / in the big Benzo with the drug dealer’. It’s a beautifully melancholy listen and shows us the light and dark opposing sides of Hus’s life and personality. There’s poetry to his lyrics that manage to soothe, despite their often violent tones.

This is not to say there aren’t lighter moments on this LP. ‘Closed Doors’ is an ode to the ladies, which J Hus is very good at talking about in his own cheeky way. The laid-back tempo follows suit on ‘Good Luck Charle’ featuring Tanzanian-born artist Tiggs Da Author, whose own distinct style brings a refreshing vocal delivery to the chorus, while Hus raps about the mistrust of others inherent in his life. ‘Good Time’, featuring Burna Boy, is all summer vibes, and other UK rap frontrunners Mo Stack and Mist feature on ‘Fisherman’, adding their individual UK flavors to this track dedicated to Hus’ signature seafaring hat.

The album draws to a close with ‘Friendly’, the track that blew up on the streets way before making to your mum’s Spotify playlist. It has Hus’ trademark cheeky lyrics, and Afrobeat party vibes stamped all over it. “She love a ugly man making pretty money/and I’m an ugly man making sexy money”, raps Hus, whose Instagram username is, after all, ‘uglygram’. Eclectic, original and full of street stories that deserve an airing: that’s what ‘Common Sense’ as a whole is. J Hus is carving out a future for himself and giving a face to countless young Londoners as well as bringing the party just in time for summer. I, for one, salute him.

9.5/10

‘Common Sense’, the debut album from rapper J Hus, is out now via Black Butter Records.

 

Single Review: DJ Shadow (feat. Nas) – Systematic

 
By on Tuesday, 16th May 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

‘Systematic’ is the new release by Californian experimental DJ and producer DJ Shadow, and featuring lyrics from the hip-hop legend that is Nas. Before the record even starts, we are off to a good start and luckily, the track itself doesn’t disappoint.

DJ Shadow’s body of work has musical influence that stretches far and wide having released countless musical productions merging elements of hip-hop, rock, jazz and soul amongst other genres. He released his first full-length album ‘Endtroducing’ in 1998, which was the first ever completely sampled album, and even has a nice spot in The Guinness Word Records to prove it. After a lengthy career that has cemented his place as a pivotal figure in the world of experimental hip-hop, Mr. Shadow returned in 2016 with album ‘The Mountain Will Fall’, his first release for 5 years, which features equally politically charged hip-hop track ‘Nobody Speak’ featuring Run the Jewels. The marriage of experimental sounds and politically-charged rap works well, and Shadow suits the position of the beat master behind the show, the longevity of his career and signature sounds making him a well qualified professor.

Then we have Nas, an urban icon whose musical influence is felt beyond the world of hip-hop, and continues to leave an indelible mark on the culture. Nas’s debut ‘Illmatic’ was another key ‘90s hip-hop release, ground-breaking in the way it fused social commentary and progressive hip-hop beats from the likes of Pete Rock, Q-Tip and DJ Premier. Having both made seminal musical debuts back in ye old days of the ‘90s, new single offering ‘Systematic’ sees the two musical heavyweights come together in this track made for season 4 of the HBO show Silicon Valley.

Neither artist are new to collaborating and its shows on this slick, beat heavy offering. The track has a timeless sound to it, free of any musical trends or record label influence (not surprising, as the track is released on Nas’s own label Mass Appeal) and sounding like an honest expression of what both artists do best. ‘Systematic’ sees Nas bring his steady flow of socially conscious lyrics, which he delivers in a clear and concise way, never short of flow and rhythm. The music and lyrics are a marriage that fit perfectly, in sync and intertwined from the start. “Close your eyes / cover your ears do not listen / try to feel what I’m saying/ to make you feel is my new expression”, the chorus instructs us, and when Nas instructs, you listen. We hear an unknown sampled vocal that states, “Remember the past / cherish the present and work for tomorrow / the time is now’. This addition sounds both important and urgent.

The show explores the politics of those selected by the system to succeed, through the genre of comedy. The track mirrors the show’s theme of exploring a corrupt system, but switches comedy for the medium of music, and urges people to observe and act on a system in turmoil. “The system will defeat itself / never stays in a steady state / it over heats itself / it only feeds itself”, Nas tells us. In a moment in history where politically-charged dissident voices seem more important then ever, ‘Systematic’ is a breath of fresh air that gives exactly what we have come to expect from both artists. It’s also a nice stop-gap to whet our appetites for Nas’ much-anticipated album this year. Time to all come together and have a big old anti-system block party, hosted by Nas and DJ Shadow. Anyone else down?

7/10

‘Systematic’ by DJ Shadow featuring Nas is out now on Mass Appeal Records. The song will also appear the forthcoming ‘Silicon Valley: The Soundtrack’ to be released on the 23rd of June on the same label. To read more of TGTF’s coverage of DJ Shadow, use this link.

 

Single Review/Essay: Loyle Carner – Ain’t Nothing Changed

 
By on Tuesday, 2nd May 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Benjamin Gerard Coyle-Larner, better known by his stage name Loyle Carner, has had quite a year so far. The South London-born hip-hop musician released his debut album ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ in January 2017 to critical acclaim, as well as embarking on a sold out UK and European tour. Musically, Loyle Carner brings an organic, lyrically conscious form of hip-hop we haven’t heard too much of coming out the UK for some time, and often associated with seminal American artists such as Mos Def, De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest.

This is not to say Loyle Carner doesn’t sound intrinsically British, because he does. As soon as the vocal kicks in there is no mistaking that London accent, part of the newfound pride and prominence we have seen in the recent years of UK MCs rapping in their own accents and moving away from adopting a American twang. There is raw emotion and family grief laid bare in his lyrics as he raps over laid-back, often jazz-infused beats provided by DJ, producer and fellow wordsmith Rebel Kleff. There are no 140 bpm beats that the current grime resurgence has flooded the streets with, but mellow head- nodding beats that bring a relaxed, ‘feet up and put the kettle on’ vibe. Loyle Carner tells stories that conjure up inner city images of desperation, personal loss, love and tales of friends whose destiny seems written for them.

Previous single ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’, originally released in 2015, is getting another airing, as is so often the case with artists who are received well beyond initial expectation. The track was re-released last Friday with its original video of an imagined Loyle Carner in his old age muttering the words ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’ as he sips he tea, cooks and watches football. The stand out part of this composition is the mellow, jazz-tinged saxophone that runs though out the track, providing a melancholy that perfectly fits the lyrics of the repetitive circle life appears to move in around him. “I feel it but can’t conceal it see, this inner city responsibility’s killing me”. On this track, Loyle observes his environment, takes it in and spits it out through his sleepy, yet anything but tired bars. The track manages to breathe new life into UK hip-hop, while talking about a gloomy sense of life feeling stagnant: not an easy feat, but it works beautifully.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5toq05ctFk[/youtube]

On this track, and indeed on album ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ as a whole, we hear a style free of any overly started masculine bravado that so many in the rap community seem to have built into the their fibre. Instead, when listening to Carner, we hear a vulnerability almost impossible for the listener to ignore. You get the sense that putting words to music is nothing but vital to Carner, an indispensable outlet that carries him though life. When we hear him rap on 2015 single release ‘BFG’; “Everyone says I’m fucking sad, of course I’m fucking sad I miss my fucking dad”, we get a sense of a young man who needs to air his emotions and is able to do so in a pure and honest way that attracts the sort of fanbase that Loyle has, ‘Loyal’ being the keyword. His last single release ‘The Isle of Arran’ exemplifies this personal tone in the powerful opening lines, “Know that I’ve been grieving, know that I’ve been holding out hoping to receive him, I’ve been holding out for G and he was nowhere to be seen when I was bleeding”. These are the words of a man who is willing to bear all and more, in this tale of young fatherhood, masculinity and personal memories of his granddad, moving the absent father stereotype around and showing a side of young fatherhood not so often portrayed.

With a string of new UK tour dates just announced throughout September and October, 2017 looks set to be an active year for the young hip-hop maestro. In an exciting time for UK urban music, Loyle Carner brings something unique and lyrically brave while drawing inspiration from the established traditions within hip-hop. And I, for one, feel better off for it.

7.5/10

‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’ is available now from AMF Records.

 
 
 

About Us

There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

All MP3s are posted with the permission of the artists or their representatives and are for sampling only. Like the music? Buy it.

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