Monday, 26 June 2017

Multimedia Report: Break Even Showcase @ Flying Duck June 21

Photo: Adam Cheshire
One key issue for Glasgow-based emcees over the years has been the lack of regular and accessible hip hop nights. Rap-focused nights geared towards newcomers tend to be held sporadically and there's a lack of opportunities for artists to showcase their skills.

However, Extra Seconds Events' Johnny Cypher has secured a bi-monthly spot for hip hop at The Flying Duck. The first event on Wednesday featured a variety of well-known acts, such as T3xtur3 and Ill Papa Giraffe.

But most notable was the fluidity of the acts on display. Johnny Cypher, himself a poet and rapper with Futurology, booked a diverse range of acts, even bringing together emcees and spoken word acts for an open-mic midway through the night.

SSU's Jonathan Rimmer put together a short mobile package on the night and chat to Cypher about the new project. 

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Album Review: Togo Fam - The Family Album

Representing the exciting Glasgow label Subfriction Records, Togo Fam is a new crew featuring a mix of veterans and up-and-comers. Editor Jonathan Rimmer reviews their debut record. (Side note: all revenue from the album is being donated to Drumchapel Food Bank).

Togo Fam - The Family Album
Buy/Listen Here

Crew albums aren't common in Scottish hip hop. Veterans in the scene will tell you it can be hard enough getting a couple of emcees to link up for verses, let alone several for a full length project. But, as their name suggests, Glasgow collective Togo Fam are a tight knit bunch with a unified sense of purpose. 

However, there's immediately a lot to get your head around. The crew is composed of seven members (or nine if you go by their updated Facebook page), variously described as rappers, producers and designers. There's a mix of experience in the form of Nity Gritz and names SSU is less familiar with such as Woze.

The album is 87 minutes long at 29 tracks, with multiple skits and styles on show. On top of that, there are feature verse from Physiks, Ciaran Mac and others. Considering the number of heads in the group, you'd think they'd have a good editor.

That said, they make use of the running time reasonably well. With crews this size it's easy for individual rappers to get lost amidst the web of similar accents and flows, but Togo Fam are discerning in how verses are distributed across the album. Each emcee has a moment to shine, adding colour and personality to each cut.

For example, slick rhymer Big Shamu puts a marker down by steamrollering his way through early album highlight Heads Up. RDS accomplishes something similar on the track Charles Manson with his distinctive stream of multisyllabics. Combinations are important too: Kid Robotik's aggression and Orry Caren's more consciously monotone delivery make for a brilliant contrast on Prestige.

Production-wise, it's harder to work out who to credit for what, but there is a clear split on the album between traditional piano-based boom bap loops and more trap-influenced beats. In principle there's nothing wrong with this, especially considering the sheer length of this LP, but the sequencing just feels off.

In fact, the latter style isn't introduced until tracks eight and eleven (Zonin and Hatin), catching the listener off guard with tinny hi-hats and dramatic sub-bass. The emcees at least adjust accordingly, with Kid Robotik particularly adept at switching to a double time flow. But they're still unnecessary detours that would have fitted in more comfortably on a separate project.

That's not to say the crew's more experimental moments aren't successful. Sampling dubstep legend Burial is considered heresy by some, but the track Movin pulls it off well. Too Many is another standout as guest emcees Spee 69 and Upfront spit venomously over syncopated brass, bringing back the album's momentum as it starts to drift.

And there clearly are moments when 'The Family Album' does drift, partly because the crew are keen to pack as much into the record as they possibly can. Togo Fam's boundless creativity make that easy to forgive, especially considering the level of competency in the rhymes department. They could have trimmed more fat, but this is still a remarkably impressive showing.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Live Review: Temple of Hip Hop Sessions @ Box, Glasgow, June 9

Photos: Laura Docherty
DJ and producer Steg G is a monumental figure in the Scottish hip hop scene. Not only does he invest time running workshops across the city, but he is also one of the only people to actively promote local talent via his weekly Temple of Hip Hop show on Sunny Govan Radio. 

It's therefore unsurprising that respected names would travel from across the country to perform at a free fundraising event for the station, which also operates as a charity for young and vulnerable people. 
Although it's a humid summer night, a mix of hip hop heads and passing locals pack out the clammy Box pub on Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street. 

Opening act K9 Kev & Rory O'B travel all the way from Oban to play alongside Steg, who serves as DJ for each of the five acts performing tonight. Fresh off a heroic festival performance, they seem a tad ill suited to the more intimate setting. Their folk-influenced beats fail to cut through the venue's poor acoustics, but they make up for it with a mix of self-effacing humour and geeky charm.

Local emcee Empress might be the least experienced rapper on the bill, but she possesses a confidence and natural delivery that makes her set one of the highlights. She's slightly limited by the fact she primarily raps over 90s boom bap instrumentals from classic Wu-Tang Clan and Big Pun tracks. 

However, she has such a strong flow and grasp of how to construct rhyme schemes it doesn't overly matter. In a scene where women are underrepresented and misogyny is still prevalent, it's refreshing to see her boss the stage with consummate ease.

Edinburgh-based Conscious Route knows how to make his presence known, too. After steamrollering through a selection of his 'Conscious' material, he slots on a luchador mask for his other persona Stutter Jack. Think an English MF Doom with a taste for reggae and you're on the right path.

But it's hometown veteran Loki who makes the biggest impact. As he takes to the stage there's an observable difference, and the crowd are transfixed by his absorbing social narratives – at least until he snaps them out of it with a trademark political rant.

Regardless, he brings clarity, experience and a selection of beats that just places him a cut above his peers. The majority of tracks he performs are mostly from his lyrically dense new album 'Trigger Warning', but raps them fluidly as his older material.

Despite officially launching his new record 'What is Happiness?', headliner Wee D's casual demeanour suggests he's about as inebriated as half the crowd at this point. He causes a mini-ruckus, going 'taps aff' by the climax of his set and inviting the crowd on stage.   

There's also a serious side, though. Many of the tracks from the album deal directly with mental health, which he communicates through stories rather than preachy messaging. Dedicating one piano-laden track to 'the fathers in the room', he keeps the room on side and ends the night in a surprisingly touching manner.

In fact, given the diversity on show, positivity and community spirit are about all the the five billed acts have in common. For all hip hop can be portrayed as overly confrontational, it has the potential to make for an incredibly unifying spectacle  especially when Steg G is involved.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Interview: K9 Kev & Rory O'B chat ahead of their slot at Oban Live Festival

Photo: Ross Case

Hip hop has always been identified as an urban art form and culture, from New York to London to Glasgow. Most people would struggle to name a single emcee from a rural area and the only renowned ‘folk rap’ artists tend to be parodies.

Unsurprisingly, then, Oban duo K9 Kev & Rory O’B’s acoustic hip hop tracks are packed with tongue-in-cheek comedy and trivial anecdotes from growing up. But what’s refreshing is the sense of pride they attach to their heritage.

Their debut EP ‘Vocal Heroes’, which dropped last week, features local songwriters, traditional instrumentation and shameless singalong melodies. Over 100 people attended the album’s launch night, which raised £760 for three local charities.

This weekend, they’re set to play in front of their biggest crowd yet after winning a public vote to play on the main stage at Oban Live Festival. It’s an achievement Kev (aka Kevin Irvine) has been fantasising about since he started rapping at the age of 15.

He says: “It’s always been a dream to play at Mossfield Stadium, which is only the corner from my house. I always thought it’d be one of those things where I’d have to be number one in the charts to play a venue like that.

“We’ve done it on our terms. We’re not just another traditional band  - we’re the wildcard. No one expects us to play an event like this.”

Kev and Rory certainly stand out on a card packed with ceilidh and folk acts like Skipinnish and Skerryvore. But the pair, who’ve been playing pub gigs and open mic nights in the town for years, have more than earned their spot.

Their opportunity arose when a friend on Facebook set up a group urging organisers to include the rappers in the line-up. When the festival co-organised a competition for unsigned acts, they suddenly became frontrunners.

Rory (aka Rory O’Byrne) says: “We were whittled down to the final three and won over 850 votes or something. We only won by, like, 24 votes. It was unexpected but we were over the moon.

“I think a lot of people voted us because they wanted to mix it up a bit. They wanted something a bit different. It’s a big thing for grassroots music in the area. I think it’ll open up new doors, too.”

Kev adds: “I think I personally asked everyone I knew to vote. It was a very beggy campaign but we got there. We were really keen to provide an alternative.

"The trad scene is big in Oban and some of it is great, don’t get me wrong. But I think it’s a great inspiration if you’re a wee guy from a small place like Oban making beats in your room or whatever.”

Rory and Kev typically perform live with a DJ like most hip hop acts, but this weekend they’ll be mixing it up with a full backing band featuring local musicians.

They also promise a few other surprises, but attendees can get acquainted with the songs ahead of the festival by downloading the EP here.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

EP Review: DÜST - Everything Is Dust

Grunge-rap might sound like an unwieldy proposition to some. But if anyone can pull it off then it's a band featuring the talents of slam poet/emcee Texture, celebrated producer Asthmatic Astronaut and drummer Ben Tokamak. Hannah Westwater reviews their debut EP.

DÜST - Everything Is Dust 
Buy/Listen here

The best releases are the ones that seem like they were created out of necessity. Expression above ego and thoughts which just had to go somewhere. Music which pushes a message to the foreground, not the other way round. I mean, what’s rap if you haven’t got anything to say?

On 'Everything is Dust', that’s what’s most striking. It’s a lyrically dense protest layered over boom bap beats and razor sharp synths. It's quite dystopian, both sonically and in subject matter and heavy on imagery. But it's still on-the-nose, lamenting the ‘inadequacy of politics to address inequalities’. Word.

There’s a harmonic dissonance threaded throughout which just seems to reflect how Texture feels as he observes the world around him with detail. It would be easy to edge beyond the line of accessibility, but thankfully the EP steers clear of such a pitfall. This is largely due to Texture’s seriously convincing delivery – perhaps not surprising from a former Scottish Slam Poetry champion, but you're left with no doubt that he means what he says. 

These tracks benefit from the vocals appearing high up in the mix, which is no slight on the production but a result of them being the most gripping element of what’s on offer. Texture even sings the odd part, and he happily pulls it off with soft melodies fitting in snugly beside verses which drip disillusion. 

The EP opens with an instrumental track, which might be a bold choice for such a short release but certainly sets the scene. It's a symbol of what's to come production-wise: dark electronic rhythms, which are deliberately repetitive in a way that's reminiscent of House music. Repetition is fine, but this release might just run the risk of moving beyond cohesion to the point of being a little samey. With that said, this isn't a full release, and its effectiveness can’t be denied when taken as a snapshot of angsty realism.

The inclusion of a live track - Charlie Don’t Surf, which ties with One Piece as the EP's stand out -  seems a little unnecessary given it doesn’t sound markedly different from the studio version. It does, however, demonstrate the consistency of Texture’s delivery, clear and brimming with conviction. 

This isn’t an EP to reach for if you’re looking for chirpy hooks or an easy listen. It demands attention, with even its more tongue-in-cheek moments thick with resentment for the institutional injustices surrounding us. Yet It’s one that will stick with you – and isn’t that the point? – while the Düst trio continue on as ‘sick realists still existing even though [they’re] on the endangered species list’.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Fresh Cuts Episode 4 - BBC The Social

On the latest episode of Fresh Cuts over at BBC The Social, SSU editor Jonny breaks down Scotland's battle rap scene for the uninitiated. Battlers in the video include Q-Riot and Jr the Juggernaut. All shots are taken from the Don't Flop Scotland event in January, where Soul battled Real Deal and Respek BA battled Tony. You can watch all the DF Scotland battles on the Don't Flop YouTube channel.

For more information on BBC The Social go here