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

Monday, 1 May 2017

Album Review: Werd - God Save the Public

We've covered Edinburgh emcee Werd many times on SSU over the years. Each of his records have sounded distinct in their own unique way. However, our reviewer Stephen Butchard isn't overly enamoured with Werd's latest record 'God Save the Public'.

Werd - God Save the PublicBuy/Listen Here

A disclaimer: this review is going to feature a lot of comparisons to US emcees. I’m sorry - comparisons can be really lazy in music reviews. Anyone can say that an indie band sounds a bit like the Strokes, or that a beat sounds ‘Pharrell-influenced’. In the case of Scottish rap, contrasts to the genre’s lineage are all too easy. With a movement that’s still relatively untapped by major music writing, it’s tempting to compare a Scottish MC to their American or English equivalents as shorthand. 

But Scottish rap deserves better. It’s a scene that’s matured to the point that calling it ‘grime up north’ isn’t going to cut it. These varied voices have enough to say on their own, and deserve to be looked at on their own merits. Half-hearted rapper comparisons don’t work. Most of the time. Werd’s ‘God Save the Public’ is not one of those times. Werd has been rapping, battling and creating for over a decade, without ever losing his energy, momentum or ambition. From his early mixtapes all the way through to this, his third full-length, he’s been an artist at the very heart of the Scottish rap scene, using his music as a love-letter to those around him.

‘God Save the Public’ is his most complete work yet, forming a deeply personal narrative about depression, politics, local people, and the identity crisis he’s currently facing after eleven years in music. This crisis leads in many different emotional directions at once. On ‘Pretending’, he’s finding healing through rap (“So we mask it with rap, Difference is, no masks when we rap…”) on the very next song, he’s blaming this very music for his problems: “…what a waste of time, putting rhymes to tracks / I could’ve had a degree and went to uni with that / I could’ve at least been me, not labelled a chav / and maybe met a normal girl who wasn’t a scene slag.”

Werd can string a narrative together, but unfortunately, the listener never gets a sense of who he is. Instead, the album can feel like an amalgamation of rap tropes done better elsewhere. The tortured artist narrative has been a hip-hop staple for years, but this album feels like a whinier Hopsin-variant than it does a disturbing Danny Brown take (there’s the comparisons I was talking about!). The album’s main flaw is that it spends so much time looking for an identity in its influences that it comes out without knowing what it is. Werd strains his voice with awkward ‘yo’ ad-libs at the start of BASE God and God Save the Public, forcing Americanisms that grate in his Leith accent. His wordplay is frequently forceful, but when wrapped in such unsure delivery, it misses its impact more than a few times.

The beats from Darko Strauss are just as hit-or-miss. The dramatic guitar/piano whirlpool of Personal Nonsense matches Werd’s downtrodden verses well, and the barebones drums on Nightmare soak up all the grit of Wardie Burns’s barked guest spot. The sour synths on I Am (Watching Adverts) are as desolate and depressive as Werd’s bars, while what sounds like a Killer Mike beat blares out of another room. Some other moments sound cheap rather than grimy. The stabbing pianos on Extremist sound a bit like a Nickelodeon Halloween special, with many key sounds dull and buried in the mix.

The debt to American underground rap is apparent throughout. On Rather A Log Cabin, Werd manages to butcher Nina Simone with a weak sung chorus (an unfortunate constant throughout the album) while also evoking Flatbush Zombies with an overly familiar verse structure. Time and time again, it’s Werd’s staged delivery that dampens the record. If you can stomach the overdone rap tropes, you might enjoy this album more than I did. But for now, there’s a feeling that Werd needs to find his own identity if he’s going to write more compelling hip-hop.

Do you agree with Stephen? Or did you enjoy it? Make your own mind up:

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Soundcloud Goodies: Feat Gasp, Kid Robotik, SWVN, EVIL and Ill Dando

Soundcloud Goodies is back - some of the SSU team give their thoughts on the month's new Scottish hip hop tracks or at least the ones uploaded to Soundcloud (other audio distribution platforms are available yadda yadda). 

Jonny: I thought Gasp's last project was a return to form so I've been following his stuff closely. But a couple of things let this new track down for me: the production is too busy for my liking with those tinny hi-hats way too pronounced in the mix; and I find the double tracked vocals distracting too due to the shift in pitch. I think the attempt is to evoke intoxication - something he did well on his last project - but I think there's too much going on for it to work. 

That said, Gasp's own performance is impressive as always. I actually got an old-school Eminem vibe from this one. His lyrics are raw and honest but the syllabics are complex are delivered energetically.

Hannah: An eerie and effective track from Gasp here. The production compliments the subject matter well and gives a good platform to him spitting some really honest material. His often urgent delivery creates a real tension which holds your attention. I found this one more interesting each time I went back to it - plenty to sink your teeth into lyrically. 

Jonny: Kid Robotik is increasingly one of my favourite hip hop producers in Scotland. He makes the types of beats I like: simple but creative, usually revolved around a single motif, which is then seamlessly meshed with whatever style he's going for. In this case, a Chinese folk sample (I assume) skips over a beefy trap rhythm.

Hannah: I wanted to really like this because the concept is cool, but it fell a bit flat for me. Sonic space can be great, but in this case its execution wasn't particularly effective. It results in a track which sounds more like an idea waiting to be fleshed out. But I would to hear someone rap over the grimier sections. 

Jonny: Zayn Grieve used to be known as Nekswan - and we gave him some positive recent reviews here on SSU. I'm not entirely sure when the change in moniker came about but it seems to coincide with a shift in approach. Lyrically, he sounds less focused than on previous material (most bars here just seem to be about hyping himself up) but that doesn't seem to be the point. 

Mantra is all about aesthetic and it works. The production, which is entirely original as far as I know, is excellent. It takes elements from both cloudy and trappy styles from the US. And SWVN sounds really at home on the beat - his flow's improved and his vocal pitch is perfect for the mood of the track.

Hannah: This sick. I'll be returning to it for sure. The beat sounds great with just enough going on. His flow is also superb and the way it combines with the bass on this makes for a real head-nodder. He's really using those bars to paint pictures.

Jonny: If there's one thing I would criticise EVIL for it's that his flow is so impeccable and on point he ends up forcing it sometimes (sorry Findlay, but nobody says pagan as pay-gan). That aside, Talk of the Time is a good summation of what he does best. The rhymes are slick and well-crafted and he rides a beat well. Judging from the response to his battles lately, I feel like some people wouldn't be happy unless he changed style entirely. I think he needs to just stick to his guns and get rid of forced syllabics and cheesy wordplay. Other than that, he's golden.

Hannah: I think this is a fun wee ditty. Its tongue-in-cheek swagger isn't lost on me, even if some of the lyrics do get a bit corny at times. It's one for fans of comedy-bravado and tracks that get stuck in your head for three hours.


Jonny: Judging from this, the upcoming Ill Dando album is shaping up to be pretty interesting. The lyrics about getting 'blazed' in a 'green haze' aren't the most original, but I don't have a problem with weed tracks if they're creative or interesting. He sounds hungry from the off here anyway, which I rate.

Hannah: This is a decent effort, although much of its appeal comes from the production. His delivery is good but more varied flows could have turned the track into something more dynamics. It just feels like it isn't as ambitious as it could have been. Sweet Life's a Bitch (Nas) sample, though.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Album Review: Daryl Donald - Solitude

We were blessed with some incredible tapes from Scottish beatmakers last year. 2017 looks to be no different. Hannah Westwater reviews Edinburgh producer Daryl Donald's 'Solitude', his first full solo length album.

Daryl Donald - SolitudeBuy/listen here 

'Solitude' is an instrumental venture into a realm of laid-back jazz, hip hop and neo-soul, and it hits all the right spots. From the get go, Daryl Donald forges warm soundscapes thick with the sounds of wandering keys and erratic basslines over straightforward drum tracks.

Well catered to fans of J Dilla or some of MF Doom's smoother stylings, the project is primarily delicate and understated. Donald has already mastered the art of sonic layering without any of his sounds becoming too busy. 

On 'Solitude' he cultivates a dream-like quality which is polished but never without substance. Keys, strings, guitars, horns, and more overtly digital features all frequently feature and only contribute to the album's fluidity.

Despite its February release, the record sounds like a hazy summer evening spent with the windows open. Draped is particularly addictive, with silky keys dripping over the boom bap beat. Like several other tracks on the album it closes with a dramatic shift to something a little moodier and more jazz-based. Elsewhere, the darkly executed title track is even lower in tempo, occupying a greater level of sonic space.

The album’s only real downfall lies in track length, and even so it feels like little more than nitpicking. Most tracks come in somewhere around the 2 minute mark, meaning Donald can run the risk of presenting us with previews rather than fully-realised concepts. This is especially true on tracks like Night Games which see a modular shift towards the end, rendering the original beat even shorter – but the tracks flow so well that the impact of this is pretty minimal.

While 'Solitude' is often dominated by more soulful and jazz-fuelled flavours, its hip hop influences are laced throughout – most obviously so in Donald’s restrained but effective use of vocal samples, which read like a who’s-who of the genre. The final third of Smoke Signals sees the track mutate into an even more low key, almost r&b-tinged resolve, bodied by a short excerpt from Nas’ Surviving the Times. 

Later on the album, De La Soul makes an appearance on Crown through an Itzsoweezee sample layered over shadowy dissonance, sounding not at all out of place next to a clear-cut rock beat. There’s an element of introspection and self-awareness to the project, well exemplified by a sample of Todd Rundgren’s 1972 intro stacked at the front of After Malevich – notably also sampled by Madlib.

While these cuts tellingly demonstrate how well an emcee would fare over Donald’s production (see 'The Clockwork LP', his collab with Cutta Chase, for more of this and some harder beats), his work is strong enough as standalone material. Simultaneously intimate and detached, 'Solitude' blows a warm breath into the chilled out, dreamy vibe embodied by its title.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Battle Rap Resume Podcast: Don't Flop Scotland Recap

SSU Editor Jonathan Rimmer chatted to Tom Kwei on the excellent Battle Rap Resume podcast about Saturday's Don't Flop Scotland event. 

Subscribe to the podcast YouTube, iTunes, Podbean or by various other means.  

Click here for links to more hip hop comment from Jonny.