Son Raw returns to East Village Radio for #BirdsInTheSky this Friday 10PM-12PM. This week’s edition will feature a full hour of vocals and a 130BPM rollage special.
I didn’t want to write one of these for December (I’m busy, damn it) but there’s no rest for the wicked. The past few weeks saw some of the year’s absolute best material drop for public consumption and I’ll be damned if I let it go uncovered.
Rocks FOE – Legion EP
First up. Rocks ‘motherfucking’ FOE. When I heard that Bristol institution Black Acre had signed a Croydon emcee and that he’d be self-producing the debut EP, I thought it would be a smart move. It felt ahead of the curve considering everyone this year was roping in instrumental EPs. The idea sounded good, but I wasn’t prepared for this. Legion is one of the best debuts I’ve heard in ages. It’s a pitch black, perfectly executed opening that avoids trends or one note approaches, displaying Rocks FOE’s sound across four different styles.
Opener “Law” and “Hold that (L)” come the closest to traditional grime with trap drums and 808 claps respectively, but “traditional” doesn’t do them justice. “Law” is a gargantuan banger that sounds like peak-era Ghetto on steroids, and “Hold That’s” got chorus on top of chorus—it’ll stay stuck in your head for ages. “Dismay” is even braver—throwing in a screaming rock hook that has no business working in this context but that somehow sounds great. Closer “Crushed” is Portishead via Wu-Tang by way of double time. It all adds up to a top-notch debut by the rare emcee able to synthesize outside influences (anime, videogames, hip hop, metal) and have it all fit in. Recommended if you like last year’s K9 mixtape, Yeezus‘ production, Future’s industrial side, Flocka X fast rap x Trip Hop, and rappers who grew up listening to GZA.
AJ Tracey – Alex Moran EP
Not to be outdone, AJ Tracey follows up his debut The Front with the Alex Moran EP. The new record is a step up on all levels. But before we talk about the bars (trapping, girls, clothes) and the music (courtesy of Ezro, Zeph Ellis, Jammz, Splurt Diablo and Gamer), let’s speak about the fact that he named this thing after the fictional quarterback on Spike TV’s Blue Mountain State. I didn’t know that show even aired in the UK. Interesting choices in entertainment aside, Alex Moran’s “Spirit Bomb” has been doing damage for a minute, and second solo cut “Naila” is even better with the kid’s bars perfectly matching the chopped up sample flip. The rest of the EP is dedicated to collabs, as Jammz coming through with an outstanding opening verse on “Bare Girls” and YGG’s Saint and Big Zuu completely lace an emotion-heavy string section on “AAA.”
When AJ’s first EP dropped, I noted he emphasized bars over personality. But with a heavier emphasis on smooth talking, brighter beats and hookier choruses, he’s clearly been honing his craft with Alex Moran. He paints a much fuller picture of who he is as an artist, and where he can take things from here. Another great EP.
Cadell – “Hotline 3” & “3 is the New 6”
If you couldn’t tell by the vocal tone, Cadell is Wiley’s brother, and that voice isn’t the only thing he’s got in common with his sibling. He’s carrying on the family legacy of spewing harsh invective against emcees who find themselves in his path. Dropping “Hotline 3” a few weeks ago, he aimed his bars squarely at Stormzy, an emcee who’s risen to the top of grime’s A-list with hip hop inflected rhymes over classic riddims, but who’s also faced opposition by underground heads. It’s not a knock out blow, but the track’s definitely a strong jab and that’s a clash I wouldn’t mind seeing (Lord of the Mics?). Personally, however, the track of his that’s most impressed me is “3 is the New 6,” a frostbitten potential title track from his forthcoming album. The main takeway: Bow’s not Toronto.
Elf Kid – Golden Boy EP
Speaking of clashes, I expected some conflict when Novelist left the Square a few months back, but by all accounts everything’s been handled peacefully and with maturity—which is always nice to see. It’s probably to the crew’s advantage as well, freeing up resources to concentrate on the other talented emcees and producers that make up the collective but that weren’t necessarily seeing as much shine. Faultsz dropped a killer collab with Finn a couple months back, and now it’s Elf Kid’s turn to take center stage with an EP of his own.
“Golden Boy,” which appears in its original soul-sampling version over Lollingo’s beat and with an 8-bit style Hilts remix, marks him as a high energy spitter carrying the torch for Lewisham. This is the kind of anthem made for the underground but with potential to bust out among The Square’s young fanbase. On the flip, Edgem secret-weapon Boylan drops an absolutely monstrous remix to “Gosh,” which was previously a freestyle. Boylan delivers huge drum & bass level sub-frequencies and killer engineering—if you don’t like moshing at grime shows, you may want to leave the room when this one drops.
Capo Lee – Welcome to Clartsville EP
Finally, Capo Lee teamed up with Spooky for a free EP, the brilliantly titled Welcome to Clartsville. Featuring a mix of new beats and previously released edits and remixes, it’s not the kind of grand statement artists hype as their official debuts, but it still serves as a strong intro to Capo the spitter.
If you like your grime uncut and with bar after bar of murkage, this one’s for you. Better yet, the trademark Spooky versions of Drake (“666 God”), Kanye (“Shell on Demand”) and Garage heroes Dem 2 (“No Doe in Your Pocket”) make it all go down smoothly. Personally, it’s that last track that grabbed my attention for its concept: a posse cut about guys and gals who walk into the club without a pence in their pockets (or pockets at all). That’s the kind of smart, funny concept the game needs more of.