Son Raw will delete your Starbucks app.
The weather’s getting cold, the days are getting shorter and that’s the perfect climate for the underground scene to start delivering A-material after a relatively quiet summer. This month, we’ve got the tune of the year, a cinematic EP full of experimental abstractions, some top instrumental bangers, and a new EP from one of London’s finest up and coming emcees.
Sir Spyro ft Teddy Bruckshot, Lady Chann, Killa P – “Topper Top”
First, Sir Spyro, host of Rinse FM’s Grime Show and quite possibly the most trusted name in the genre, comes through with the year’s absolute biggest anthem in “Topper Top.” The track has been causing absolute riots on dub for over a year now, but it’s finally seeing an official release on dubstep institution Deep Medi, a fitting home considering it blurs the lines between grime’s fleet footed emceeing and dubstep’s jet-black ragga.
Spyro’s one of those producers who knows less is more, peppering his drums and bass with the occasional spaghetti western guitar and gunshots but otherwise lets Teddy Bruckshot’s (aka Stormin! Who knew?) trash compactor growl carry the tune with assists from the always deadly Lady Chann and Killa P (of Skeng fame). In a year where grime emcees kept an eye on the crossover, this one fits in perfectly in London’s long line of underground dance anthems, no pop-approval needed.
Boxed’s label-arm’s mission statement serves it well: four tunes per release, with one pick per resident. With their third release, we’re starting to see a real catalogue coming together, something like a contemporary answer to the infamous Zodiac series but for multi-artist plates, and as usual there are some absolute bangers here. JT The Goon’s “Flux Capacitor” is my personal pick, a huge skronking orchestral maneuver that out EDMs EDM and a track that’s been a key inclusion in Oil Gang sets for over a year now.
On the opposite end of the record, Mr Mitch’s “Friend of Mine” mines an emotionally potent R&B sample and hyper-speed hi-hats, keeping with his more abstract material but formatting things for club play. As.If.Kid and Sir Pixalot round out the picture with two non-nonsense bangers full of pulse X blasts, “heys,” and frosty squarewaves. Another must-own for DJs and a good place to familiarize yourself with where the sounds going if you’re not playing it out.
Sir Pixalot – War Time EP
Speaking of Sir Pixalot, his War Time EP for Spooky’s Ghost house label is his best work yet. The title track is exactly what it says on the tin: weaponized music meant to slay the competition via means of hectic drum programming, bass blasts and sound clash samples, but what sets the tune (and all of Pixalot’s stuff, honestly) apart from the glut is that earworm lead synth, sounding like the melody from your favorite NES action adventure. “Ramp,” another stand out, leans on that sort of idea even more heavily (not that I’m complaining), while “Peru” adds another chapter to his on-going series of South-American themed tracks. Big release.
Strict Face – Rain Cuts
On the weird and woozy side of things, Strict Face returns with his most high profile EP yet, this time for Bristol’s Blacklink Sound. Rain Cuts is about as far removed from dance floor devastation as releases get, operating as a suite of meditative pieces that recall Timbaland’s Asia-inflected material crossed with the soundtrack of a particularly expansive JRPG. Smartly, rather than shoehorning home-listening material into a club format, there’s plenty of care taken to presentation here, from the artwork to the field recordings linking the various tracks to combine them into a release greater than the sum of its parts. But with tracks like “White Rover” in the mix, the parts add up to a pretty good sum anyways. Slyly getting closer to an album length project, eh Strict Face?
Jammz – Warrior EP
Finally, this one’s forthcoming but worth writing about all the same. Jammz is back with his strongest material yet. Making his name off countless radio appearances and earning a fair bit of press as part of grime’s “new wave” last year (an association he’s defiantly denounced, sorry Jammz), Warrior is a leap forward in defining him as an artist, situating his sound as dark and critical without falling prey to “political rap” tropes.
To be sure, he’s got a lot on his mind: Teresa May’s awful policies, Starbucks taking over the ends, the state of London music and strawman haters, but it’s the synthesis between these concerns and the music that take the release over the top. Whether reworking Scott Garcia’s classic “It’s a London Ting,” teaming up with P-Money to vent over chipmunk trap, or spitting over little more than bass gurgles on the title track, this is the darkest Jammz has gotten. When it comes to emceeing, be it UK or American, the differentiator between good and great often comes to an artist’s ability to marry emotion to technique and here, Jammz hits a bullseye. Cop it November 10th.