Sunday, 12 October 2014

REVIEW: Loki With Becci Wallace - G.I.M.P. - Government Issue Music Protest

Stream: Listen here for free on KILTR

Before I get into this review, it is perhaps useful to read my review/exclusive on Loki's precursor project to this one. Loki himself gives a lengthy mission statement on G.I.M.P., one that'll save me tedious paragraphs on what his intentions were for this record. Those of you that follow the Glaswegian, who is an emcee, activist and journalist, will be more than aware of his reputation for being hugely self-critical of his own work. So in that spirit, I decided to wait until after the referendum result to give my own review of this album.

Don't get me wrong, that may come across as a little fastidious since the best art should stand the test of time. However, given my own personal prejudices and views on the referendum, part of me was reluctant to commentate on a dystopian post-no future when my first listen was only a few days before the big result.

Quite naturally, listening to this album now after the result sparks a different reaction. Scotland voted no to independence, but Glasgow voted yes, and it is "New Glasgow" that provides the setting for Loki's somewhat severe vision of what Scotland could be in twenty years. Regardless of the real life result though, the album sparks an energy and motivational anger in the listener throughout. I mentioned the similarly named Lowkey's Soundtrack to the Struggle in my previous review, an overtly political album that struck a chord with a couple of years ago. Even with this album's futuristic concept, this album feels just as current as the aforementioned Lowkey record.

Both albums are combative yet inspirational works that seem intent on inspiring a generation. Rather than take on the role of moral arbiter however (something Lowkey had a habit of doing), Loki writes through a narrative style that encounters different attitudes/characters along the way. Though it is my personal opinion that 75 minutes is almost always too long for any music release (40-50 mins give more replay value), the tracks are designed in a way that you can pick and choose which aspect of the character you want to engage with.

That is not to say that the project isn't cohesive. Though the album sometimes deviates from the brilliantly apocalyptic tone set by the opening two tracks ('The End' and the title track), Loki makes use of a (mostly) English newscaster to tie the whole narrative together. Her frequent contextual information even comes across as comical at times, but maybe that's just me speaking with a Scottish sense of humour. Loki does make use of humour throughout though, with tracks like 'The Unimportance of Being Idle' parodying class divide by using "simple facts" to combat rhetoric.
Musically, this might also be Loki's strongest and most focused LP yet, especially considering the diversity in who he works with behind the boards. Several of the beats here ('Shut Up and Drive', 'The Ghost of Sage Francis', 'Best Friends') make use of strings or piano loops to convey a sense of reflection on Loki's more incisive societal observations. Other tunes ('Revo Max', 'The End', 'Porno') are frantic, heavy and more intense than we're perhaps used to hearing, but they give platform for him to showcase his ever-impressive rapping abilities. And Loki is still in a stylistic lane of his own when it comes to Scottish rap. For an album of such proportions, you could be forgiven for expecting pseudo-intellectualism and moralising. Instead, Loki sounds emotionally affected at points ('Friends Like You','Best Friends', 'The Ghost...'), and the vocal inflections and agitated flows he uses hammer this home. 

Maybe all that was to be expected, but Loki Okay, so G.I.M.P. is long, long-winded and it takes a long time to even digest. I am nevertheless proud that such a concept was attempted and well-executed by a Scottish MC. Maybe that is an attitude that has been in itself informed by feeling marginalised, a sentiment that Loki frequently addresses here, but this is still one of the best hip hop LP's I've heard from anywhere this year. To hear it in full, you need to go pre-order it here.

At this point I should also shout out the talented Becci Wallace who adds a lot of depth to what Loki does - please keep working together guys! 

Monday, 15 September 2014

Battle Round-Up (KG & Bristo)

"Seen In Bristo Square", Humans of Edinburgh
Given the latest mainstream exposure that has been given to the likes of Stanley Odd and Loki, interest in Scottish hip hop is at an all time high. Whilst this might not always be reflected in album or live show ticket sales, it has nevertheless seen a surge of media interest from the likes of NME, Vice and even the viral facebook page Humans of Edinburgh. 

Meanwhile, battle rap is slowly developing into a beast of its own. The success of Don't Flop has inspired not only a higher level of production, but also a new generation of battlers. With the old guard of Kayce One, Depths and Respek BA seemingly moved on, there is now a regular set of heads that tend to perform at every event (in addition to Jailz the "battle whore").   

Though videos are still forthcoming, both the Kelvingrove and Bristo battle events proved interesting for several reasons (SPOILERS):

Chad and Subz gather the arriving KG crowd, Crown Sound
Apparently we still love mum jokes

Okay, so outdoor events always result in a particular kind of atmosphere. The drinks are flowing and crowd control can be lacking, but this has its upsides too. Being heckled might be annoying but unforgiving outdoor crowds also encourage performance. If you can make a group of passers by laugh, then they're more likely to engage with the battles as a whole.

I'm the first person to admit that I prefer to see good penmanship over everything else, but certain battles illustrate that it doesn't work in every context. Take Zee, for example: his latest performances on DF and Breaking Bars demonstrate his ability to write and perform, but an off-colour performance at Bristo showed that bars only get you so far. EVIL (see top) might inject a lot of humour into his writing, including infamous mum jokes, but he was by the far most convincing all-round performer at both events. 

Freestyle only gets you so far

Back in the Jumpoff era, the ability to freestyle was a necessity in a battle. In the written era, it is utilised sparingly and can make or break a whole round. Against a round of strong writtens, however, you'll almost always lose. Zebs, fresh off of his best performance v Lex Lethal in Glasgow, learned to his peril against JR the Juggernaut. A special shout out has to go to JR at this point, whose stock has rose massively following his showing v Zee, and a further win against Deadsoundz' Steve-ET. 

JR the Juggernaut, Humans of Edinburgh
Scotland's best can compete

Okay, that's quite a cheesy title. Of course we can fucking 'compete', but since I started penning articles for the Don't Flop website, I have noticed a certain snobbery from down south. Perhaps the insular nature of our scene doesn't help, but the likes of Wee D, JR, EVIL and Number 13 all performed to a high standard at these event, and most of those guys aren't bigger crowd drawers in the way that Louie, Soul or Loki are. As battle rap evolves into its own entity, it leads me to wonder how far Scottish battlers can really go without a consistent channel or audience. My SSU compadre Misterman recently performed in a league in the midlands, whilst Zee (and originally Q-Riot) were asked to travel 400 miles south to perform for free. Consider this an opening to discussion - if we throw battle events, how can we maximise battle promotion and capitalise on its increasing popularity? After all, we definitely have the talent. 

Battles will be posted as they are released. Myself and Leo were shooting the Bristo event and I know he's got a lot on his plate. University/work/life has also put the blog on the backburner again but there will be a review of Loki's GIMP over the coming weeks (and a few other reviews it looks like!). Jonny.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Cauld Cauldron - It's No Secret If Three Know It

Thursday, 14 August 2014

New: SOS Preview Track From Next Release.

New S.O.S. Release Coming Soon.
'The Over-Stand' by Werd, Wardie Burns, Conscious Route, Blasfima Sinna, Jordan Butler, Deeko. Beat by DJ Anemate. Taken from the upcoming release on Sons of Scotland (SOS).

Join SOS on Facebook here:

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

REVIEW/EXCLUSIVE: Loki - GIMP/Kill Your Darlings LP

Government Issue Music Protest (Exclusive)

Loki is finally close to releasing Government Issue Music Protest (GIMP), an album that may well be seen as his seminal work. The album looks set to tackle today's political issues (notably the referendum), albeit as an artistic commentary that conveys its message through characters, relationships and metaphors. The dystopian track 'Tommy Sheridan Dead' already gave us a snippet into Loki's dark vision of what Scotland would be like in the event of a no vote. As well as releasing a  precursor LP Kill Your Darlings (review below), made up of tracks that haven't made the final cut for GIMP, Loki gave me some insight into what to expect:

The main thing I want people to know about GIMP, is that it exists in its own reality. The Tommy Sheridan Dead song is not actually on G.I.M.P, it was designed to set up that world. I wanted the audience to sort of half know what to expect, but also experience a sense of surprise and excitement. I was inspired by the visual style of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds vinyl. When you held it in your hand you just had to look at the art and you were in that world, before you even heard the first song. G.I.M.P is more of an attempt at presenting human drama, with political events taking place in the back ground. It's important that the listener is allowed to interpret the material for themselves, which is why I culled so much stuff from it over time, as I was trying to develop a less direct writing style that didn't cast heroes and villains in the traditional moral sense. I suppose it works on a few levels. I am trying to make a statement about cultural marginalisation, by creating something so compelling that it cannot be dismissed on the grounds of taste. If you don't like Hip Hop, you will still have to listen to this to see what the fuss was about. Then we have the issues around the countries future, which are dealt with more subtly through characters and plot. At it's core though, it's a personal album. I couldn't write about human relationships authentically without drawing from my own experiences and I hope this aspect of the album is what will give it a broader and lasting appeal. There are enough layers to it that people can go as deep or shallow as they want. For some, it'll be no more than a solid hip hop album, for others, they will feel immersed in the world as it unfolds and increases in scale and scope with repeat listens revealing even more. Or at least, that's what I'm hoping for. I tried to write the kind of story I would love to see. The analogy of divorce is very useful in humanising the relationship between Scotland and the UK, but obviously it's important to establish how we came to be on such poor terms. We always like to see ourselves as righteous, but we're all so full of shit when you really get down to it. We enter relationships with secrets and ulterior motives all the time. This album isn't as pro yes as people might have been led to believe.

I don't want people to worry though. The album will not sound as wanky as I do whenever I talk about it. I have taken great care to make it the least wanky Loki album yet.

Kill Your Darlings - Review (and Impressions)

So with that all said, how does Kill Your Darlings stand as a taster of what's to come? For one thing, Loki cannot be accused of lacking in ideas. Though it is not mixed and mastered,it is possible to gauge Loki's direction by how developed certain tracks are here. 

'GIMP' appears to be a title track of sorts that was scrapped, but it is arguably the most developed track here. One could speculate to whether Loki felt the track to be lyrically redundant, with many of the themes explored elsewhere, but it certainly fits in with the dark, dystopian tone of the trailers and tracks we've already heard. The production here is particularly appropriate with ominous bells, creepy vocal effects and cold, minimalist drums contributing to the apocalyptic vibe. In fact, it is Scatabrainz that seems to frequently compliment Loki's intended style the most precisely. 'Fashion Police State' is another beat in this mould, as Loki's agitated rhymes gel with sharp major-to-minor arpeggio changes and, again, very minimal percussion. I'm biased as their A Darker Shade of Grey LP is a favourite, but the evidence here suggests that Brainz still best "gets" where Loki's coming from. 

Good signs then, but there are a reason some concepts seem to have been left on the drawing board. Despite Loki's best intentions in sequencing this as an LP, I honestly feel an EP of the stronger tracks could have made for one of his best projects. Nothing here is "weak" by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm still baffled to why the album's introduction is a 'reprise' of what is essentially a math rock acoustic. Still, others are more understandable, representing character studies or metaphors that may not be strong enough for the final product. In the above statement, Loki talks about characters and plot, and there are songs here that play like short stories or chapters in his overall narrative. 'The Timely Death of Katie Hopkins...' is particularly interesting for that reason, as well utilising an ugly beat for an ugly person (assumingly). He even seems to alter his flow for this track, focusing on sharp-edged syllables to make for a clever imitation. Tracks like this and 'Make Mines a Transplant' are extremely sardonic, demonstrating that he's not lost his sense for tongue-in-cheek as well. 

The rest is, as Loki would probably argue himself, a mixed bag. 'Educated Delinquent' sounds suspiciously like 'Start to Finish' by Pro Era (maybe Bessa took influence?); 'Big Jimmy Reid' and 'Death of a Salesman' would pass as dope tracks, but the mixing hurts them a lot; oh, and 'Second Wind' features the best lyric ever in "I don't care for John Fashanu". And yep, there's that eight minute track 'Doomsday' where Loki absolutely schools a certain MC but we won't get into that here (I rated the original diss for the record; see the blog). 

Loki's "b-sides" seem to have only heightened my anticipation for this record though. Though I doubt it will be as overtly political as his namesake Lowkey's incredible Soundtrack to the Struggle, I've no doubt that it will be incredibly focused and topical. Until then, I'll be mystified to why 'GIMP' didn't make the final cut, but these tracks are simply a testament to Loki's continued writing ability. 

On Scotland Standup and Promo - I'll Post This on Facebook Later Too

On a separate note, just to address a few messages I received this week from older readers of the site. When Scuba was the fella running the blog, SSU was one of the few online resources for hip hop in this country. Unfortunately, some (not all) MC's and producers in the scene don't seem to be using the resources that are available to them. Scuba already listed a bunch of contacts on the blog here, however I still get messages complaining when a certain thing hasn't been "posted".

Firstly of all, with the launch of Underground Scotland (and also Werd's great blog among others), Scotland Standup is now focusing on reviews and features rather than simple promotional "reposts". Statistics/views show that these make little impact anyway, and the above blogs are more than happy to post videos etc. if that's what you're looking for. Besides, if you want reviewed/featured/interviewed on the site, unless I've approached you at a gig or seen your shit, you usually need to contact the SSU email.

Secondly, don't get me wrong, if asked to post content, of course I shall always endeavour to (and often do regardless), but I am unfortunately not a kind of oracle on the Scottish scene that is entirely on top of this. MC's need to realise that I won't see most releases if their only promo is a status on Facebook. I'm just a journalist/blogger, and outside of this I have a job, I study at university and I volunteer/freelance for other publications amongst other things :). Furthermore, I've only just returned from six months in Italy - trust me, myself and Leo are going to attempt to keep content regular but without oversaturating the blog/facebook, but living far apart has made it difficult. Living abroad meant that, aye, I didn't actually hear the new Bang Dirty LP when it first dropped (for a quick example). We weren't deliberately ignoring it!

Lastly, these are reasons why the documentary/other features were slow going up. Regardless of all the constraints, SSU has more followers than ever before. I'm not meaning that as an ego thing, we're just small time bloggers, but most the reviews here get (at the least) a couple hundreds reads now. That's a couple hundred people that will consider buying your EP/LP! That's what we're here for :) We're gonna keep trying to support the scene in any way we can regardless. Anyway, I'll shut the fuck up but one last thing: we'll be getting the domain back soon, instead of the tacky blogspot name, or possibly even the new .scot domains that are out. So watch this space, literally. 

Jonny x