A. Until not too long ago, three of the basic reasons for a trip to New York were to visit the Virgin Megastore in Times Square (especially at ungodly hours of the night, one of the greatest pleasures in life), the big branch of Kim’s on St. Marks Place, and the small temple Fat Beats. Today, as if we had undergone some kind of domestic Armageddon, as if some virus had infected the population and they had torn the city apart with their teeth, none of these three weighty reasons for crossing the ocean are still open. The first to fall was Kim’s, leaving the Big Apple without the best selection of noise and black metal that one could find, and without a second-hand stock that beat any European shop hands down. Later, in one of the most painful business moves that I can remember, Times Square saw the disappearance of the great planetary hub for the raging purchase of cultural items from it’s bustling nightlife. Many of us still haven’t recovered from this tragedy. When you start to plan your holidays, or a furtive get-away, and New York slides in among your choice of options, the closing of Virgin comes up as one of the big cons on the list that you make before deciding. For new generations of music-lovers and television addicts, this will sound melodramatic, geeky, and overdone, but for those of us who grew up in the culture of trawling, shopping, and wasting time, the possibility of wandering around Times Square at midnight, or even one o’clock in the morning, and being able to walk into Virgin and spend a couple of hours filling your cart with packs of series, new music releases, and films on sale will never be surpassed by the latest gadgets, supersonic band widths, and the latest file formats. We curmudgeonly old grouches, eternally angry with the world, are witnessing this ferocious, unrepentant dismantling of the world as we knew it and experienced it with a grimace of anger, melancholy, and despair that is increasingly less important to anybody else out there.Virgin closed and I haven’t heard of there being any demonstrations in the street, protests, angry complaints, riots, arrest, broken glass. On the other hand, if anybody decided to firmly close the door once and for all on downloading websites or to eliminate P2P networks, they would have to put tanks on the streets to stifle the discontent. These two fierce blows were joined, the first week of September, by the third, definitive New York tragedy. Fat Beats brought to an end years and years of hip hop dedication serving up records, CD’s and merchandising right on 6th Avenue, a few metres from the emblematic playground, “The Cage”. Visits to the temple, which you entered by way of narrow stairwell attached to a bagel shop, used to be a ritual and an unavoidable liturgy every time you set foot on American ground. DJ’s, producers, MC’s and fans from all parts of the world used to stop in there daily every time they were in New York, whether or not they could find the best underground shit of the moment in the crates or not. Its closing has barely attracted media interest beyond a few blogs and specialised webs (I’ll be happy to see the rivers of ink that will be used writing about the closing of Rough Trade, for example, when it happens), but for any “head” this was the big news of the last month.
So let’s render a small, modest homage to that matchbox that was stuffed with fat rhythms and brilliant rhymes with some videos taken from the homage activities organised during the last week that the shop was in existence. The top brass of the scene from yesterday and today came together on the first floor to show their due respect. There is a selection of videos to commemorate those final moments of glory. Rappers, like the rich, also cry. Goose pimples.
B. At Fat Beats, there were continually new anecdotes. Especially outside of the shop, at street level, where there were always anonymous, amateur MC’s crowded around trying to sell you their CD and show you their skills right there. The show was hilarious and great fun, with hungry rappers shamelessly hitting on the shop’s customers to convince them that the real underground, independent shit was there, not what was on sale in the shop above. But since the 90’s, the big corner of the city chosen by underground MC’s to promote themselves and sell their own CD’s has been Times Square. Anybody who has visited the capital of the world will have run into this area with rappers with discmans trying to peddle their wares to tourists, executives, or simple New York passers-by. This is a fascinating process, to which the documentary “New York Minute”, produced by the French channel Arte, aimed to testify; it’s a work divided into eight chapters, the first of which is focused precisely on these street hustlers and the case of an MC murdered by the police under strange circumstances. It lasts ten emotional minutes, with a magnetic, fascinating aesthetic, perfectly capturing what is truly the most independent, incorruptible side of the genre. Without contracts, without radio pressures, without hype cameos, without all of the bothersome paraphernalia that often detracts and takes away from the value and purity of this world. When the entire documentary is within the reach of a click, we will let you know, don’t worry, but meanwhile, to get your juices flowing, this is a little taste so that you know what we are talking about. It’s promising.
C. Having said this, and coming back to the present, after last month’s little retro foray, let me get down to musical business, because it seems like everybody has decided to release new albums in the last few weeks. I can’t get to it all. There are a lot of them, and they all look to be interesting, so I’ll try to mention as many as possible of the albums that have come to me these days. Without an established order, as they appeared in my pile of albums listened to and digested, getting down to business, without flourishes or fillers. So here we go. Ten new items to keep your VISA busy, or to crash your ADSL. However you do it, here is fresh shit, still in the wrapper, to get you through the first cold days of fall weather. 1. DJ Muggs Vs. Ill Bill: “Kill Devil Hills” (Fatbeats) Everyone linked with La Coka Nostra has managed to outline a fairly recognisable, even predictable sound, in which solid beats and a harsh, none-too-subtle revision of the same old hardcore hip hop play an important role. This is the case of “Kill Devil Hills”, which proposes a face-off between DJ Muggs, producer and DJ of Cypress Hill, and the MC Ill Bill, former member of the feared Non-Phixion and one of the visible heads of that white, Jewish, sort of 90’s-type New York sound. Both have previously put out better works, but there’s no need to keep looking to the past when both of them are still putting out good boom bap, very faithful to what is expected of it, no double-crossing, here in 2010. 2. Godfather Don: “Properties Of Steel” (Traffic Ent.)“New” is a figure of speech here. Because this compilation covers the singles that the producer and MC Godfather Don put out on Hydra Records, one of the key labels during the underground effervescence of the mid-90’s in the Big Apple, 1997 to 2000. What does it matter? The vast majority of the singles included have barely lost freshness, consistency, and connection to the times. The decline of an entire period brought to the present time for the masturbatory, orgasmic delight of nostalgic folks, revivalists, and other thirty-something fauna. If I only had £12 and I had to pick one of the ten references, this would be the one I would choose. It’s never-ending. 3. Q-Unique: “Between Heaven & Hell” (Fatbeats) More veterans go to war. Q-Unique, former member of the Arsonists, who put out a couple of enviable albums on the indie-rock label Matador a few years ago, is back again on his own, six years after his debut, with a surprisingly good “Between Heaven & Hell”. There is little in this excellent album to complain about, it’s full of very solid beats and an arsenal of his trademark rhymes—we aren’t talking about one of the iconic MC’s of the New York underground in the last fifteen years for nothing. It has a classic sound, but it’s fresh and dynamic. Ace. 4.-Celph Titled & Buckwild: “Nineteen Ninety Now” (No Sleep Recordings) They already won me over with the title. It’s a clear allusion to the 90’s fervour of many fans. It’s a declaration of principles, intentions, and objectives. With the super veteran Buckwild doing all of the production, we can’t expect anything else, either: dark, fat, dry, hammering hip hop with a 100% orthodox essence. On the mike an ironclad defender of boom bap and the golden era, Celph Titled has won over the headz with this undisguised revivalist artefact. The best thing of all is that the album imposes, traps, and convinces within its conceptual limitations. It’s an indispensable purchase for the old guard. 5. Canibus: “C Of Tranquility” (Interdependent Media) Finally. After almost a decade of asking, almost begging Canibus to invest more money in producers, he finally seems to have paid attention to his followers. “C of Tranquility” is his best album in a long time, for the simple reason that the rapper hasn’t been stingy with his resources, and has busted out the cheque book: DJ Premier, Scram Jones, Jake One, J-Zone, The Are, DR Period or Domingo, among others, give shine, prestige, and reliability to the collection of beat-makers. Add an infallible Canibus who is back more furious and radical than ever, and you hardly need to add anything else. Extreme hip hop, without a break, exhausting. 6. Ski Beatz: “24 Hour Karate School Japan” (R-Rated Records) A little frivolous piece that is worth the trouble. On this website, we’ve already talked about “24 Hour Karate School”, the solo debut of Ski Beatz, surely the producer who is in the best shape in 2010; now the Japanese version has arrived, with the support and collaboration of the majority of Japanese MC’s, among them the veteran, very practiced Zeebra, Twigy or Dabo. For somebody who has such a sick collection fever for Japanese rap, like yours truly, this album is practically a wet dream. And on top of that, it isn’t just a photocopy of the American original with kanjis, but rather as well as reclaiming the best basses from then, here Ski Beatz has created some new beats especially for the occasion that are worthy of his Western brothers. Kicks ass. 7. Trek Life: “Everything Changed Nothing” (Mello Music Group) This is an album that has appeared in the new pile, but in reality it’s an album from a ways back, from the middle of August. But we have to bring it out into the light and reclaim it, because it is a great surprise that will be liked by novices, old-schoolers and hypebeasts of all kinds. The debut of California rapper Trek Life is produced almost entirely by Oddisee, along with the occasional contribution from Hudson Mohawke, and it chooses a sound that sets up a dialogue with wonky and the followers of J Dilla, always with its compass aimed at hip hop with an underground sensibility and a careful, clean aesthetic, with post-modern aspirations. It’s perfect for the magazine URB. In a good way. 8. Group Home: “Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal” (Ihiphop Distribution)Nobody remembered Group Home, even though they’re the authors of “Livin’ Proof, ” one of the best rap albums of the 90’s. But Guru’s death this year has gotten them out of a voluntary or forced reclusion (Malachi The Nutcracker has spent time behind bars) to write and record an album in homage to the one who was their friend, godfather, and mentor in the musical industry. Thanks to Guru, they became a part of the Gang Starr Foundation and could get DJ Premier to do the production of this stellar debut that many of us have never been able to forget. And one thing has to be said: although nobody would have given a dime for this comeback, the truth is that it’s an album that is worth more than we would ever have imagined. Nothing serious or significant, modest and low-budget, but the collection of producers and the emotional air of the tribute end up giving an album with four or five imposing songs a better chance to triumph. 9. Gucci Mane: “The Appeal: Georgia’s Most Wanted” (Asylum Records) Gucci Mane is the borderline that separates bearable mainstream from abominable mainstream, so his albums are never quite as well-rounded, solid, and complete as we would like. He insists on reaching consensus with sensitivities, aesthetics, orientations, and commercial interests, and this means that the Southern rapper ends up lowering the quality of his recordings with singles that are too obvious and sugary-sweet productions. And this worthy, but irregular “The Appeal: Georgia’s Most Wanted” is no exception: when he is bold and wrinkles his brow, he regales us with Southern songs of the highest order; when he bows to commercial and popular pretensions, his discourse slides over into mediocrity and predictability. Average.
10. Kno: “Death Is Silent” (Venti Uno) Fresh from the oven. Anxiously awaited by yours truly, this is the solo debut of the producer and MC of Cunninlynguists, Kno, who leads the list of the most underappreciated beatmakers of the last five years. Nobody pays the slightest attention to him, but from his machines comes a personal, exciting, lively, warm, different sound that respects the credo of orthodox hip hop without ever giving up the melodic and instrumental play inherited from the best Southern tradition, from Goodie Mob to Outkast, by way of UGK. And this is obviously what we can find in this spectacular “Death Is Silent”, which I predict will have little media and popular success, but which is sure to be on my list of the most important albums of 2010. It has a good general concept, magic melancholy, elaborate beats, lucid, sensitive rhymes, and a wise choice of collaborators. It’s hard to find weak points or mistakes in a coming-out that deserves to be defended to the very end.
And that’s about it for new hip hop releases this October. There are a few that I couldn’t get around to that I’ll try to bring up next month, with the hope that this frenetic pace of releases will have slowed and we’ll get a chance to deal with all of the material. So see you then.