Geoff Barrow is one of those people who aren’t astonished by the new mainstream sounds in rap. He knows that what lasts is solid rock, and that sweeteners like Kid Cudi will be past their best-before date sooner than an open box of milk in the summer sun. He likes his hip-hop full-fat, dark and stuffed with foggy samples. I see it, and I raise my bet. His best pieces for Portishead are proof. Those hysterical scratches, those heavy bass lines, that soul in discomfort recorded nocturnally and in a cold-blooded manner. Barrow's exquisite taste in the creation of oppressive black moods has been essential in the rise to the top and well-deserved mythification of the Bristol band, led by Beth Gibbons' magnetic voice.
Nevertheless, the Briton didn't just stick to Portishead as a creative outlet. Recently, he produced The Horrors' “Primary Colours”, started a project called Beak> and supervised the music for “Exit Through The Gift Shop”, the sensational documentary about street artist Banksy. But his most personal project must be the Quakers collective/army. A rapper armada formed by 35 MCs, led by Barrow himself (under the moniker of Fuzzface) with the help of two kindred spirits: Australian producer Katalyst and Portishead sound engineer 7-Stu-7.
There are no concessions here. Quakers is a tribute written in cannabis-fuelled darkness, oozing from the underground, the only weapon against the MTV rap-pop tyranny. They say so themselves in their press release. Tired of seeing glitter and big sunglasses all over the scene, fed up with disrespectful brats rapping out of their sphincter, Barrow and company recruited a battalion of rhymers who aren't exactly known for their ambitions to sell out. MCs with bloody teeth for whom he tailored a carpet of crushing beats with a spectral funk texture, so that they can spit as they please, vindicating the wisdom of the Old.
Forty-one tracks - no more, no less - on a path full of rubble and snakes; updating the scriptures written in stone in the 90s. In this pool of timeless beats (backed, by the way, by Peanut Butter Wolf and the Stones Throw label), we find Dead Prez going off over a Portishead-like soul beat, demanding realness (“Soul Power” is one of the tunes of the year, trust me). We also hear Aloe Blacc flowing languidly over a blues guitar that gives you goose bumps; we see Jonwayne popping zits full of puss over a beat that could have been made by Alchemist in '97; we feel Guilty Simpson scratching wounds over a backdrop of war horns and intimidating claps (“Fitta Happier”, another banger that makes one lose control of their faculties); we witness the great Prince Po breaking the mic over a boom bap base that would make DJ Premier cry; not to mention Akil, Diverse, Phat Kat and too many others to mention. It's a rugged album, nutritious, abundant and incorruptible to the death. I'm impressed, although I know I'm going to be alone in this war, that many will call me reactionary, old and out-of-date; blah blah blah. It's comforting to see that, sometimes, giants like Geoff Barrow agree with me: metrosexual hip-hop for the Miami discotheques, Quakers for the headz.
Fitta Happier (feat. Guilty Simpson/MED)