Blast Beats is a weekly column in which extreme music artists discuss their favorite hip-hop records.
In this week’s Blast Beats, avant-emcee and frontman of experimental act Vinyl Cape, Brzowksi, stopped to by to discuss 10 underground hip-hop albums that he currently can’t get enough of. Check it out below.
10 Underground Hiphop Records in current heavy rotation.
My Hessian Devotees of the Riff, lend me your attention spans! In full disclosure, I’ve been releasing darkly-themed avant-hiphop music and touring since the turn of the millennium under the handle “BRZOWSKI”, and so I may have greased my way in the door of Svbterranean in the wake of a very “metallic” project, Vinyl Cape, to bring you fine folks a swift survey of ten albums I have in heavy rotation as of late. I’d place a litany of metal-blog qualifiers here, but realistically, you clicked on this article to dig into some music that people across the yawning gulf between the hiphop and metal spheres can find commonality in, whether it be mood, content, lyricism, craft, or thundering drums. Pour a tall one with me, my crepuscular denizens of the indie-ground.
1. Billy Woods– Known Unknowns
Outré NYC denizen billy woods likes mystery. As a long-time stalwart of NYC’s indie rap-scene, the man at the helm of label Backwoodz Studioz does not like having his picture taken, does not like varying his intensity, and is not even slightly interested in making traditionalist New York rap music. What you have here is the latest dense slab of verbose progressive hiphop that defies easy sub-genre labeling. Our narrator covers the daily grind, romantic entanglements, social justice, the character of his city, his affinity for upscale marijuana, all through a poetic kaleidoscope that make each of these topics simply grist for the mill as they bleed into one another, song-structure and catchy hooks be damned.
2. James Reindeer– Field Reports from the Western Lands
James Reindeer (often styled “jamesreindeer” or simply “reindeer”) is an MC hailing from the UK who came across my radar over a decade ago, and what hit me most immediately was his hyper-visual wordplay, melancholic world-weary point of view, and his highly unconventional choice of production to match his screeds to. To say nothing of his inimitable voice and delivery, and early progenitor of the “Chewing” style that emerged in indie-rap circles on both sides of the Atlantic circa 2004 or so. This new installment, a solo album 9 years in the making displays James at the top of his craft: sifting soundscapes, ambient pads/drones, ethereal guitars, and our narrator himself gutting his psyche at the horrors of our modern world from the podium.
3. Sole– Let them Eat Sand
I’ve been listening to Anarcho-Rapper Sole since his late 90s/early-00s incarnation as one of the East Coast’s defining members of the Anticon Collective, many years before the crew evolved into a label, and stretched far beyond left-field hiphop and into indie rock and electronica. Sole’s caustic hyper-critical raps are here slowed considerably from his formative years, but lack none of the urgency when analyzing politics, class struggle, gardening, fatherhood, or whatever else finds itself on the receiving end of Sole’s creative insights. After several albums backed by mainstream banner-guard producer Pain 1, Sole once again steps out on his own, handling the sample-heavy, “lo-fi” synth production, and large crispy drums all on his own to satisfying results.
4. Moodie Black– Lucas Acid
Moodie Black is not a new name in the annals of the “noise-rap” mini-genre, and exist, to my mind, as the direct heir to the throne of Dälek. The new album has enough distorted synthesizers, droning guitars, reverbed cymbals, and industrial-style programming to satisfy a certain swath of fans interested in Shoegaze, Industrial, and Dark Ambient. Vocalist and prime-mover K delivers raps that at times are revealing, sentimental, cryptic, and explosive, vacillating between a nearly Southern Rap double-time, and the more unpredictable flow of her earlier work. As a trans woman of color in the US today, K’s rage is more prescient at this historical moment than perhaps at any point in Moodie Black’s career to date.
5. Alias– The Other Side of the Looking Glass
Alias was a huge inspiration and influence to me during the early part of my own rap career, circa 1999-2002, and his passing earlier this Spring had a profound effect on my, not merely as a fan, but as someone that had got to know the man behind the long and storied career when he moved back to Maine to raise a family. Primarily known as an instrumental producer, he glided through Down-Tempo to House, but my favorite remains his singular debut 2002 album, where introspective and revealing autobiography stepped to center stage. It was almost blush-worthy how explicit and erudite his writing was regarding deeply personal sentiments, and having that exquisitely paired with somber self-produced (and sample-heavy) melodic hiphop.
6. (V/A)– LNYCHPIN
LNYCHPIN is a compilation consisting of a large sampling of who’s-who in a NYC leftfield hiphop scene right now. Curated by the Karma Kids’ own Lt Headtrip and storied NY producer Willie Green, the compilations ranges from the frantic and comedic (Lt. Headtrip himself, Duncecap, Big Breakfast, etc.), to the more contemplative, politically conscious and hermetic takes on modern life (billy woods, Uncommon Nasa, SKECH 185). The production, team-ups, and subject matter was gently guided and sculpted, lending a loose connectivity between so many varied contributors. This is a mandatory primer for introducing yourself to contemporary New York: Karma Kids, Reservoir Sound, Backwoodz Studioz, Uncommon Records.
7. MANIKINETER – Mannequin Eater
Philadelphia mainstay of distortion-laden rapped/sung/screamed industrial “hiphop”, Carl Kavorkian is back under the guise “MANIKINETER”, stripping down his heavily layered presentation to the bare bones of synthbass, drums, and vocals…..and the sonic space opened up in the production allows this release to feel all the more unsettling. Manipulated feedback stretches like fingernails across blackboard, his throat-shredding screams are buried under a mountain of digital dreck. There are very few touchstones that make this (even tangentially) a hiphop record. This feels more like a primitivist digital hardcore band, and I’m more-than-alright with that.
8. Treelock– This Is It
Treelock is an open-mic veteran of Northern New England, stepping out on his first solo release, entirely produced by Vapor-Wave maven Fenimore Dreams. There are some serious 80s vibes on display here, but filtered through the modern “retro-future” filter. One of things I can really appreciate in this brief six-song outing is the ability of Treelock and Fenimore to stretch simple medium-paced melodic elements into songs stretching beyond the 3-minute mark. Treelock balances raps with half-sung passages and full-blown all-singing passages, oft filtered through some heavy reverb, and even dabbling in the oft-maligned autotune. Tales of substance abuse and desperation mutate and gel into a state of radical acceptance as opposed to defeat by the EPs closing. This is 3am headphone music.
9. Shane Reis + GOD.DAMN.CHAN – VEIB
Los Angeles transplant GOD.DAMN.CHAN turned serious heads with his bass-drenched booming version of the smokey beats that have been coming out of the Alpha Pup stable with his solo album “SLUSH” earlier this year, and teams up with Maine’s Shane Reis on the raps for this release on The Order Label. Reis’s wordplay is unabashedly from the Golden Era lineage, and his voice is a weed-stained patina of someone that has clearly been working this craft for some time. His smooth flow stretches over the syrupy non-quantized canvases CHAN provides with ease, giving us a bouncy/lounged-out listening experience equally suited to adult-volume partying or late-night lamping under a black-light.. The vibe (VEIB?) is consistent, never raising bpm far past a slow lurch of synths and samples, never deviating from a focused medium simmer of vocal intensity. This is contemporary rap record to be certain, let this cook at it’s own temperature and ride the wave.
10. Asbest the Moor King – Mind of a Few
Brighton UK mc/producer Asbest the Moor King has a built a time-machine with this album, fully produced on an Akai MPC2000xl and a Technics turntable manipulated through Ableton and Protools. The classic feel of productions built by only using sampled sound is reminiscent of the beloved 90s-early-00s era of hiphop music, but what sets this apart from an exercise in warm dusty-fingered analog nostalgia is the lyricism Asbest puts front and center. Heavily fractured poetic phrases blur past in a torrent of dizzying sketched imagery, one visual picture morphing into the next, and begging repeated listens to decipher the densely packed poems. Traditional song structure is largely out the window, in favor of Asbest and guests digging as deep as they see fit until a tastefully placed turntable-scratch allows for a palette cleanse. Asbest may be the most “obscure” artist on this list, but digging into this release and his back catalog will be no less rewarding for those seeking some trve svbterranean gems.