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In 1993, Snoop Dogg sauntered across the roof of World Famous VIP Records while scores of fans danced in the parking lot below. Draped over the side of the building hung a black and yellow banner emblazoned with the words “Long Beach.” Filmed for the “Who Am I? (What’s My Name?)” music video, the scene became the implicit coronation of the city’s rap monarch. Twenty-five years later, Snoop Dogg is still king.
“Snoop fucked it up for every Long Beach artist,” rapper Huey Briss says of the legendary lyricist. His tone is somehow both reverent and exasperated. “He’s too big.”
Briss speaks while sitting on a concrete bench in Grace Park, his oversized T-shirt and sweats accentuating his slender frame. It’s a small park in north Long Beach with a plastic playground and a patchy field of alternately green and browning grass, just steps from his grandmother’s home, where the 25-year-old rapper remembers first hearing Snoop Dogg’s G-funk interpolations of his father’s Parliament Funkadelic records.
“As an artist, period, you’re never going to get as big as Snoop Dogg,” he continues. “He is Long Beach.”
Arguing with Briss would be absurdly contrarian. Snoop Dogg’s rap legacy is indelible, and his countless non-rap ventures have only fortified his eminence in pop culture. Since the end of the aughts, however, several talented and increasingly prominent rappers from or intimately tied to Long Beach have emerged. Vince Staples, Joey Fatts, Boogie, Buddy—each has, to varying degrees, found an audience well beyond the city. Following the release of Black Wax, his seven-track EP with producer Nikobeats, Briss might be Long Beach’s next ascendant star.
Released in early February, Black Wax is one of the year’s best projects from anyone in L.A. County. Like his above-mentioned peers, Briss does not traffic in sunny G-funk revivalism. Instead, Nikobeats’s production is firmly rooted in gritty East Coast boom bap, the brittle percussion and cavernous low-end complemented by lugubrious samples. These beats pair well with Briss’s sonorous, slightly gravelly voice and his grim, incisive narratives about navigating north Long Beach and the rap industry.
Lead single “Gil Scott Never Lied,” which features scratching from Dilated Peoples DJ Babu (who is also Nikobeats’s father), illustrates all of the above. Over a glinting, ominous beat, Briss turns his caustic wit in every direction. In one verse, he laments inequitable record contracts and living with his mother before lampooning fake thugs and image-obsessed rappers. Like every song on Black Wax, “Gil Scott Never Lied” evinces Briss’s captivating, unrelenting honesty and his adamant rejection of anything that resembles pretense.
“I feel like there’s a lot of people who—regardless of how ill they are—do not tell their own story. And even people who might be telling their story aren’t genuine in the way they deliver it,” Nikobeats says when discussing Briss’s appeal. “Briss does both.”
Born Bryant Lamar Looney II, Briss is the eldest of four children. Growing up, when he wasn’t with his mother, he was under the care of his grandmother and his father. Briss’s grandmother instilled his love of reading and writing while his father, a member of the Boulevard Mafia Crips, did his utmost to protect Briss from gang life.
“He never wanted me to [bang]. He never glorified it,” Briss says. “I didn’t find out until I noticed that all of his friends had the same tattoo.”
Though Briss’s father succeeded in deterring him from joining a gang, the Long Beach school arguably system failed him. Labeled a “social butterfly” with a “defiant attitude”—Briss claims he still possesses the progress reports—he bounced from one grade school to another. By the end of his freshman year at Jordan High School, Briss was turned off of academics entirely and dropped out.
Inspired to rap after watching a friend receive praise for his freestyles, Briss did everything from selling weed to thrifting clothes to working as a longshoreman to finance his earliest recordings. “We got awards when people didn’t die that month,” he says of brief stint parking trucks amidst swinging cranes. Somewhere along the way, he adopted the name Huey Briss. A play on the Greek-rooted “hubris,” Briss says the name is partly ironic. “I do deal with pride, but I really don’t. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get it done.”
Since releasing his 2014 debut, Ash Lightly, this self-professed tenacity hasn’t wavered. More importantly, Briss hasn’t squandered a single opportunity. In 2015, when Jonny Bell, the frontman of Long Beach-based rock band Crystal Antlers, offered Briss gratis studio time, Briss and his friend/fellow rapper Seafood Sam recorded 2015’s RFU Volume 1. Last year, after a video of Briss freestyling got the attention of Adam Grandmaison (aka Adam22), the host of popular rap podcast/YouTube show No Jumper, Briss messaged Grandmaison on Twitter and eventually freestyled for his In the Kitchen series.
Briss’s relationship with Nikobeats might be the most fruitful, though. After meeting through a mutual friend, the duo’s near-instantaneous bond spawned 2017’s Sidekick Files Pt. 1. On the strength and success of Black Wax, they recently opened for Evidence at the Novo, one of largest rap-friendly venues in L.A.
Briss is also rightfully proud about acquiring a manager, meeting with A&R from labels, modeling for Champion, and starting a clothing company called Briss Don’t Miss. However, Briss, ever the realist, knows the roads of his forebears and peers well.
“I’m so far at the bottom it’s scary. I may be trying to make it for another 10 years,” he says. “But it always seems like the people who have that mentality, right when they say, ‘I’m in it for the long run,’ they blow up.”
Photo by Noemí Elías
Before the critically acclaimed Catalonia band MOURN—Carla Peréz Vas, Jazz Rodríguez Bueno, Leia Rodríguez, and Antonio Postius—were signed to Captured Tracks, they were mired in a legal dispute with their Spanish label. Frustrated by their inability to tour behind their sophomore LP, Ha, Ha, He!, the band channeled that rage to create Sorpresa Familia, a snarling LP full of post-punk fervor.
Like the albums the band chose for their Big Ups, Sorpresa Familia spans the rock expanse, touching on emo, math rock, and straight-ahead punk, channeling these different iterations into something fiery and wholly unique. It’s an enthralling listen, and reflects the passion and excitement the group brought to this conversation of music discovery.
We asked MOURN which bands on Bandcamp they’ve had in heavy rotation.
Carla Peréz Vas (Vocals, Guitar)
“Unfortunately, there are no big indie rock scenes in Barcelona or Madrid. But there are really good bands around the country developing their own style, like FAVX in Madrid or Belako in the Basque Country.
“I met Cala Vento in Madrid when we played the Madrid-based festival Tomavistas. Jazz already knew the band, and she told me that they were sick! After the show, I was just amazed by the honesty of their music. I love the way they talk about their feelings and how open and real their lyrics are. It is also refreshing to hear men talking about deep emotions.
“This sort of music was popular back in the ‘80s with ‘La Movida,’ but right now the popular music in Spain has its own anthemic hooks for their audience, a completely different one than aggressive rock. It is a subgenre of music in Spain, although is not really popular. There have always been amazing rock bands all over the country, and there always will be.”
Jazz Rodríguez Bueno (Vocals, Guitar)
“I discovered Lina’s music when she signed with Captured Tracks. [Label owner] Mike Sniper sent us a link to her music and said something like, ‘You should be friends!’ I listened to it and immediately loved it. Her music is really inspiring, and since then, I’ve hoped to have the chance to meet her personally. What attracts me the most are the details I discover every time I revisit the album.
“I try to keep up with new music, mostly local bands from Catalonia and Spain. I find it difficult to find something new that really inspires me, and Lina’s music definitely did.”
Leia Rodríguez (Bass)
Silently. Quietly. Going Away
“In 2015 we played in Marina di Ravenna, Italy. We saw two girls in the front row who were really enjoying the show. After the concert, they came to say hi, and chat for a bit, and they told us they had a band as well. We wrote their name down on a piece of paper and checked them out back home. We really liked them and connected very well through social media. They are amazing musicians and amazing people. We got to see their singer Adele again last year when we came back to Italy.
“Listening to this record we understood the importance of not being afraid or embarrassed to talk about personal stuff, to open up. This album is very personal, and you feel like you know Adele while listening to it. We like that feeling of honesty, and it’s something we want to reflect in our records.
“We don’t consider it a priority to interact with other European bands, but we like to find new bands and connect with them. It’s always good to meet new people and find new ways to understand music. Not only in Europe but around the world.”
Antonio Postius (Drums)
Long Term Plan
“What sticks to me the most with this group is the great balance between melody, raw sound, lots of changes during the songs, and even some heaviness. I’m not especially into this sort of music. It could remind me in many aspects of other bands I listen to, like At The Drive-In, which don’t have such an emo/pop vibe, but has that energic punk attack.”
The first few seconds of AMMAR 808’s Maghreb United are filled by a looped sample of a crackling, distorted voice that sounds like a dispatch from an emergency alert system. Eventually, it’s subsumed by the fast-paced cadence of the drums, the deep, thumping bass, and Sofiane Saidi’s strong but calm vocals. Album opener “Degdega” seems to be designed to make your heart beat faster, translating the feeling of unease into sound. It’s a fitting introduction to a record full of intense energy—hard to define, but immediately palpable thanks to electronic mastermind Sofyann Ben Youssef’s expertly concocted beats.
Maghreb United sounds urgent because it is meant to be. Ben Youssef uses a TR-808 to reimagine the many traditional rhythms and instruments of the Maghreb—an area that spans most of Northern Africa, from Mauritania to Libya—through a sci-fi lens in order to warn the region’s dwellers about an impending bleak future, and to spur them into action. By putting instruments like the gasba flute, the zokra bagpipe, and the guembri guitar through the filters of the iconic 808 and bending these sounds into surprising and often unrecognizable forms, Ben Youssef joins the ranks of artists shedding a light on North African futurism by taking a critical and nuanced look at past traditions and remaking them into something that can serve as a window to the region’s unique heritage for the citizens of a distant future.
Maghreb United is a wild, intriguing listen; Ben Youssef uses harsh electronic beats as a canvas to constantly criss-cross styles and sounds that don’t typically occupy the same space. Desert blues rhythms coexist with hard rave beats, Algerian raï, targ music from the Bargou valley in Tunisia, and Moroccan gnawa, creating a sound that’s as raucous as it is alluring and illuminating. The standout track “Layli” is a testament as to how all these influences work together. Beginning with a distorted guitar riff, it quickly evolves into an upbeat banger, with hand percussion and distant chiptune blips accompanying renowned Moroccan guembri player and singer Mehdi Nassouli’s game of call and response with the backing choir. After a dizzying break, the track turns into a gabber-influenced banger with an undeniably youthful energy. These juxtapositions between toughness and playfulness run throughout the record with a track like “Ichki Lel Bey” featuring chiptune breaks, and another like “Boganga and Sandia” featuring a beautiful guembri melody looped and layered on top of a resounding bass. Using North African futurism as an outstanding tool, Ben Youssef digs into the Maghreb’s past and present to show the harmony within the differences, and the surprising ways the region can launch traditional Maghrebi culture into the future.
To listen to Tangents is to hear a conversation flittering among five friends at once. The Australian improvisational quintet has no concrete power structure, no clear bandleader, and so its impromptu, decentralized pieces play more like musical environments than traditional songs. Instead of hearing a songwriter relay an individual narrative to a band, you get to hear the whole band build narratives from the ground up, wordlessly and in real time. Electronic loops tangle with gentle guitar leads and punctuative string figures and big, quaking drums; five skilled, adventurous musicians egg one another on to the next urgent moment.
For their third full-length album, New Bodies, Tangents took on a new approach to recording and producing their music. Their 2016 LP Stateless was assembled by Ollie Bown, the band’s in-house producer and electronics wizard, who took the lead on sculpting discrete jam sessions into an LP. To make New Bodies, the band jammed together in a room for eight hours in late 2016, and then, over the next six months, worked to pare those eight hours down to 50 minutes. The recordings of the session were stored on a cloud drive that each band member had access to, and could edit at their convenience. The band’s methods remained collaborative to the end. It was, guitarist Shoeb Ahmad tells us over Skype, “a very 21st century process.”
Currently based in Sydney and Canberra, two Australian cities about three hours apart, the members of Tangents mostly met through the previous generation of the social web. Instead of Facebook and Twitter, they were active on LiveJournal and Myspace, and slowly reached out to each other in the 2000s out of mutual appreciation for one another’s music. Speaking from Canberra, where she grew up and still lives, Ahmad tells me how she first played music with drummer Evan Dorrian when they were both in high school together, how she met pianist Adrian Lim-Klumpes via Myspace, and how she asked cellist Peter Hollo to perform with her at her first-ever show.
Tangents was born when all five members decided to turn their musical friendships into musical collaboration, and got together for an improvisational show. “We’ve all managed to cross paths over and over and over again, and then we just decided to turn that into one gig,” Ahmad says. They released their first album, I, in 2013, and three years later, hearing Stateless in its final form pushed the band in a more rhythmic direction. “We decided to keep playing, to do some rhythm-heavy energy and find middle ground between interesting rhythms and cool textures and great melodies.”
The result of that focus can be heard on New Bodies, which ripples with a fresh clarity and curiosity. Its 10-minute centerpiece “Gone to Ground” sees skittering drums intertwine with lilting strings and looped electronics, culminating in an effect that aligns with some of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s more cerebral moments. On “Swells Under Tito,” Ahmad’s bright guitar lines play off asymmetric percussion patterns and steady slashes of cello, all of which recall a Grizzly Bear interlude. With influences that range from Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin to Ahmad’s favorites Bikini Kill and The Slits, Tangents can be hard to pin down. “On our bio, there’s this tag ‘post-everything,'” Ahmad says. “We’re not really big fans of being called a ‘post-everything’ band, but it’s really hard to describe what is intrinsically just our music. It’s Tangents. It’s the sum of the five of us together.”
Because the band’s members have been friends for so long, the music they make together also documents their passage through time. They’re not the same people they were at their first gig, but their musical connection remains strong. Ahmad, for her part, began to explore her true gender identity while the band was in the process of making New Bodies. “I started my transition process during the mixing process, but I was not completely open to the rest of the band until everything had been made,” she notes. Around the same time that she was working on New Bodies, Ahmad was also putting together her most recent solo album, quiver, which documents her transition journey in a more direct, lyrical way.
Working on both musical projects at once has enabled Ahmad to be more forthright with her art, both as a solo musician and as a member of Tangents. “Putting myself out there and being vulnerable onstage is really great for me,” she says. “We tend to look at vulnerability as weakness, but there’s a lot of strength in being vulnerable.” Finding power in her vulnerability allowed Ahmad to better articulate her role within Tangents, and to take pride in her work with the band. “In Tangents, I go onstage with musicians who I admire, and I feel personally like they’re way better than me, technically. I still feel like maybe I’m a bit of an imposter,” she says. “But at the same time, I have confidence that I’m a valuable member of Tangents for what I bring to the band, which is a certain attitude and vulnerability—and my ability to enable others to come to the fore.”
Photos by Jensen Gifford
NEEDS are a punk band from Vancouver, British Columbia, but for all the city’s hardcore lineage, frontman Sean Orr isn’t nostalgic. Rather, he and his band are emphatically opposed to the sort of prestigious idolatry that bridles artists with the weight of those histories—like, say, Fugazi. On “Rage Against the Miami Sound Machine,” a cut from their new record Limitations, he yells, “I don’t care if you pronounce it Mac-Kaye or Mac-Kye / I don’t care about some guy named Guy.”
“That line came from a real conversation where this guy corrected me on the pronunciation of MacKaye,” he says. “I still don’t know if it’s ‘Mac-Kaye’ or ‘Mac-Kye.’ I don’t care. It’s music.”
NEEDS straddle a middle ground between activist punk and tongue-in-cheek humor. “Eat The Rich… People’s Leftovers” is a nod to Orr’s habit of snacking on the scraps sent back to the Gastown dish pit he works at. They’re determined to shed the sort of underhanded elitism that pervades scenes that reify the hierarchical structures they claim to reject. But that doesn’t mean they ignore their influences—on “List of Inventors Killed by Their Own Inventions,” the final stanza finds Orr rattling off a list of their favorite records: Wolf Parade’s Apologies To The Queen Mary, Fucked Up’s The Chemistry Of Common Life, Frog Eyes’ Tears Of The Valedictorian.
“Balancing that out and dealing with those contradictions is a constant struggle,” he says. Limitations is the work of Orr negotiating those contradictions, and finding agency within them. “I’ve stopped making fun of it and started to whittle away what I’m about. This record has helped.”
Orr was born and raised in Surrey, one of the suburbs clustered around Vancouver. His parents left their home in Northern Ireland the year he was born. “My dad moved here because he was basically protesting his own father,” he explains. Orr’s grandfather was a leader of Northern Ireland’s Loyalist, Protestant-rooted fraternal Orange Order. “I was born, and they named me Sean Michael David Orr, which are three of the most Catholic names other than Paddy,” he laughs. Orr explains his father was cut out of the inheritance, but his staunch defense of Irish nationalism and anti-colonial views left a mark on Orr. “That instilled in me a sort of social justice ethic from a fairly early age. My dad always taught us to stick up for the marginalized and for the underprivileged.”
Orr’s lyricism on Limitations tends to read as explicitly political, but it’s the end product of a long-standing appreciation for Situationist International-esque absurdism coupled with the necessity of circumstance. “I would always take a funny approach, and really mock things,” he says of his political involvement in the past. “Over the last few years, I was just like, ‘No, I can’t do that anymore. I have to really dig in and figure out what I stand for.’ I’m not the best at theory. I didn’t go to university for theory or political activism, or even writing for that matter. But I just want to hone it in.”
NEEDS don’t necessarily sound like a honed product. Their chipped-tooth punk melts down D.C. hardcore with the Plains thrash of Propagandhi. It’s unpolished and volatile, thanks in part to a tight, five-day recording schedule with producer Jesse Gander. But ideologically, Limitations is Orr’s most developed and well-rounded statement yet. “I’m 40 now, so a lot of it’s kind of about the limitations of the human body, the limitations of mental health,” he says. “Limitations of being five cis-het white dudes in a punk band in today’s climate. ‘Can art even affect change?’ Things like that.”
Lately, Orr has adopted diverse tactics for his own activism, something which Limitations hints at. “I wouldn’t ever want to say that music has no place in affecting change, or that art has no place in affecting change, but I do think it has its limitations,” he says. “I do think street protest has its limitations. I do believe in the ‘multitude of tactics’ approach. I do think that punching Nazis is OK. I do think that having a sit-in and signing a petition online is also valid. I think [activism is] all these things put together.”
With NEEDS, Orr embraces all of these, limitations and all. Over the gnarled end of “Endless Idiotic Shots Of The Sun,” he shouts, “I hate consumer culture, but I just love going for brunch!” He chuckles drily when he recounts the line. “I do participate in and enjoy consumer culture, but I still rail against it.”
Quality is the only criteria for this column. Are the beats good? (If you want to discuss the nature and limits of “quality” as a concept, stop reading this and pick up Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.) This month, however, an unintentional theme has emerged: chops. Many of the records you’ll find below were made by producers who extract fractions of disparate records and piece them together with surgical precision. For them, slivers of sound offer a gateway to infinite sonic possibilities. If none of the above resonates with you, you’ll also find reverent East Coast boom bap and a tape that somehow seamlessly weds indie folk and beat music without being remotely corny.
If you didn’t read the March edition of this column, go back and check out Inner Ocean’s Women of the World compilation; curated by Australian producer Sadiva, the album features beats from 29 different women producers. This May, Sadiva released her second album, Minutes. While Minutes isn’t a major departure from 2017’s Lethal Chops, it is a noticeably more assured record. The chops on Minutes are cleaner and more decisive, the concussive drums better suited to the samples. Sadiva’s also found a way to layer and loop a greater number of samples in each track without creating dissonance or claustrophobia. Instead, the majority of the beats somehow become looser and more immersive. Opener “Stand Trial,” for instance, sits at the intersection of beat music and blues, at once banging and cutting to the marrow. Elsewhere, like on “MYAK,” Sadiva proves she’s still capable of deploying a barrage of dynamic percussion. Ultimately, Minutes is both Sadiva’s most arresting offering and bodes well for future releases.
A koan is a statement, story, or question, often paradoxical or riddle-like, meant to challenge practicing Zen Buddhists during meditation, to unmoor their dependence on reason and guide them toward personal and universal truths. For prolific Burlington, Vermont producer Es-K, I imagine producing is a quasi-meditative process. Since 2012, he’s released dozens of solo records (many with L.A. label Cold Busted) primarily comprised of sample-based boom bap and worked with rappers, like Steele of Smif-N-Wessun, who flourish over it. Perhaps someone presented Es-K with a koan that inspired the shift we hear on, well, Koan. While his predilection for dry, crisp percussion remains, Es-K complements it with lush and melodic keys and more electronic and ambient sounds. These suites move beyond loops. The loops become mantras, and each viscous chord, twinkling chime, and twanging string become a newly discovered sonic truth, a sound that’s helped Es-K create his most affecting and singular work to date.
Barnes blvd.’s Last Summer might be one of the first times anyone has successfully made a beat tape using an acoustic guitar as the dominant (and unifying) instrument. Slow and somber, the album sounds like the end of a relationship, the joys of the union remembered paired with the pain of knowing that memory is all that remains. Blvd. captures that wistfulness with melancholic chords and dragging percussion. It’s as if the minimalist beats are also reluctant to move forward. While the guitar and percussion evoke those feelings, blvd. uses organic sounds to create a world around them. On “my friends,” he accents the jangle of the tambourine with the metallic clatter of coins striking the ground; “sleepy story” sounds like it was recorded next to a river threatening to wash over its banks; and on “joan of arc,” fireworks explode beneath shimmering keys and blvd.’s plaintive guitar as if to remind us of love’s brightness and transience. A lo-fi, folk-tinged cousin to Shlohmo’s Bad Vibes, blvd.’s equally heartbreaking Last Summer is made for the heartbroken.
Loops, Chops, Beats, & Vibes
A venerated DJ/producer in L.A. rap circles for well over a decade, Rhettmatic belongs to the renowned Beat Junkies collective, he DJs for The Visionaries, and has produced for rappers like Pigeon John and Ras Kass. In 2017, he released his first solo instrumental project, Rhett Got Beats on Street Corner Music. This May, continuing his tradition of releasing new music in conjunction with his birthday, he dropped Loops, Chops, Beats, & Vibes. As titularly suggested, there are no programmed drums or added basslines, just deftly looped, chopped, and layered samples. Raw and unadorned, these beats work of a sagacious digger willing to experiment with anything he pulls from the crates. Some tracks feature a driving breakbeat (“Everytime”) and others bump to downtempo boom bap (“Fly Away”). The samples Rhett lays on top of his drums are far more diverse. The squealing and grinding guitars of “Psychedelic Vibes,” for instance, are far removed from the stirring, chipmunk soul of “It’s Easy.” The myriad of sounds and styles makes Loops, Chops, Beats, & Vibes equally suited for beat devotees and b-boys alike. Head nod, toprock, or both.
Boom Bap Hooray
Boom Bap Hooray comes as advertised. For fans of the bruising and soulful, jazz-inflected beats of ’90s New York rap, Ruff-T’s beats are a welcome trip down memory lane, as familiar and cozy as a pair of broken-in Timbs or Pelle Pelle leather. Crisp snares follow the kind of deep, resonant kicks that would make a poorly calibrated tonearm jump. Between and underneath them, Ruff-T loops blaring horns (“yankees”), jangling percussion (“get flava”), glinting keys (“groven”), and more. Some tracks are warm and bright, like on “here mc,” while others evoke the dread of walking down dim project stairwells and vacant subway platforms late at night, such as on “they come for us” and “bad vibes.” Excellent both for its almost religious adherence to a rigid set of aesthetic parameters and its subtle innovations within them, Boom Bap Hooray captures the sound of an era so well that you could pass it off as a compilation of unreleased gems from members of D.I.T.C. and Da Beatminerz. If you play the album long enough, you might wonder when Big L or Buckshot will start rhyming.
Wowflower’s balloons, released on Street Corner Music, was one of 2017’s most overlooked instrumental records. Gorgeous, soulful, and brilliantly sequenced, it was full of off-kilter chops of samples both new and seemingly shopworn (e.g. “bong”). The rising Boston producer’s latest record, Feverdream, is a far more ambient and atmospheric. On “many hands,” for instance, drums echo beneath a watery gurgle and persistent hiss. The same is true for “funk smart,” a bouncy, quasi-Latin groove that sounds like someone’s broadcasting it from a pirate radio station. The discordant noises here and elsewhere don’t obscure wowflower’s dynamic beats so much as they lend the beats a hazy surreality. Too many producers employ a lo-fi aesthetic to conceal underdeveloped ideas. Wowflower, on the other hand, uses it to realize his fever dream.
As one of U.K. radio and club culture’s worldliest and most seasoned DJs, Gilles Peterson’s long been fascinated with connecting the old and the new, and he takes that passion a step further with his focus towards the avenues between classic and wildly contemporary Latin American music. He’s hopped around Brazil for years, releasing worldly compilations and remix albums; since 2007 he’s also shaped a variety of exciting musical moments on the island of Cuba. Operating somewhere between the roles of musical researcher and bandleader, Peterson’s efforts were instigated by iconic rum maker Havana Club, who first invited him to come down and dig into the city’s underground. It was there he began plans for recording a new album around the company’s initiative to focus on contemporary music from the island. Following the last iteration of the series in 2016, an album of rumba-focused music—and far-out dance remixes by a pack of house, techno, and world-jazz luminaries like Motor City Drum Ensemble and Max Graef (from Peterson’s Havana Cultura Band)—he’s returned to the island for a new album, ¡Súbelo, Cuba!
On the album, Peterson focuses again on forward-thinking bass-infused rhythms from a creative medley of treasured local Cuban and sound-skewing British artists. He shares organizational efforts on the LP with fellow countryman Will LV, an artist with ties to ever-evolving bass havens like Hyperdub and Keysound, and DJ Jigüe, a treasured Cuban producer and DJ who has been pushing shapeshifting Afro-Cuban dance music on the island for decades. The result is an uptempo LP filled with gyrating energies that drip of Havana’s lush streets and sounds, and its beautifully chaotic energy. You’ll find the drum beats of Yissy García, a prodigious musician from the region; Yasek Manzano, a trumpeter schooled at Julliard who’s long collaborated with other Cuban beatsmiths; a few MCs and singers, who provide brash lyricism; and others who have long sent Havana’s legendary discos into bedlam.
There’s staccato-like, almost-techno sounding drum rhythms filled with echo and stabs of bass on one of Jigüe’s standalone cuts, “Compañeros Tropicales,” the follow-up to one of his two collaborations with Yissy García—this one’s a drowsier, emotive horn cut that one can imagine fueling some low-lit, slo-mo dance embrace. Other cuts, like “Bomba (Feat. El Individuo),” run under two minutes, dropping higher-energy MC street knowledge amid sparse electronics laced with clicks and clave. In fact, most of the album offers short tracks, like the closer “Hasta Pronto,” which contribute to a continuous vibe that takes listeners through Havana’s fluctuating energies and attitude-filled city bustling alleyways. Tracks like the horn-fueled “Blues De Mi Barrio (Feat. Yasek Manzano)” takes the neighborhood connotation a step further. The album’s a portrait of a night out in Havana’s future underground, which might explain the album title—“súbelo” translates to “upload it,” a possible nod to the infamous Cuban Paquete, a weekly upload of music, movies, and TV that locals use to absorb contemporary culture from around the world.
Coming at a deeply controversial time for Cuba’s musical and cultural connectivity, with Trump’s new travel restrictions in place, Peterson has once again succeeded in helping the island’s devoted and open-minded musicians get heard.
Forget jetting to lavish launch parties at ranch resorts in Wyoming—there’s nuggets of gold to be found right here in the Bandcamp hip-hop vault. Let’s dig into this month’s spotlighted picks to check out dramatic modern crime rhymes, experimental film scores, and a fresh female voice breaking out of the Mexican rap scene.
Raised between Brooklyn and Barbados, Haleek Maul debuted in 2012 as a 16-year-old MC talent before taking a break to finish up his studies. Returning with the seven-song In Permanence on the London-based Lex Records, Maul’s settled on a style that pairs dramatic bass-heavy electronic beats with rhymes that favor a confessional and almost emo streak. As he implores of the slowly disintegrating world around him on the closing cut, “All I want is silence / All I see is violence.”
As one half of Armand Hammer alongside Billy Woods, ELUCID is known for his sharp and thought-provoking lyrics that often muster up religious and dystopian images. But as a straight-up producer he’s also been releasing some incredibly forward-thinking music that’s happy to weave in noise rock and ambient flourishes. Bernadette was created as a svelte score to a short film by SUPERFLEX. True to ELUCID’s credo, it’s an experimental journey that skillfully guides the listener through the narrative while providing snatches of beats that bump.
Estee Nack x Sadhugold
A collaboration between Estee Nack and Sadhu Gold (whose name you might have spotted on releases by Mach-Hommy and Tha God Fahim), SURFINONGOLD.WAV combines lush and soulful production with fiercely chiseled flows that detail crime capers going down in shady Marriott hotel rooms. “SPOOKWHOSATBYTHEDOOR,” which features al.divino, ditches the drums to conjure up a taut spy movie vibe, while “DIFFERENCES” brings to mind the reflective closing cuts of Raekwon and Ghost’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.
Self-confidence is not an issue with Shunaji. Born in Lagos but now residing in London, her debut EP introduces her as a film buff with a wildly assured flow. “Red Honey” has her signing off on a verse with the vow, “I made a beat and I rocked it and I will be your favorite rapper,” while “Fellini” embraces a noir production vibe as she compares herself to the fabled Italian film director. A talent on the mic and behind the boards, bookmark Shunaji as one to watch.
Two-Headed Monster hits home like an unapologetic salute to a boom-bap mentality. The title track bigs up the Ohio-based MC and beatmaker’s dual-tasking status as he shouts out fellow producers-on-the-mic Lord Finesse, Diamond D, and Extra P over a soulful, motivational beat. Cameos come from top caliber lyricists Slug, Wordsworth, Aceyalone, and Mr. Lif, with the latter reminding why he’s such a firebrand presence on the guitar-spiked “Health Is Wealth.”
Pawz One & Robin Da Landlord
Sell Me A Dream: Flowstalgia
Pitched as a counterpoint to mainstream hip-hop trends, Los Angeles rapper Pawz One and Dutch beatmaker Robin Da Landlord employ rugged drum patterns and dusky jazz samples as their sonic calling card. Over this backdrop, Pawz One expresses worldly commentary and drops conscientious rhymes while verbal features are provided by Prince Po (on the piano-helmed “On The Daily”) and MED (on the brooding “Bad Weather”).
Listening to MIKE’s releases since his 2017 breakthrough MAY GOD BLESS YOUR HUSTLE is like taking a peek into the young rapper’s diary. Prospering over the shorter EP format, he’s become renowned for copping to bouts of depression, isolation, and self-doubt—but the seven songs that make up Black Soap focus more on embracing family and friends and coming to terms with the attention his music and life is garnering. Like previous projects, the production remains bold and experimental: “Ministry” is a brilliant patchwork of aqueous bass tones, warped and distorted brass, and fractured percussion hits.
Damu The Fudgemunk & Flex Mathews
Dreams & Vibrations
There’s an undeniable attraction about the classic combination of one MC working with one producer across an entire album—and it’s a setup that charms for beat man Damu The Fudgemunk and spitter Flex Mathews. Recorded as an ode to their love of hip-hop, Dreams & Vibrations is defined by chunky, soul-powered beats and Mathews’s golden era-inspired rap style. For a snapshot of the formula, head to “Deadin The Weight,” which comes off like a lost collabo from ’90s heroes O.C. and Da Beatminerz.
Curated by the Leedz Edutainment promotions company, Eastern Standard is a 21-track showcase of eastern seaboard hip-hop artists. With the Boston-based producer The Arcitype providing the bulk of the beats, standout picks include Slaine airing out his intense flow on “Source Of Power,” Michael Christmas starring on the slinky posse cut “Never Lived It,” and Copywrite spitting smart on the melancholic “Izzy Dead,” which also incorporates classic Ghostface ad libs from Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).
Niña Dioz has been a figure on the Mexican rap scene for over a decade now—but REYNA is about making moves into the American market. Production assists come courtesy of Scoop Deville and Futura (who’s worked with the A$AP Mob). The mainstream-friendly electronic beats prove a smart fit for Dioz’s quick-spitting style, like on the opener “Magdalena” where she breaks from Spanish on the hook to declare she’s “Latina as fuck.”
When it comes to jungle and drum & bass, London is the mother city. The unquestionable flashpoint. Bristol comes a very close second. As for drum & bass culture’s third city, the consensus isn’t quite so unanimous. But in terms of the next biggest and most historical cultural conurbation to have pushed, incubated and helped to characterize the genre since its early chapters, we ought to fly 5,900 miles from drum & bass’s U.K. cultural melting pot.
Destination São Paulo: a city with its own drum & bass sound and generous supply of artists, its own style of crowd participation (which is now a global traditional across all d ‘n’ b floors), and the genre’s first non-U.K. superstar who broke the mold for drum & bass as it developed from heavily U.K.-centric to global.
The city’s jungle movement can be traced back to the early ’90s and three key protagonists: XRS, DJ Patife, and DJ Marky. Now regarded as one of drum & bass’ most respected and entertaining selectors, Marky was working in a record store in the early 90s as the city’s first record buyer to import hardcore and proto-jungle records by the likes of Shut Up & Dance and Boogie Times Tribe. He began pushing the sound in his DJ sets, as did fellow selector and regular customer at Marky’s store, DJ Patife. They were so enamored with the unique and singular sound coming out of similarly built-up, intense, and gritty metropolises in the U.K. that they named their party Movement, after one of the leading night events in the U.K. run by seminal label V Recordings boss Bryan Gee.
By 1997, Marky and Patife were making regular expeditions to London and established a connection with Gee. They showed him videos of chaotic São Paulo crowds singing along to the basslines of big V releases, now a common ritual with the biggest drum & bass anthems at major raves and festivals. But, as Patife described in an interview with UKF last year, “the sing-along crew” have always been a part of São Paulo and Brazilian dancefloor culture: “Brazil dancefloors always sing—they sing the chorus, the melody, the bassline, whatever they love. They have done it since time. That’s what showed the guys on the video when we first came over to London. That’s what made them jump out their seats and go ‘What the hell man? They’re singing our basslines!’’’
Within months of this trip, Movement had an official party arm in São Paulo and, a year later, Marky became the first international DJ to take up a residency in the jungle mother city at the genre’s then-HQ The End. At the time this was unheard of; drum & bass and jungle were inherently close-knit as its protagonists were understandably protective about the unique scene they’d created. Marky set the precedent for the next wave of U.K.-accepted titans to add significant ingredients to the genre’s ever-mutating melting pot such as Pendulum and Teebee who arrived within a matter of years later.
Then came the records and a distinct São Paulo sound: Their sunny-side soul—often characterized by classic Latin guitars and Brazilian instruments such as cuica and atabaque, and sampling of renowned Brazilian composers and singers such as Jorge Ben and Elis Regina—resonated with the growing interest in the deeper, rolling soulful style of drum & bass, coined as “liquid drum & bass” by pioneer Fabio around the same time. By 2002 Marky, XRS and U.K. artist Stamina MC hit 17 in the U.K. mainstream charts with “LK,” a track so popular they performed it on cult music show Top Of The Pops.
While São Paulo’s influence has never hit such mainstream levels since, on the underground, its presence has never faltered and has had a major influence on the genre: Bungle and the now Bristol-based S.P.Y were the next artists to follow Marky and company, and have also gone on to reach premiership status within the genre. Bungle’s “Cocooned” was nominated for Best Track at last year’s Drum&BassArena Awards and S.P.Y is one of the most in-demand d ‘n’ b DJs in Europe and has released on a roll call of seminal labels such as Hospital, Metalheadz, and Soul:r.
They’re followed and flanked by many other São Paulo soulmates, all of whom are signed to some of the most long-standing and influential record labels, and contributing to the city’s ever developing jungle output. While São Paulo was once known for a particular sound, it’s now recognized as a respected source and culture hub of talent still pushing, incubating, and helping to characterize the genre into the future. It might not be officially drum & bass’s third city, but artists like these ensure it’s definitely in the running.
Marky needs no further introduction. An incurable digger, his insistent dot-joining exercises between soul, jazz, disco, and drum & bass on platforms such as Boiler Room have led to respect well beyond the confines of 170 BPM and two impeccable Influences compilations on BBE. His label Innerground (unfortunately not on Bandcamp) has been a major springboard for an array of exciting d ‘n’ b acts ranging from Command Strange to T>I to Total Recall, and his productions are heavily supported across the broadest drum & bass axis. Interestingly, he’s only coming into his role as a producer now. After his early releases, he retreated from the studio for years before returning in the early-to-mid 2010s with his debut album My Heroes and a string of bangers that continue to emanate from his São Paulo studio to this day.
Again, Patife’s role in São Paulo’s drum & bass story is established above. What’s interesting here is Patife’s comeback. After taking a break from the industry and moving away from the intensity of São Paulo to raise his family during the late 2000s and early 2010s, he’s recently returned to the genre with a new surge of energy, culminating in a mix album for Bryan Gee’s V and an EP for the label arm of idyllic Sardinian d ‘n’ b festival SUNANDBASS. Now back and packing a steady flow of 12s, Patife’s role in the São Paulo story continues.
Much more of a producer than a DJ, XRS’s current impact on the genre isn’t quite as prominent as that of his fellow peers. But it’s essential that he’s acknowledged as São Paul’s first drum & bass producer and a man who had a substantial influence on the early records that Brazil exported during that first jolt of Latin fire that would often appear on respected U.K. imprints such as Critical and Soul:r. Nowadays he’s infrequently spotted on experiments ranging from deep house to techno. He also gave away an album’s worth of gritty techstep productions that he wrote under his Sys_X guise during the late ’90s.
Carlos Lima has an amazing story; in the mid 2000s he gave up a well-paid graphic design job in São Paulo to pursue a career in drum & bass in London. Moving over with little knowledge of English and little savings, he spent years as a cleaner and fast food vendor by day while he fine-tuned his skills at night. It paid off; initially supported by Hospital Records’ new talent-championing label Med School in 2006, he’s since shimmied up the ranks to become a respected and authentic artist in the genre. Now based in Bristol, this year Carlos is set to follow up the 2017 three-EP album project Alone In The Dark with an even deeper escapade: Dubplate Style will see Carlos returning to the original jungle source and celebrating the original production technique and the machines it was made on. Well over a decade deep into the game, he continues to set new benchmarks.
The enigmatic Andre Sobota has been casting mystic spells in the dance since the early 2000s, including two evergreen albums released on the likes of Total Science’s C.I.A and BCee’s Spearhead (2011’s Memories) but few of his releases have had the impact that his Cocooned EP did last year. Released on Doc Scott’s 31 Recordings imprint (a label that is up there with Metalheadz in terms of its influence in the early careers of legends such as Marcus Intalex, Digital, Artificial Intelligence, and DJ Friction), each one of the EP’s four tracks was heavily rotated throughout 2017, culminating in a Best Track nomination at the Drum&BassArena Awards.
Felipe Leite has enjoyed a rich musical history. After years of playing guitar in bands, his earliest productions were trance and techno before he took the tempo up and started to drop a hyper blend of elements that are at once both soulful and savage. His abilities were clear from his still-stunning 2014 breakthrough release “Words To Say” on Bad Taste and it wasn’t long before he was scouted by Hospital Records. His debut album Gothenberg Cluster reflects his multicolored musical roots with a vital spread of ideas and sounds that ensures—like the São Paulo d ‘n’ b forefathers—he’ll never be associated with just one particular sound. Rumor has it he’s currently working on another album as you read this…
One of São Paulo’s busiest jungle operators, DJ Rusty has been persistent and unfailing in his tech-edged 170 BPM assaults since the mid 2000s. Breaking in around the “power jump-up” era on labels such as Original Sin’s Muzik Hertz, Rusty’s sound has mutated and morphed from a ravaged, untamed beastly blend to a starker rolling breakbeat sound the likes of which you might expect in a Digital or Spirit set. His label Promo Audio is also one of the strongest and consistent platforms for Brazilian talent since it was launched in 2006.
Recently spotted dropping a glistening groove-laden debut album Carnal Mind on V Recordings, L-Side has been steadily chipping away at the scene from his São Paulo lab since 2008 on labels such as Soul Deep and Celsius. Carving a distinctive barbed soul signature that’s lent itself well to MCs such as Fats, DRS, Darrison, and T.R.A.C, L-Side balances that fine line between weight, space, soul, and straight-up fire.
Two for the price of one: Alibi comprises two São Paulo acts Level 2 and DJ Chap. Both respected solo artists since they emerged in the late 2000s/early 2010s, it’s their collaborative work as Alibi that’s cemented their contributions to drum & bass. Yet another act to be celebrated and heralded by Bryan Gee, each of their singles flips between dark driving tech and bittersweet soul. This inclusion on Patife’s The Vibe Is Coming EP captures them at their most disarming and delicate.
Alongside XRS, Drumagick were one of the earliest production outfits to make drum & bass, and certainly the city’s first live drum & bass act. Behind the scenes, their fingerprints (and studio machines) were all over the original São Paulo’s initial vibe tidal wave and continued to be for throughout the 2000s. Known for exploring a variety of tempos and styles, they remained active and touring ever since and, last year, returned to drum & bass with a debut on Ram Records’ new talent imprint Program. It’s worth paying attention to what they do next.
Bubbling since 2011 on labels such as Russia’s Liquid Brilliants, The Netherlands’ Celsius, and DJ Rusty’s Promo Audio, Maycon Carvalho has had an international presence in the deeper quarters of the genre from the earliest stages of his career. Flexing a deep, restrained sound that veers into soul and disco, it’s the logical progression from the original São Paulo sound, crafted with just the right amount of cosmic magic.
One of the most successful acts to represent São Paulo on the heavier side of drum & bass, with a string of high octane releases on DJ Hype and Pascal’s genre-defining Playaz imprint, Jam Thieves have been a prominent force to be reckoned with for almost five years. With a penchant for stripped-back dynamics, wriggly off-beat basslines, trippy percussion, and quirky samples, the duo’s signature sound has that precision balance of weight, funk, and shade to ensure their place in sets from selectors across drum & bass’ widest axis. Hail to the thieves.
Since emerging on longstanding São Paulo label LuvDisaster in 2010, with a loose-limbed blend of soul and skanks, Duoscience (aka Edu Ventura) has polished and honed his sound with every release across the likes of Soul Deep, Celsuis, Fokuz, and Intelligent Records. His proliferation and development has resulted in a smooth, often cosmic-style funk that’s prone to surprise twists. Check “Intent” on U.K. label Nu Venture for a taste of his darker, trippier sense of groove mischief. Then, hunt down his recent album Proverbs 4.23 for even more science.
Raheem Jarbo belongs to a musical subgenre that could loosely be termed “video game rap”—hip-hop full of witty one-liners about famous game characters that taps into both the obsessiveness of gamers and the hardcore fandom of rap historians. That description makes the music seem radically niche, but Jarbo, who raps under the name Mega Ran—a nod to Mega Man—writes songs that are easy to embrace, thanks to his unrelenting charm. Jarbo released his debut LP in 2006 (The Call) and spent the first five years of his musical career balancing rap with his duties as a special education teacher in Philadelphia (he later move to Phoenix, Arizona, where he teaches middle school). His day job subtly influences his art: as Mega Ran, Jarbo approaches records as a teacher, preaching inclusivity and collaboration. He’s also served as a mentor within the rap game. His latest release, Emerald Knights 2, is a collaborative LP with rising Phoenix rapper Felix the Cat, aka Bag of Tricks Cat. On Knights, Jarbo moves away from the electronic bent of previous albums in favor of a boom-bap homage to the rap music of his youth. Throughout the album, he casts himself less as a fantastical stylist than an immensely talented rapper who happens to love video games.
“Both of my last two records explored the full-length of what Mega Ran is and cares about,” Jarbo says. “I want to start dealing with real life. In the past, fantasy has been my escape and getaway. It’s been much easier and much more fun to step out of that.” Mega Ran’s last two official LPs, 2017’s Extra Credit and 2015’s RNDM, signaled a subtle move away from video game subject matter, but outside of “official releases,” Mega Ran has kept his fans satiated with a plethora of quirky mixtapes and albums that display his signature fondness for thematic narratives. Since RNDM, he’s released a Stranger Things tribute (STRANGERS), an ode to WWE (Mat Mania: Battle Royale), and a tribute to hip-hop’s golden age (Tales of the Elements 2C). While Mega Ran LPs are typically bound together by a narrative throughline, the most obvious commonality throughout all of his work is his deep love of words and lyrical expression. On Emerald Knights 2, Mega and Felix have broadened their scope, making an LP that reflects their lives, not just their interests.
“I don’t think either of us had to really compromise styles,” Felix says. “The album’s really versatile with the type of songs that are on there, and the subject matter of each song. That was definitely intentional—every song is different, and is about a different topic.” Emerald Knights 2 touches on a wide range of topics, from self-expression on “Rappers In Their Feelings,” to wack MCs on “Get Out of the ‘90s,” where Mega raps, “There will always be a place for the classics / But hip-hop is never going backward.”
“I do usually operate under concepts, and as fun as that can be, it can get a little restricting,” Jarbo says. “For example, if I’m talking about Mega Man, I have to frame everything around that character, and what that character would go through. This album gave me a much wider palette, because the focus was just us, our everyday lives and our everyday feelings and emotions being musicians who travel, work hard, and make music.”
Emerald Knights 2 is not a video game rap album, it’s a rap album that happens to be made by a video game rapper. And while the plainspoken subject matter is a sharp change from previous Mega Ran albums, Jarbo is such a talented MC, his rhymes so clever and joyously approachable, that the new twists in his discography will only gain him new fans, not lose any old ones. “At this point in my life and my career, I think, ‘Oh man, if it’s not about video games, people aren’t gonna want it from me,’” Jarbo says. “I have to let that go and get rid of that and make something that I’m going to be very proud of.”