Listens for the Week #39: Killer Mike, B.D.P., Squid, Doja Cat, Unruly, Filip Neuf, Hannah Strumner
Despite being a lacklustre week for the mainstream, the underground hip hop scene has been thriving as of late. With underrated talents like Jules Clay, Dread Scott, and Furious Stylez all having dropped this past Friday, their consistent output makes up for the few mainstream disappointments that have plagued June. Unfortunately, despite my love for Run the Jewels, the latest LP from Killer Mike is among those disappointing records.
My Favourite Albums This Week
Killer Mike – MICHAEL (2023) [Southern Hip Hop]
Eleven years after R.A.P. Music, Killer Mike has returned with another solo record, but it pales in comparison to its predecessor. Unlike Mike’s output for the last decade which has been entirely produced by El-P, MICHAEL is handled by a variety of beatmakers from No I.D. to DJ Paul. However, despite the diverse credits, much of the project meshes together with an unchanging sound. Drawing heavy inspiration from soul and gospel – giving the album a motivational, almost spiritual tone – the beats seem as if they are aiming for an uplifting sound, but the result is a collection of tracks that blend together without many standouts. Mike has his moments – with a few brilliant personal cuts here and there – but for the most part, his verses are riddled with eye-rolling bars and stagnant flows, with his monotonous delivery on “TWO DAYS” making for one of the album’s weakest moments. There are no outright terrible songs, but the oft uninspired production coupled with unremarkable flows and inconsistent lyrics culminate in a lukewarm record that is a far cry from Mike’s finest work.
Boogie Down Productions – Criminal Minded (1987) [East Coast Hip Hop]
Up there with the most important hip hop albums of all time, Criminal Minded has the phenomenal content to match its historical significance. Laying the groundwork for the hardcore and gangsta rap scenes which would dominate the ‘90s, KRS-One offers some of the most savage verses of his career, fuelled by the rage for his Queensbridge rivals. Before Criminal Minded, violent tales like “9mm Goes Bang” were unheard of in the genre, telling the story of KRS going on a rampage and murdering every threat who comes his way. Diss tracks “South Bronx” and “The Bridge Is Over” are iconic, and for good reason. On the former, KRS-One describes the evolution of hip hop in South Bronx while downplaying the importance of Queensbridge, flowing over a looping trumpet sample that blasts like the fire of a gun. The latter is a far more twisted track, murdering each member of Queensbridge’s Juice Crew one by one. “Super Hoe” holds the album back from perfection – the verses consist of some humorous rhymes about DJ Scott La Rock’s sex life that lack the comedic punch KRS intended, more discomforting than hilarious. Blemishes aside, Criminal Minded holds up as one of the best rap albums of the ‘80s, with a level of influence equal to Paid In Full and Illmatic.
Something I Love
Squid – O Monolith (2023) [Art Punk]
Back in 2019, I had the pleasure of seeing Squid live as they supported the band Metronomy. With only a few songs to their name, their explosive brand of punk music instantly resonated with me, and it has been a joy to follow their evolution since then. 2021’s Bright Green Field was the group’s fantastic debut album, but it was clear they still had room to grow and hone their style. O Monolith is that style fully formed, showcasing the punk outfit’s bizarre, vibrant, and unpredictable brand of rock music. The album has a slow start with “Swing (In A Dream)”, a track whose jazz-rock climax makes the rest of the song underwhelming by comparison. After the opener, O Monolith is a nonstop barrage of eccentric ideas. “Siphon Song” is a favourite of mine, where Ollie’s vocoder-lathered vocals offer an enchanting contrast against the tornado of angelic rock instrumentation that swells throughout the song. “Green Light” is another highlight where Ollie’s barking, enraged vocals add to the chaos of the swirling instrumental, where layers of harsh sound build around a single guitar riff, creating a calamitous soundscape only a band like black midi could match.
My Favourite Songs This Week
1. Doja Cat – “Attention” (2023) [Pop Rap]
Ever since Doja Cat announced she would be leaning more into hip hop than pop music, I’ve been waiting excitedly for her next release. While “Attention” isn’t groundbreaking for the genre, it’s a solid hip hop track with some introspective verses that allow Doja’s lyrical talent to shine. She has such a frigid mic presence and a steady flow that add to the sinister atmosphere of the track, and with its haunting hook, the song comes together as one of her best yet.
2. Unruly & Filip Neuf – “CODE BLACK” (2023) [Jazz Rap]
Following the twisted, corrupted world of Don’t Go Outside, Unruly is back with another foreboding single, produced by jazz rap aficionado Filip Neuf. His rhyme schemes are tight and his delivery ferocious, tearing apart the mic as he conquers one of Filip’s grimiest beats to date. The song plays out like a battle between the MC and producer, both fighting for prominence as Unruly’s impassioned bars rise above the din of screeching horns and clattering drum work. More determined than ever, Diaz’s performance on “CODE BLACK” has cemented him as one of the year’s most consistent rappers.
3. Hannah Strumner – “White Sneakers” (2023) [Country Pop]
The latest single from country singer Hannah Strumner is one of her catchiest singles yet. It’s a lovestruck pop song with some lush guitar work and a soothing vocal performance, forging this serene, warm atmosphere that perfectly captures the essence of summer. The subject matter may not be anything new for country, but the ripple of guitar and strings swirling around Hannah’s words are too gorgeous to resist.