I've noticed that the albums/singles I review in the blog seem to be well made and well worth my time. Now if that's by design or coincidence is anyone's guess and I'm not about to start questioning the mysteries of the hip hop universe any time soon so hopefully everything will all stay peachy.
Fresh into the ABU underground HQ is some brand new product from Style Warrior Records which I'm anticipating will not rock that boat - although historically will undoubtedly make waves. And after an initial listen it is clear that it is certainly keeping in the same vein and making my reviewing task a lot easier.
The Hearts of Darkness lads hail from the north of England (Manchester and Hull) and you may well have heard of them before. Having had some previous success with a couple of twelve inches in the mid-90s and an appearance on the Ruf Diamonds Volume 2 (all on the Ruf label) they ruffled some feathers and then went back to being ordinary, everyday citizens.
Something I find that troubles my noggin when it comes to music is that there is just so much of it. Perhaps too much of it. Day after day comes new songs, albums, mixtapes and it just. Doesn't. Stop. There are so many albums that I missed during the hey-day of hip hop's Golden Age that even now I occasionally find an album and am blown away that I didn't cop it at the time. That period seemingly has become an anomaly and even though some say we are experiencing hip hop's second 'Golden Age' there are still not near as many nuggets as there were back then. But that's not to say that it's as barren as Steady B's diary at the moment. Far from it. Thanks to UK labels such as B-Line Recordings, Soundweight and now Style Warrior Records things are looking good and further proof is in the debut album release on SWR from HoD.
This retro release consists of six previously-released tracks and three unreleased ones, A Journey of a Thousand Miles (obviously a cryptic ode to The Proclaimers...) is a really enjoyable listening experience with it's slower pacing and mostly downtempo beats. The emphasis being the same feeling I get from Quest at their peak - sultry jazz with hard beats.
Another great British crew hit home with this similar style, namely Caveman, although at times they were more frenetic. HoD don't aim for the dancefloor and instead prompt you to wear headphones for this collection of treats (What You Waited For perfectly exemplifies this).
Whilst having this on repeat on my MP3 player for a couple of weeks I came to the conclusion that MC Loire & DJ Sheik were quite probably ahead of their time - being that the majority of cuts were originally produced in the '95/'95 period. The fast, hectic beats so traditionally associated with the UK scene are strangely absent in this cluster of cuts and the overall tempo is a cool, plodding groove with an average BPM of 91 (the lowest being Reanimating Wildstyles with just 70) which to me demands you listen with no distractions as a calmer pace dictates more detail in the mix.
Production-wise, the beats are mostly familiar breaks to the average hip hop fan - with one particular loop later being used on the same DJ instrumental tool I confess to have stolen in the past - but are crafted into dark, cinematic pieces with the occasional piece of movie dialogue layered on top. With Loire's deft lyrical display and the always-welcome addition of a scratch or two though then this automatically lifts the song higher than a Kardashian hemline.
|An album with all the trimmings|
So what you have here is a great album of tracks but being that it is on the Style Warrior Records imprint you can expect that this is not simply 'job done'.
As with the many t-shirts SW have produced over the last decade you can guarantee you will receive that usual extra touch with a smidge of class. The very heavy, 180-gram vinyl itself is housed within a record sleeve with painstakingly-transcribed lyrics on both sides and sits inside a beautifully-designed colour cover (within a PVC jacket) utilising and remixing the original photography of Pinky. And if that's not enough then also included is an A4 press-release insert detailing the concept of the album. It's these extra touches that I've come to expect from Style Warrior releases which push them over and above the average record label.
And for the digital-happy kids amongst us there is also a download code that can be used to grab the album in mp3 format.
In short this is an outstanding album which had it not been for the foresight of Style Warrior may have just been another collection of songs destined to remain on a cassette master gathering dust. This is serious UK hip hop history and you should be willing to walk five hundred miles and possibly walk five hundred more just to get your hands on a copy.
The album is available to order NOW. Go to the dedicated Hearts Of Darkness page on the Style Warrior website to get your copy.
01 No Limitations
02 Take The Name In Vain
03 Reanimating Wildstyles
04 Scatter the Ashes
05 Mr Next Man
01 A Taste of Venom
02 Tried And Tested
03 What You Waited For
04 Don't Fight the Featherweight