Chattabox – They Call Me (hip-hop)

As I’ve come to expect from a Chattabox release, this one goes in hard from the start. I often go to some lengths to counter the idea that musical quality is a matter of technical skills being exploited at full stretch, but there are times when an impressive display of compositional and performance gymnastics makes a positive aesthetic contribution to the music. This is one such: the very fact that this shit is hard to do is a part of its strength, and since Chatta never takes his eye off the ball in terms of his lyrics and beats it never comes across as smart-arsed, or as empty formalism. A highly developed skill set, in areas completely unvalued by the cultural elite, is a challenge to hegemony, and an assertion of personal agency …

H.L.I. – Omniglyph (hip-hop)

Rap is a form of spoken language; perhaps more than any other discursive art, it has no independent existence on the page; semantics are central to its meanings, but flow and orality are its material substance. It’s interesting then, that H.L.I. have chosen to title this release in a way that ascribes universal significance to a visual mark, and even seems to suggest that as a work, it intends to either represent, or present itself as equivalent to, such an infinitely polyvalent grapheme. It’s fair to assume that they’re not too hung up on the specific definition of a ‘glyph’, but all the same, taken as a general term for a sign or symbol, it clearly implies a static, atemporal locus of meaning, in stark contrast to the sequential unfolding of rap…

Copywrite – God Save The King (Proper English Version) (hip-hop)

Underground hip-hop takes distinct forms on either side of the Atlantic, to the extent that it’s arguable that ‘British underground hip-hop’ refers to a genre distinct from the American equivalent, rather than a geographically differentiated variety of the same thing. Arguable, but that doesn’t mean I think that’s necessarily the case… I do think that there are some important cultural differences (place and ethnicity both have very different functions in the construction of American and British identity), but I also think that the adherents of hip-hop’s undergrounds probably have more in common globally than they do with their local mainstreams. That being the case, transatlantic collaborations seem to be a little thin on the ground…

The Ruby Kid & Dan Angell – Maps (rap/ poetry)

Poetry isn’t the same thing as lyrics; lyrics are not poetry; and rap is neither poetry nor song lyrics. All of these things have their own uses, their own conventions and their own needs. You can take a beautiful example of one, you can use it as the other, and it’s most likely to end up sounding stupid, and failing to convey the meanings it channelled in its native context. Obviously there are exceptions: poems have been successfully set to music (leaving aside the classical tradition, where singers’ texts have fewer idiomatic requirements), and, less frequently, some lyrics have stood up well on the page; rap lyrics are less likely to survive the loss of rhythm, but more likely to work in the absence of accompaniment. Then of course, there are the writers whose works …