Wednesday, March 26, 2014
I've talked about D's adult approach to our genre of hip-hop which is sadly typically written off as a genre for and by kids before, and he certainly hasn't put that down. "Old man rap" are literally the first three words we hear on this LP. But fortunately, he stops short of entering Pitman territory (ha ha). In fact, while he certainly has a variety of topics and things to address over the course of this LP, the energy seems more directed at just making a bumping, mass appeal album.
As such, it sort of rises and falls based on its production. Not that it really "falls," mind you. It's lowest points are still good stuff. But the waves of how much it pulls you in are generally based on how funky the beats you are. For example, "How I Get Ill" doesn't really come alive until Beatrix's scratches at the end. In fact, this album is filled with excellent scratching, which really elevate the proceedings. Then you also have "Gain My Perspective," which, lyrically, is one of the message-iest songs on here: "children die each day because of another man's cause." That kind of song by almost any other artist would be a drag, but it turns out to be a real high point, thanks largely to the super deep bass funk groove sampled and hooked up by Mr. Fantastic.
It's songs like "Run Fast" where D trades verses with Phill Most Chill over a hyper, high energy cut or the aggressively paced posse cut "Stronger" that really grab you. Or "Stories From the Battlefield," where DJ Spatts' production (including some excellent use of "The Bridge") and DJ Tones' cuts fuse perfectly together to create a track so alive it wouldn't even need vocals. I really can't say enough about the turntablism on here. There are multiple DJs contributing to different songs: Theory 77, Sir Beanz OBE, DJ Tones, Specifik, Beatrix, Mr. Fantastic and Miracle; but they all feel perfectly at home. Seriously, if you're into the art of scratching, this album is a must-have. Other recent artists have pulled it off on a track or two, but across a whole album? I think this is the best example of how it should be done that we've had in years.
"Night Time" feels the most like a classic Whirlwind D song, in terms of his previous work. It's got another deep, compelling groove (and yes, more nice scratches); but this time they really feel like they're there in support of D's song-writing, where he narrates nightly visitations of anxieties and regrets like ghosts when he can't sleep. It's evocative and atmospheric, like a more sophisticated "Play This Only At Night."
Oh, and that "Star" refix? It's okay. Produced by someone named Phil Wilks, it's driven by a computery bassline which will have your head-nodding. But it just doesn't feel as organic or... necessary as the original. It's the weakest spot on the album, and I kind of prefer to think of it as just a "bonus track" stuck on at the end. It's not bad, but it does sort of undercut the superior tone of the rest of the LP and probably could've been left off. Save it for an extra 12" B-side for the completionists. It's not that it's bad, but that everything else all along had been better.
And if we were grading records strictly on physical presentation, this would have to be contender for album of the year. It comes in a full color, picture gatefold cover with all the lyrics inside, and includes a glossy insert with more artwork and the man's discography. At £15.99, you're certainly getting the most bang for your buck in terms of the physical product. At a certain point, there must be a lot of pressure on you as an artists just to make music of high enough quality just to live up to the record you're putting it on. You know, for a thin little white label EP in a generic black sleeve, you can feel comfortable spitting any ol' guff over a crappy beat; but when you're putting together a big, fancy gatefold, I know I'd be thinking, damn, am I capable of creating what it takes to live up to this packaging? But fortunately, Whirlwind D is. and he's assembled a line-up of DJs and producers who go above and beyond. This is an album you'll not only appreciate on the first listen, but want to go back and play again and again.