Oct 31, 2022
"Great Britain is a myth right now..."
Two different occasions combine for this month's episode; it's Halloween, and (0)161 is the Manchester area code, and so we lean towards the dark, sinister, and eerie, as well as including a good chunk of Manchester music in the mix. In several cases, we manage to find both aspects in the same track! The episode title fits the combination...as well as having some literal truth. The nights are closing in, and the temperature is falling...this is your seasonal soundtrack.
If you'd like to watch my recent appearance on the "All Back To Mine" show, you can catch the replay on Youtube!
Twitter : @airadam13
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Ice-T : Midnight
It's a long track, but deserved to be heard in full to get to that ending, which will be appreciated by anyone familiar with Ice-T's catalogue. He's one of the master storytellers in Hip-Hop, and this work of his pen lets you know that there are realistic settings that can be as perilous as any horror film. Taken from probably Ice's best album "O.G. Original Gangster", these four verses play out over a dark instrumental with a classing banging drum sample, courtesy of Shafiq Husayn and the legendary DJ Aladdin.
A-Trak : Don't Fool With The Dips (Instrumental)
Turntablist supreme A-Trak and Dipset weren't an obvious combination, but this 2006 single was a great combination - while the double-timed hi-hats are reminiscent of some of the Heatmakerz production that the Dips were often heard on, the chopping, angular harshness of the rest of the track is something else entirely. Take a close listen and you'll hear that it sounds like a lot of the sounds are scratched in on a turntable - they probably were! It's worth getting this single if you see it, just don't expect any complex socio-political lyrics :)
Regents (Cartridge and Strategy) : Greengate Adhesive
The 70/140 BPM might be popular now but it was definitely a UK creation from back in the days, and the kind of ideas that started off in jungle found their way to the originators of grime. That kind of aesthetic has always been part of the Manchester scene from its inception, and Cartridge's production on this cut from last year's "Shegry" EP would fit a damp, dark night in the city perfectly. Strategy, an absolute mainstay of the Manchester and Salford scene, burns down the mic on this one, dropping classic local references in amongst the rest of his bars, and the way the vocals are laid at times makes it sound like there's two of him piling over each other to get all those words out. Fire.
LEVELZ : Look Who It Is
Manchester again, as we take the opening track from the debut "LVL 11" mixtape from this powerhouse collective. Metrodome and Biome handle production, with the skittering hi-hat pattern dancing across the heavy low end that takes up most of the space in the instrumental, and heavy, distorted bass tones like that have always been very popular here. This is quite a long tune so I did mix out with some verses still remaining, so pick up "LVL 11" online to hear every MC get busy!
Kosheen : Cruelty
The Bristol area has given us a number of excellent groups who fuse interesting, beat-heavy production techniques with quality vocals, and Kosheen are no exception. This is a selection from their 2013 "Resist" LP that has just the right feel for this episode, with a lumbering, thudding undergirding to the creepy keys and Sian Evans' vocals. Just the kind of record that can fit perfectly into a listening, rather than a dancefloor set.
PRGz : WoodGrain
I have had this record from "Fear and Loathing in HuntsVegas" on my hard drive for absolute years, and always thought a Halloween-time episode would be the best time to bring it out! DJ Benzi and Diplo pull the creepy sing-song melody from the soundtrack of a famous horror film, and the strings, while not quite so dark, certainly add to that feel. Add the 808-based drum track, and you have a certified southern banger! The title, for those that don't know, refers to the expensive (if not exactly safety-enhancing) wooden steering wheels favoured on "slab" cars, and all the MCs work with the theme comfortably. Notice the unusual post-production of the vocals, with lots of weird manipulation of the pitches of the voices and re-triggering of some of the words - on a track like this, it's definitely a fitting addition.
[Luke Vibert] Asylum : Gemini Twins (Instrumental)
Before I pulled this 1997 UK 12" off my shelves for digitisation, I probably hadn't heard it for over twenty years. The vocal version is an extremely dark tale, and you can tell by the sound of Luke Vibert's production that you'll never hear this in any kind of celebratory setting, but it does reflect a prominent strain of domestic underground Hip-Hop of the time.
Brian J ft. Suga Free : Level Up
I only came across this thanks to a Spotify recommendation, likely based on the amount of Suga Free I've listened to over the years! Brian J and Free hail from the same town, which also provides the seed of the title of the album this is taken from : "Pomona Virus". It's not super-complex lyrically or anything like that, with Brian J making sure there's no mistaking the message he's trying to get across. Suga Free's guest verse is an autobiographical one looking back on his early years, which hopefully are well in the rear view mirror as he approaches his announced retirement and enters marriage! Production is handled by Sparaza from Inland Empire, who provides a suitably contemplative, yet motivating instrumental - I know I've been playing this one in the gym a lot recently.
Children Of Zeus ft. HMD : 10 Toes
Manchester's own Children Of Zeus feature another locally-based vocalist, HMD, on this sparse track where you still seem to notice something new on the first few listens - it's a subtle piece of production from this skilled duo. If you somehow missed "The Winter Tape", where this first appeared, definitely go back and give it a listen, as there are some great tracks on there. You can also get this track on the excellent "Excess Baggage" EP, which is also a worthy addition to any collection.
Dubbul O & Pro P : Misty River
Previous podcast guest Dubbul O is one of the best MCs around, and he hails from this fine city! This pounding Pro P-produced (wow, alliteration!) track from the 2014 "Omega" LP has quite a dark vibe, as does the rest of the album, which is very cohesive in that respect. The beat is rugged boom-bap and Dubbul O just comes straight down the lane on the mic, which was exactly the right approach to take with it.
Black Josh : Killidoscope
One more Manchester track before the instrumental break. I was about to call Black Josh one of the new generation of Manchester MCs, until I remembered that even this track is nine years old! Along with the rest of the "Blick Flair's Ape Mountain" project, the lyrics and beats are a bit trippy, with Metrodome borrowing from a smooth 80s soul single and layering it with a rhythm that feels kind of (intentionally) jumpy and askew for something pretty unique.
Focus... : fIRE&iCE
Starts off pretty dark, brightens up a little over halfway through before coming back down towards the end - a great instrumental from Focus... (yes, the dots are part of his name) from the first in his "Analog In A Digital World" series.
Mobb Deep : Quiet Storm
"I put my lifetime in between the paper's lines". That killer opening is one of the most iconic lines of Prodigy's career, and instantly locks you into this classic single from "Murda Muzik", the fourth Mobb Deep album. Havoc masterfully shows how re-contextualising a sample can give you a totally different feel, taking the bassline from Melle Mel's "White Lines" and making it sound less like a club record and more the kind of thing that fits the album title. Prodigy describes in his book "My Infamous Life" how Noyd was originally writing a verse to this track, but when Havoc and Noyd went out to meet some women, Prodigy took control and over the course of three hours wrote and recorded a full set of solo verses to it. It was a great move - as excellent as Noyd and Havoc are as MCs, this song gives you some of Prodigy's best work.
Mobb Deep ft. Lil Kim : Quiet Storm (Remix)
The third verse of the original track is dope, but I thought I'd switch it up and blend into the second verse of the remix, a classic performance by the great Lil Kim. There have been pretenders to her position, but her skills and history are undeniable.
Bugzy Malone : Skeletons
When you talk about someone who's had their ups and downs, as well as someone who's been on the grind for many, many years, Manchester's Bugzy Malone fits the bill. His material is definitely in the grime lane, and darkness is a persistent feature - even when the tracks aren't titled as blatantly as this one. He's a man not shy to put his real life into his lyrics, which I think is one of the things that really draws people to him, and here, despite the occasional bar of flash, it's a journey into the darkness of the streets of Manchester and where they too often lead. Blinkie, who has plenty of happier-sounding music in his repertoire, absolutely slays the production here, going half-time with the pace, and going with an ominous, subdued drum track and dramatic keys. This 2021 cut from "The Resurrection" could easily fit in on a thriller or horror soundtrack.
Gang Starr : Code Of The Streets
While DJ Premier produced the overwhelming majority of Gang Starr material solo, the late great Guru was at least partly responsible for this killer from "Hard To Earn". The main sample gives a really dismal feel, and provides a perfect setting for the first couple of verses, telling the story of youth without hope. The cuts between the verses are, fittingly, remembered just as much as any other part of the track, with Preemo showing that you don't have to do anything super-technical to produce something with flavour - common techniques done flawlessly and with feeling will do just fine.
GZA ft. Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, and U-God : Investigative Reports
A deep album cut that was always one of my favourites on GZA's second LP (though first in the Wu era) "Liquid Swords", the sound of the woman describing the historic location of a battle in the American Revolutionary War almost brings the ghosts of the fallen combatants out over the gloomy track. RZA is, of course, the producer, and GZA settles in for the middle of the track between U-God on the hooks, and the dynamic duo of Rae and Ghost, who take the opening and closing verses. Quality street bars, with Ghost's wild, slang-laden style, that would get a full-length outing on "Ironman" a year later, already well-formed here. On a production/engineering note - notice how during the hooks, RZA pans the kick drums over to one side, and U-God's voice to the other.
Pro P : Intoxicated
Pro P on the beat again, and this one has all the bass. My goodness, this one will test your system's low end! It's on the 2015 "Street Life Beat Tape", which was a welcome release from the Manchester beatsmith.
Waajeed ft. Monica Blaire : Knives Out
We close with a creepy track I've been meaning to play you for the longest. "Exit Music (Songs With Radio Heads)" was a 2006 tribute album to Radiohead featuring a whole bunch of covers, and this track featured both there and on "Exit Music EP 2". I can't say I've ever been a Radiohead listener, so I went to check the original version of this song (from 2001's "Amnesiac"), and while it was a decent listen, I have to say...my vote goes to Waajeed and Monica Blaire! Maybe it's the bias of having heard the cover first, but the throbbing bass on the hook here makes it sound really claustrophobic, which builds on the unpleasantness of the lyrics - well conveyed by Blaire. Waajeed is a skilled practitioner of timing/swing control within a beat, in that great Detroit tradition, and that drum track is overlaid with keys upon keys to produce the fleshed-out final product.
Please remember to support the artists you like! The purpose of putting the podcast out and providing the full tracklist is to try and give some light, so do use the songs on each episode as a starting point to search out more material. If you have Spotify in your country it's a great way to explore, but otherwise there's always Youtube and the like. Seeing your favourite artists live is the best way to put money in their pockets, and buy the vinyl/CDs/downloads of the stuff you like the most!