The format was vital for grime’s evolution as an MC-led genre, in that they would write lyrics in either 8, 16, 32, or 63 bar sections, with the style varying for each of those lengths. ‘Your 8s are your reload bars,’ Shystie explained to me recently, ‘or it can just be a 4, repeated twice’: they had to be memorable, crowd-pleasing and catchy - held in reserve for when the DJ brings in a particularly brilliant instrumental. These are your silver bullets, your punchlines, powerful and simple shots of lyrical adrenaline - the bars that could make you underground famous. 16s and 32 are for your more detailed or thoughtful content, ‘for spraying’, and they need more space to breathe: they’re better suited to slower burning, less sugar-rush hectic instrumentals - but because they’ll take longer, you need to start them at the right time, too, early on in a track, unless you’re confident about continuing them over the hump of two tracks, during the DJ’s blend. Judging the mood, and the rhythm, and anticipating the DJ can be fiendishly difficult, especially when you have to make split-second decisions about switching up the pace while also in the middle of spitting. It requires a pretty remarkable level of mental dexterity, the more you think about it.
-From Dan Hancox’s phenomenal Inner City Pressure
OK, now that I’ve concluded my tour through all the bonkers 2018 records hiding beneath the media-approved surface, time to get into this, the current year of our lord. I always seem to get bummed out during the first couple weeks of January, which feels a bit on-the-nose but also, hey, it happens. I’ve also been stuck navigating the absolutely abhorrent mental health services here in rural Ohio so the year has been a bit of a slog so far, albeit one that I at least know is only temporary. The past several months have found me using music more therapeutically than I ever have before, something I didn’t really think was possible and has only deepened my respect for the curative power of music. For all the neoliberal prattling about self-care, I’m always shocked at how music seems to be elided from that conversation; for those of us who have tried and failed again and again at practicing mindfulness meditation, music strikes me as an equally valid alternative and one that certain individuals with extremely busy minds can benefit immensely from. I can’t help but wonder if the fact that music has been rendered essentially free is what keeps money-hungry self-care gurus from preaching its restorative powers. Anyways, I’m rambling…let’s get on to the tunes!
After a 2018 that saw Nyege Nyege’s festival get mondo love from the European dance music media in addition to a stellar release schedule and the start of their fantastic club-focused imprint Hakuna Kulala, Nyege Nyege Tapes wasted no time in kicking off their 2019 in the finest of styles with an album-length statement from Singeli mastermind Jay Mitta. Since first alerting music fans to the breakneck loops emanating from Dar Es Salaam via their earth-shattering Sounds of Sisso compilation, the label has continued to document the fertile 180+ bpm sounds with last year’s excellent platter from Bamba Pana. As much as I enjoyed that album, Mitta’s Tatizo Pesa is easily my favorite slice of Singeli I’ve heard so far as it retains the loose, mixed feel of a DJ set with the thematic focus of a long-player. Highlights include the title track featuring the blistering vocals of fourteen year-old Dogo Janja and the nearly eight-minute mind melter “Don Bet.” An extremely special album that comes with the highest of recommendations<3
Sahel Sounds rarely disappoints and on the label’s first release of 2019 they’ve outdone themselves with Nigerian composer Hama’s Houmeissa, an album that sees him synthesizing second-wave Detroit techno futurism with Taureg guitar music to craft sci-fi Saharan folk songs that are bursting with a visionary energy. It’s an electrifying album that looks to the past, present, and future while never sitting still on the timeline, occupying myriad synchronous temporal points in a single breath. And be sure to take in the visual odyssey that is the music video for “Terroir.” Utterly breath-taking.
I learned of the Pittsburgh-based is / was label at the tail end of last year and they’ve built up a solid discography since their start in 2017 with a focus on weirdo electro that ticks off all of the right boxes for me. They’ve kicked off their 2019 with a collection of electro jawns from OG BPMF but I’ve found myself rinsing a platter they put out at the start of last year featuring a trio of PGH electro heroes. For my money, “Facing Forward” by Detour head Naeem is the pick of the litter as it sounds heavily infused by some of the off-grid percussive madness favored by a lot of the UK bass. Though he’s got some serious competition in the form of the two B-side cuts from the lowkey legend that is Shawn Rudiman, which includes the track “Derelict” that was originally released in 1999 via Hypervinyl Records. Also, if you haven’t scoped Rudiman’s ace mix for Dekmantel from last year, well, I would highly suggest you do just that!
If you scoped my 2018 favorite albums list, you might have noticed that there was an orphan separated from the reissue round-up in the form of Astral Industries’ latest Heavenly Music Corporation repress. While I am certainly forthcoming with the critiques of the heavily saturated reissue market—namely the fact that some reissue labels repeat the past sins of the record industry by failing to properly compensate artists—for me, keeping an eye on things is a way to interface with music history in real time, reminding me to dig deeper into historical pockets that I might overlook. And by repressing Kim Cascone’s productions, Astral Industries has prompted me to survey the producer’s chill-out room-primed Silent imprint. I don’t know if his 1994 release
Consciousness III will be getting a much-needed vinyl pressing this year, but that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying that album’s chilled beats and the stunning Joey Beltram remix that rounds out the record, which effortlessly evolves from beatless soundscaping to dancer-friendly rhythms. Too smooth.
Finally, while I don’t find myself paying much attention to mixes these days, I have been really enjoying these artist-focused mixes from Drumtrip’s Law that stitch together the entirety of a number of jungle and dnb producer’s enviable catalogs (in particular, I haven’t been able to stop listening to his mix of Omni Trio’s Moving Shadow material). As I’ve written here before, growing up in the post-rave midwest, it took me a long time to develop an obsessive passion for jungle but boy oh boy, once it hit me, it hit fucking HARD. Perhaps that’s why my most-played song of 2019 so far has been this 2002 peak-time cut from the late, great Marcus Intalex and High Contast which effortlessly fuses French Touch-style disco samples with an Omni Trio-referencing breakdown that could be critiqued as lowest common denominator if it weren’t so much goddamn fun. Seriously, it’s the type of track that makes me fantasize about dropping it out of the blue and absolutely losing my shit while doing so. I find it literally impossible not to smile when listening to “3am” and if you allow yourself, you might just do the same. Lose yourself.