New column alert! The last couple of years have seen producers round the world blurring the lines between hip hop, jazz, psyche and beats (whatever that means) and flinging out joyous, mind-bending new music like Gods chucking stars across the sky. With so much excellence and innovation out there, I reckon I can put together a round-up of killer new forms at least once a month, if not more. Please feel free to tweet me any stuff you think I should check out @ianmcquaid and I'll check out the LOT.
First up, the big news is that OKMalumkoolkat has just dropped a new mixtape. Since first appearing on Boomslang, a Hyperdub released collaboration with UK producers LV, Johannesburg based rapper OKMalum has been quietly amassing an army of fans (nearly 100K followers on twitter is no joke sha). His secret’s simple – he sounds like no one else in hip hop. He’s not alone in South Africa in using a delivery that’s a singsong grab bag of Zulu, Afrikaans and English – but when it comes to beats, OKMalum wilfully pits himself against the craziest sounds he can find. In his Dirty Paraffin duo he spat over house tempo beats that sought to find common ground between electro clash, booty bass and South African Kwaito. His recent Holy Oxygen EP saw him collaborating with the intense Vienna based jazz/electronica producer Cid Rim and now on the 100K Ma Cassette mixtape he jumps between addictive Kwaito rhythms, jerking bass heavy electronics, the sparse and militant sound of Gqom (Durban’s alien, E fuelled youth cult), and messy, crunchy hip hop.
On first listen there are bangers all over the place. Mapakisha 2.5 bears a sonic resemblance to the Maya Jane Cole organ sounds Drake and Nicki Minaj sampled for Truffle Butter, then smothers them in booming drums, multi-levelled vocals scrabbling for space with tricksy, slippery cymbals. Elsewhere LV return with PUSH IT, a robotic beat that seems in a permanent state of tripping up on its own momentum. Free 100k Ma Cassette nicks the stabby snares from BBD’s evergreen classic Poison and re-imagines them in a dub bass lurcher. For more traditional kicks, Drinks & Music is straight up SA House, and none the worse for it – it’s the kind of smooth soul jam Donae’o excels in. Final track, 100K Outro is strange and beautiful, somewhere between utopian ambient music, traditional Zulu singing and OKMalum’s freeform flow hitting in a rhythm that laughs at expectations. Fans are going to be lapping up 100K and for those yet to take the plunge into OKmalumkoolkat’s bizarre world, this mixtape is the best primer he’s produced since the early days of Dirty Paraffin. If you can’t find something to like on it, you’d best give up now.
There’s been a fair bit of hype round Londoner Ash Walker’s Agnostic EP, but for the first three tracks I was a little unconvinced – they’re well-crafted dub, and, fair play, Walker clearly knows what he’s doing, but you know how it is with hype – I wanted more. All the lush soundscape-y stuff veers a little too close to festival hippy territory for me, and there are already more than a few excellent UK and European dub artists who have been plugging away doing the same thing for years, although they, of course, don’t happen to be young and photogenic. But the last track on the EP gave me pause – a looping crackling piano cut that had a ponderous, heavy headed majesty to it. Dammit. Maybe this kid’s on to something after all. So when he chose to open a mixtape for OkayPlayer with the same track, I had to give it a listen. Yep, he knows what he’s doing. The tape is supremely laid back, shot through with depth and soul, and has time for Dilla, Fly Lo and Girl, the recent track from KAYTRANADA & The Internet that may be the greatest RnB record released this decade. That he decided to close the mixtape with a feature from neo classical composer Nils Frahm sealed the deal. Ash Walker, you win. This mixtape is sick.
And now, as they say, for something completely different. The last I heard Mykki Blanco was retiring from rap. I guess that was meant that in a Jay-Z/ 50 Cent way, as Blanco’s back with a new project a few short months after jumping all over social media with the news that it was all over. Coke White, Starlight is the first track from C-Ore, a new album that will see the MC collaborate with Yves Tumor, PsychoEgyptian and Violence. It’s hard and nasty industrial hip hop, similar to the path Deathgrips have been hacking out, as much indebted to Depeche Mode as it is to the DMX. For sure it’s gonna alienate some people and thrill others, but that’s an inevitable side effect of Blanco not giving a shit. "People all over the world are only fed this singular image of 'African American Music,'" says Blanco, "and we want to disrupt that. We all come from backgrounds outside of the black American norm, and the world deserves to see our culture as much as anything else.”
Back to Britan, and Salute is a young Viennese born producer who’s ended up living in Brighton (who knew I was gonna mention Vienna twice in this first column?). His new single Castle takes the pitch bendy synths that used to be on every Night Slugs release, mixes them with Jersey Club beat patterns and grimey claps, and then drenches the whole thing in gloops of sparkling Nintendo melodies until it sounds like Princess Mushroom’s sweetest dreams. Like most of the greatest rave tracks, there’s a sense of melancholy undercutting all the sugar – dancefloor euphoria for heartbroken romantics. B Side VXV sticks with the video game melodies, opening with the prettiest of arpeggios wiggling through widescreen chords that reach for eternity, before dropping into a huge, syncopated tom drum. It’s EDM for jazz heads, or the kind of thing PC Music might make if they had souls rather than sneers. All very promising for Salute’s future.