Friday, July 23, 2010

Provide And Conquer



Consider some of the finest, freshest British hip-hop records of the last decade. The Zebra Traffic singles "Grand Final" and "Learn To Be Strong", and P Brothers-powered album "Spaz The World". "I.D.S.T." and "I Know" on twelve. The Main Rock "Resilience" EP. The Capkon Entertainment split with Konny Kon. "The Get Out", with Zero Theory. The mighty Ed 209's classic ecstatic, "Stay Ex Static" (4th division ESCAPE mixtape track nine). Styly Cee's unleashing of the H-Bomb and last year's Needle Drop, courtesy of Endemic. Even this January's winter warmer, the probably not Bolt Thrower-inspired, almost tauntingly effortless flow of "Psychological Warfare".

What do all these records have in common, besides their inescapable aceness setting them apart from the common sludge of the genre ? Why, Cappo, of course. We got very excited about the man not too long ago ("Not unlike a certain Rakim, Cappo's style now is very much *rise above*, and without ever losing his trademark hunger and aggression he shows off once more the expanded vocabulary, mystical leanings and scientific metaphors that keep him heads, shoulders, knees and toes above pretty much anyone left repping the UK right now") but believe us that was ZIP to the excitement of suddenly discovering that there was a whole second album ready to go, some seven years in the making: the return of the Akai Warrior. We're certainly not alone in rating Cappo as now the UK's finest, most consistent MC, although it's still a mystery to us that more don't.

The release of this new long-player, "Genghis", was a welcome departure from the usual pre-release drip, promotion, leak and hype: Son Records and Cappo orchestrated a total lockdown on its contents, even rewarding those of us who bought the record on what Caps calls "Complete Faith" or "Loyalty" with a free extra ten tracks of older-school Cappo, "The Ruddington Heights Tapes", ten cuts which we can confidently say would make a fine elpee in their own right. But they are not the main event. "Genghis" is. And, as "Spaz The World" proved in spades, the two-disc vinyl format is still where it's at for any self-respecting hip-hop album. Each side has its own intro track, central hub song (or two) and outro, giving every number a clearly defined space, just as you'd find on a 7" single or EP. It means the label hasn't just chucked a dozen songs at the wall and strung them in one linear mush on a CD. The songs have context. For an artist with substance, that's a necessity.

Side one, disc one starts with a two minute freestyle, "Live Intro", scratches handled by longtime collaborator Styly Cee, in which Cappo extols his "century breaks" and signs off with the siren call "Spirit of Victory", before flipping into that first track proper, "Complete Faith". Propelled by what could possibly be the percussive undercurrent to Bolero (but thankfully sans Ravel's garish melodic accompaniment), it's a thoughtful opener, musically dry, tinged with the God complex that runs throughout the album (and, let's face it, all great hip-hop albums), a complex abetted by the somewhat hyperbolic sleevenotes. However, it's the title track, which follows, that is probably the LP's first banger, a depiction of Caps as a warrior on horseback jet-propelled by an unrelenting, allegro vivace, horn-aplenty sample. The side ends with "Provider", which returns to "Complete Faith"'s theme of looking out for friends and fam, and the album's theme of strength and confidence as the way out of the gutter. The beats coalesce beautifully, joined for the choruses by a shimmering, radiant hook. "Pressure is a privilege in my book", observes Cappo, Grand Imperial.

Turn the record over and glassy instrumental fragment "Street Walker" leads into "Loyalty", which was the taster (download) single. A standard pub conversation of ours is how nobody has released a truly classic (we're talking all time top 10 or 20 here) hip-hop single since maybe '97- that the last was probably either the Wu's "Triumph" or Gang Starr's "You Know My Steez". But "Loyalty" is in that zone - indeed, it has a real GS feel, with gritty Premo-style 90s crunched beats encasing bass clef piano, and Cappo unfolding a lyrical stream of consciousness. It set up a weight of expectation for the main event, that's for sure. There's a deft, brief Ra sample in there, as well as a tiny musical extract from Caps' "Resilience" EP, perhaps the moment when he first came of age as producer as well as MC. On the album version, instead of the single's end fade, a jarring drum lock intervenes, setting up the lower-key, dusky "Magna Carta" which is simply so deft, so accomplished. The last cut, "Fire With Fire", then ups the power once more: one of a handful of *major* tunes which more closely recall hold-no-hostage spec of the brothers P. The hornflecked production is boss. At its close, the needle skips across to a brief comedown, some shout-outs to the massive.

The second disc resumes with "Turns And Twists", co-produced with Styly Cee. Nothing to do with Slaughter and the Dogs, these are the Condor's musings on the vicissitudes of life (or, as HMHB would have had it, "them's the vagaries"): Cappo's anchored, tru-thought mindset is thankfully as far removed from "Beamer, Benz or Bentley" as you can get. It's the longest track on the album, mind, and perhaps it feels that way towards the end. Never mind: "Barcode" then delivers tighter stylings - the cooing vocal verse sample making it his "New Wu", Cappo being as much an admirer of Raekwon as the rest of us - before the shortest of interludes, "Green", and then the mighty, eastern-kiltered "Gilgamesh II", both the (virtual) flip to the "Loyalty" single and a sequel to the equally mystic "Gilgamesh" - semi-mortal, demi-god - that sat so comfortably on "The Director's Mixtape".

The final side (run-off groove etched with that "Spirit of Victory" maxim) is a mixed bag soundwise, with a brace of more commercially-minded, David Haye-tough tunes sitting alongside two quieter grooves. "Most Wanted" is, appropriately enough, a hay(e)maker: it bursts from the record with a drilled, repeated sample before Cappo leaps in, as forceful as he's been all album, to set a few people to rights from the off. Respite comes but fleetingly with the skit of "Dukes" before "Re-Cap" marks the end of the full tunes, its soulful, string-swept backing making a cracking alliance with Caps' ever-gruff solemnising. It's one of his "last-minute match winners", perhaps the closest "Genghis" comes to the naturally accessible highs of "Spaz The World". And once it's gone, there is only "Build And Destroy" to give Cappo his voice, an outro in which he outlines his work method and his work ethic. That's all, folks.

So what can we say to sum "Genghis" up ? Well, it's a more *mature* album than "Spaz The World", more ambitious ("I spaz the universe this time", natch). With Cappo self-producing, we've no need for the massive P Bros. beats, the Quantic Soul samples that anchored three or four of those still-wondrous Spaz tracks and the likes of the Zebra Traffic singles we mentioned. Lyrically, there are plenty of references to his home town ("the legendary city") and to *rising above*; the usual glittering sea of similes. As you'd expect, there are no celebrations of crime, no pointless spars or spats, no sex rhymes or party tunes: there's no dumbed-down LCD stuff, no misogyny or thinly-veiled homophobia. In short, there's nothing tying Cappo in with the Thatcherite / Reaganite rap currently exerting a dispiriting hold on the UK and US mainstream. Apart from a brief appearance from Styly Cee, there are also none of the guests that made Spaz perhaps easier to initially digest: "Genghis" requires a little more concentration, more contemplation. But the rewards aren't too far away.

And don't just say "I don't like rap music", because Cappo's as far from 50 Cent as Cage is from Corelli. True hip-hop is about self-improvement, not self-destruction, and Caps has practised everything that he's preached - he's self-taught "Resilience", he *has* learned to be strong. This is the record he wanted to make, one suspects he's yearned to deliver for some time. Some will find moments of it too reflective, a little too intricate, occasionally even too philosophical. But that's the nature of the journey. As for us, we've stepped back, taken a month or three to digest "Genghis", made sure we didn't rush headlong into any eulogies we might later regret while the blackbirds were still singing. Yet it's still our turn to go all hyperbolic on you now: this, our long-suffering compadres in sound, is the real deal.

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