Contrary to prevailing wisdom, the vinyl recording is far from dead. Though it's unusual to walk into a "record" store and see 7-, 10- and 12-inch plates in the bins, it's not likely that modern indie and major labels will completely discontinue the format. As long as vinyl is being pressed, and people want to find it, they will, somehow. And it's not just a DJ thing (though largely it is) - it's cultural.
The following are among hip-hop's finest new releases . . . drum 'n' bass included.
4-Hero Earth Pioneers EP
Speedin' faster than the bullets of their former incarnation, Tech 9, when these brothers compose or remix, they have a method: Dego and Mac direct their musicians in custom-creating the sounds they want, then they sample from the sessions, further synthesize their selected material and sequence it according to their own feel. Their preferred mechanistic arrangements are woven with organic, dense textures on "Loveless" and "Planetaria," while the heavy hands of the jungle clap thunderously on "Dauntless," "2030 Grand River" and "Hal's Children." This aural brilliance soars far and away from formulaic dance-concoction monsters, and represents a few of hip-hop and jungle's more profound musical dimensions.
Abstract Rude and Tribe Unique
"My Experience Is . . ." (Big Dada)
L.A. natives Abstract Rude, Zulu, Irie and producer Fat Jack make up part of the prolific Mass Men crew that's been making a great deal of noise in the hip-hop underground. "Can you feel me?/Out of your body/into your mind," says Ab. "Pursuin' the truth in gold/tryin' to produce from the soul." Electric guitars, gritty live drum sounds, dub-style bass lines, vinyl surface noise and an intriguing atmospheric buzz give these songs a nice pace.
Chris Bowden with 4-Hero
This is far and away the finest new drum 'n' bass wax out right now. The sultry, down-tempo "Hero" moves from breakbeats and voluptuous strings to more intensified orchestral chords and double-time kicks and snares, topped with operatically soulful vocals. "Lullaby," the stronger of the two movements, evokes true joy through complex and rhythmic "classical" progressions twined into hovering bass and delicate percussion. A must!
Divine Styler "Before Mecca"/ "One Self Duel (9000) Series" (DTX)
Like Divine himself, "Black ain't back," it's been here from the beginning. This brother didn't disappear after his '92 masterpiece, Spiral Walls Containing Autumns of Light (Giant), he's just been making serious self-adjustments. A devout Muslim, Divine made hagg (a pilgrimage) in Saudi Arabia, then got back to writing, and "Before Mecca" and "One Self Duel (9000) Series" are the fruits of his journey. Over rapid-fire machine beats, Divine's lyrics inspect the fissures of consciousness for the "macro-, micro, meta-cosm phrase" that can articulate our essence. Look out for his Word Power 2: Directrix, due out later this year.
M.F. Doom "Greenbacks" (Fondel 'Em)
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The rawest of the raw isn't an uncooked slab of steak, it's the "S-to-the-U-to-the-P-E-R" garage sounds of Monster Island's M.F. Doom. Rough and rugged, these tracks and lyrics are all-the-way punchy. From vocals edited in so loud that they nearly distort, to beats clashing with sweet, soaring soul samples, "Greenbacks" and "Go With the Flow" are a great, and even rawer, progression from Doom's previous Fondel 'Em release. You'll recognize the voice - that's right, M.F. Doom and Zev Love X of K.M.D. are one and the same, still innovative and going against the grain.
Mos Def featuring Q-Tip and Tash "Body Rock"/ "Manifesto" (Rawkus)
A wonderful single from a forthcoming collection of tracks laid down for The Lyricist Lounge Vol. 1. Q-Tip, Tash and producer Shawn J. Period get things started on this spirited track from Mos Def, but the true body rock is in the humble little cut on the b-side, "Manifesto," a new gem from Reflection Eternal's Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek. To bluesy piano chords and a bottom-heavy beat, Kweli spits, "Back in the day they stole our smile/so we clothed our teeth in gold/and we frontin'/From nigger to kid to sun to god it's wild/dependin' on labels for man, woman and child/My style just is/all that's seen and all that's heard/god gave us music/so we play with our words." Kweli flows and incites with unstoppable hunger and drive: "All the real MCs/meet me outside/so we can decide/how we're gonna change the tide."
Seek vinyl and ye shall find: Try Fat Beats on Vermont, Street Sounds on Melrose, or Aron's on Highland.