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Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The Most Important 'UK Hip Hop' LP in a Generation? Sonnyjim Presents 'Mud In My Malbec'






“One should write not unskillfully in the running hand, be able to sing in a pleasing voice, and keep good time to music; and, lastly, a man should not refuse a little wine when it is pressed upon him.” --- Yoshida Kenko, Essays in Idleness, c. 1340

“The two professions are almost the same. Each depends on source material and takes a lot of time to perfect. The big difference is that today’s winemakers still worry about quality.” - Francis Ford Coppola


Daupe! Media has been quietly but consistently producing high quality, boutique product for some time now. Having quietly amassed a dedicated following through good music, clever marketing and unique, limited edition merchandise – the Japanese vinyl market has surely never been so respectfully pimped - the label’s mantra, ‘Quality, Not Quantity’, perfectly describes the aesthetic by which their music is created and released for consumption.

As when considering a fine wine, more often than not you can rely on the turtle beating the rabbit to the finish line. If you’re going to do something properly and with purpose then you take your time, you pay it the due care and attention it deserves and when the chequered flag is finally reached the ends should justify the means. It’s a marathon, not a sprint; chess, not chequers. To quote Robert Mondavi, ‘Making good wine is a skill; making fine wine is an art’. Enjoy the fruits of your labour.
                                                                                                                 
           
Following a recent successful clothing collaboration with the ever popular Champion brand (SOLD OUT) and a slow-but-steady release schedule of critically acclaimed, limited edition vinyl releases (SOLD OUT) from hand-picked, well respected new-age Hip Hop stars-on-the-rise such as Action Bronson, Danny Brown and CasIsDead to name but a few, label ‘curator’ and producer The Purist has always kept his finger on the proverbial pulse when locating fresh and talented acts, still somewhat unknown to the masses in many cases, to add their unique and individual stylings to the ever expanding menu of hand crafted Daupe! delicacies. Collaborating with UK stalwart MC Sonnyjim on the production and release of his new project , ‘Mud In My Malbec’, is the latest addition to a menu already boasting some of the most rare and opulent dishes available for those in the market for subtle, tailor made cuisine.                  


First off, this is not a ‘UK Hip Hop’ album. This is a Hip Hop album that has been made by artists that originate from and live in the UK. There is a gaping disparity between these two facts, one that fans of artistry and music should appreciate. One is a pre-fabricated pigeon hole. The other, in comparison, is a wide open space filled with the promise of possibility. Nowadays, music – all art, in fact - is classified, hash-tagged and slapped with a pre-defined genre sticker before it has even been made available for consumption for the ‘swipe the screen’ generation of millenial media consumers. Some of us pine for simpler things and simpler times; good music and the nourishment it provides the soul is one of life’s base pleasures, and has been long before compartmentalisation of genre became so prevalent in modern life; a glass of fine wine often serves as the perfect compliment. Simple things. 

The term 'UK Hip Hop' in and of itself is already burdened with a number of stereotypes, some of which are scarily accurate and have, in certain cases, caused those that reside in the UK and who make Hip Hop music to be guilty by association. Think bucket hats, crusty hoodies, ruined trainers, poorly rolled spliffs overloaded with tobacco, overly complex multi-syllabic rhyme schemes, antiquated pseudo-boom bap beats, being broke, complaining about being broke, etcetera, etcetera. The list is exhaustive, but it is also long.

To some it is a brand of pride; to others, maybe a few years removed from the machinations of the 'UK Hip Hop' genre by age and taste, it serves as a reminder of why 'The Scene', as it has always been referred to, is mired in a perpetual state of mediocrity and showcases - in many cases, not all - a lack of anything new or interesting to say. This LP thankfully eschews the latter in favour of simply delivering something made up of pure entertainment and good music. This is at once a deviation from the now accepted norm of what 'UK Hip Hop' represents to people both in and outside of the country but also serves as a breath of fresh air in a room clouded by stale, second hand rollie smoke and even staler notions of what MCs in this country should - or could - be saying, and how. 



Released in collaboration with Sonnyjim’s own grass roots record label, the aptly named Eat Good Records, ‘Mud In My Malbec’ is a less-than-subtle reference to the combination of two wildly extravagant intoxicants, rarely mixed, if ever. Only the most flamboyantly ostentasious individual would consider mixing the two, and this is precisely the tact that Sonnyjim runs with on the album. Refreshingly minimalist production duties are handled impressively by Sonny himself, going down what could be referred to as a Ghostface-esque route of simple but effective old world soul samples, including some well placed and nostalgic vocals that compliment the lyrical content to a tee.

Assistance in the form of a sprinkle of cosmic-slop funk has been provided by standalone talents and contemporaries Kosyne, Apatight and The Purist himself. The quality of the music itself is clearly the result of a lot of time and hard work; the sound is crisp and clean yet retains the sometimes barely detectable fuzz crunch of an old, well played record. Judging by his reputation, I imagine that The Purist (who is also credited as the Executive Producer) insisted on all of the source material coming from vinyl. The clue is in the name.

The opening track, Panache, sets the tone perfectly. A smooth and squelchy intro, somewhat reminiscent of a ‘Doomsday’ era backdrop, serves as a canvas for some old fashioned pimp rap smack talk. One era of wolf ticket salesmanship gives way to another, forty years removed, and Sonny commences with an aperitif to pave the way for the ensuing meal.

‘You gotta love it – the portrait of a brother on his come up/We was on a budget, but now we on a hundred’


‘Doughboy Baker’, a smoker’s soundtrack that oozes a relaxed vibe right from the jump off moves into ‘Scramble’, which features the first of four vocal collaborations from a guest in the form of Hackensack, New Jersey native Da$h. Words are exchanged over a beat eerily reminiscent of Jehst’s classic ‘1979’, lending this album a further string to it’s bow in the form of a (possibly unintentional) nod to a rightfully admired legend in the game. The classic Mobb Deep cuts only serve to further embolden the picture that is being painted.

‘Hard Work’ is a self-explanatory celebration of the merits of a constant ethic which also serves as a set up for ’24 Karat’ to baby-powder pimp slap you in the face with a monologue on the trappings of the aforementioned ethic. Classic samples and simple yet incredibly effective vocal cuts – the scratches themselves serve as being percussive, as opposed to a turntablist machine gun blast of technical wizardry – give Sonny the perfect base to flex his technically proficient yet ultimately relaxed delivery perfectly.

‘Top Notch Hoes’, constructed around a lightly chopped and screwed classic Pimp-C quote, is a slice of squashy, bass driven funk that serves as the plate for a dish of belligerent mack talk. ‘Red Mullet’, a collaboration with popular up-and-comer Westside Gunn, sees the two MCs engaging in a friendly contest to see who can say the most fly shit in 16 bars. There is no clear winner.


As the album progresses the picture that Sonny is painting becomes more and more all encompassing. It’s one of those rare rap albums that draws you in, with a large credit going to the cinematic production, seeing one song sojourning subtly into the next. To put it plainly : An enjoyable listening experience. Sonnyjim is simultaneously vocally sharp and hypnotically smooth, the product of a battle tested MC who has honed his craft to make something more musically refined of his versatile abilities within the confines of the booth. The always on-point yet somewhat trance-inducing nature of Sonny’s lyrics, flow and delivery are reminiscent of, dare I say it, a Roc Marciano or a Ka. If you enjoy either of those artists’ music – and if you’re still reading this, then I imagine you just might be - then I strongly implore you to at least have a listen to the album snippets. I can’t imagine you being disappointed.

The album continues in this vein with two further features; the first from Das Racist alumni Heems, who masterfully stumbles across the musical tightrope of ‘Al Jazeera’ like a drunken monk on a mission. The second and standout contribution on this LP comes courtesy of Mello Music Group artist Quelle Chris on ‘Dorchester’, whose unique vocal stylings compliment Sonny’s dormant cobra approach to a tee. A collaborative project between these two in the future would certainly not be unwelcome.



With tracks such as ‘Blue Label, ‘Drugs and Trophies’ and ‘Czar’s Breakfast’ rounding out the album, the self explanatory ‘Arrivederci’ (Featuring The Purist) concludes the experience by arriving back at the beginning of a full circle. It should by this point be needless to say that the remaining courses serve as a subtle and complimentary reminder of those that came before. Red wine for red meat, white wine for fish. 


Consider this, if you will. Hip Hop music and culture was essentially predicated on two things : Party braggadocio and social commentary. Think ‘Rapper’s Delight’ vs ‘The Message’. Obviously, over the years a giant grey area has opened up between the two concepts, incorporating a variety of sub-genre rap ranging from everything from staunchly political musings to heavily conceptualised storytelling to pseudo-boom bap to skater rap, trap and everything else. But the core concept remains; for every Talib Kweli there is a Trinidad James. The onus is on the individual to express themselves in the most authentic way possible, and in this vein Sonnyjim has chosen his lane and built a set of iron clad barriers around it to keep him moving in the same direction at all times.


That might seem like a polite way of me saying that this LP lacks variety in subject matter, which may or may not be a fair appraisal. Only the listener can decide. However, if it is the case that variety is indeed lacking, this is made up for an infinite amount of times by the intangibles that many people ignore when considering the merits of a musical project. Think cohesion of sound, the flow of the project, the consistently high standard of lyric writing and delivery, the choice of beats, the way the album flows seamlessly from one song to the next and the clearly well thought out musical and engineering choices made by the artist and his contributors. 

       
             
Unfortunately, comparisons to one Action Bronson may be forced in the same way that Bronson himself has been endlessly compared to Ghostface Killah. However, in this instance the similarity is not in the voice but the subject matter itself. Fine dining, extravagant marijuana discussions, an affinity for Ralph Lauren and exuding a supreme self confidence are indeed hallmarks of both artists. With that in mind, Sonnjim’s own label (Eat Good Records - the clue, once again, is in the name) has been consistently churning out quality product since pre 2010. One look at Sonnyjim’s instagram feed will clarify his love for weed and fine dining. If you do your homework you will see that neither party is guilty of anything even resembling ‘biting’; it is simply the case that both artists enjoy indulging in similar lifestyles. Compare by all means, but any accusations of plagiarism are unfounded.

                                 


If you’re looking for a fantastically varied album featuring wildly different concepts on every track – as many rappers seem to try and achieve these days – then you are in the wrong place, my friend. Rowdy posse cut? Negative. Concept track rapped from the point of view of an inanimate object? Not present. Obligatory double time faux Grime track? Nope. Complaints about how life is so hard for the artist and how you, the listener, must take the advice of the protagonist to keep your head up and fight through the hard times to achieve your dreams? Sorry, but no dice.

What you have here is a private reserve stock 2016 Malbec. It’s an acquired taste, which is certainly not for everyone. But for the connoisseur who knows what they want it’s a small package of opulence that gives joy every time the cork is popped. Did I mention that the Daupe! bundle package containing a bottle of Sonnyjim’s private reserve Malbec 2016 has already sold out? Indeed. Rappers releasing albums with a signature bottle of wine is a thing now. Have a taste of the extravagant lifestyle you’re hearing about. Or, just enjoy the music. Either way, it’s a great look, and a clever USP in a music industry where the wit and acumen of an independent music hustler always has to be a step ahead of their contemporaries to gain any purchase within what is now a professional grass-roots industry.

Sonny is celebrating success in life, plain and simple. Take a listen to ‘Rapper’s Delight’ and tell me that The Sugarhill Hill Gang are not doing the exact same thing. If ‘real’ means depicting your struggles in a low paid job or being on benefits, then that’s all good. However, if ‘real’ means that you are in fact successful – and not necessarily through making money from music – then common sense dictates that you tell your story from your own perspective. 




'You see, I'm six foot one, and I'm tons of fun

When I dress to a T,
You see, I got more clothes than Muhammad Ali
and I dress so viciously.
I got bodyguards, I got two big cars
That definitely ain't the wack,
I got a Lincoln Continental and a sun-roofed Cadillac.
So after school I take a dip in the pool,
Which is really off the wall,
I got a colour TV, so I can see
The Knicks play basketball. Hear me talk about
Checkbooks, credit cards, mo' money
Than a sucker could ever spend,
But I wouldn't give a sucker or a bum from the Rucker
Not a dime 'til I made it again.'


The fact that Sonny is from the UK should be a moot point. He’s breaking the stereotypical mould of rappers from the UK (not ‘UK rappers’) by swimming upstream against the accepted flow of the water. In Sonny’s world, the salmon jumps out of the water to immediately land in a charcoal pit to be shared amongst his fam. This view on life via rap music from the UK should be celebrated, not chastised. It’s a thoroughly refreshing take, one that is rarely seen but when noticed is often disregarded as lacking merit, as opposed to substance. Sonnyjim is a successful man and he’s going to share the trappings of his success with you. That’s the thread of this album and he has stuck to his guns admirably in being himself. 

And the best part? It’s all real.

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