Depth Charge – Nine Deadly Venoms (1994) (CD) (FLAC + 320 kbps)

 

As Block, Spider, Octagon Man, Grimm Death, and (most often) Depth Charge, DJ/producer Jonathon Saul Kane has been one of the more consistent and innovative forces on the U.K. dance scene since the late ’80s. Recording classic tracks such as “Bounty Killers” and “The Demented Spirit,” as well as remixing everyone from Eon, Bomb the Bass, and Sabres of Paradise to Senser, Silver Fox and S’Express, Kane’s work has kept in constant touch with dance music’s hip-hop, funk, and electro roots, a fact which places him at the nexus of a number of recent hybrids and resurgent styles. His 1989 Vinyl Solution 12-inch, “Bounty Killers,” is roundly considered one of the earliest examples of uptempo trip-hop, mixing chunky sampled breakbeats with brutalizing bass and kitschy kung fu samples (a style which marks his popular Depth Charge work to this day). Additionally, Kane’s two labels, D.C. (trip-hop and dub) and Electron Industries (electro and techno), have been responsible for some of the more memorable moments in mid-’90s underground dance music, and have included releases from Damon Baxter (Sem, Deadly Avenger), Ian Loveday (Eon), and Delta, as well as Depth Charge and Octagon Man releases such as “Shaolin Buddha Finger,” “10ft. Flowers,” “The Legend of the Golden Snake,” and The Exciting World of Octagon Man. Many of Kane’s earlier (1991-1994) Depth Charge releases were compiled on the compilation Nine Deadly Venoms, released in 1994. Several singles and EPs followed on DC Recordings during the next few years, but it wasn’t until 1999 that Kane returned with another Depth Charge full-length. First, the mix-album Electro Boogie: Shape Generator dropped in April 1999, then the production album Lust followed in October. Lust Vol. 2 followed shortly in February of 2000. Kane also helped found Made in Hong Kong, a film festival and video label (through Vinyl Solution) focusing on the promotion and distribution of films in the Hong Kong action cinema genre associated with actors and directors such as Chow Yun Fat, Ringo Lam, Wong Kar-Wai, John Woo, and Jackie Chan.’

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Apollo Brown & Skyzoo – The Easy Truth (WEB) (2016) (FLAC + 320 kbps)

Apollo Brown & Skyzoo - The Easy Truth

After years of mutual respect, circling each other in collaborations, tours, style and respect, two titans of their craft have finally collided in Apollo Brown & Skyzoo’s “The Easy Truth.” The album is everything you’ve dreamt it would be: breakneck instrumentals and syllables crafted to make your head spin. The marriage between Detroit instrumentals and NYC wordplay has never been more cohesive. Themes range from police brutality to NY ambitions; Skyzoo shows you the world the way he sees it. Recorded and produced in Detroit, “The Easy Truth,” is the perfect distillation of hiphop influences. Every moment on the album is a loaded question, a perspective positing a notion of truth, the convergence of grit and symphony.

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Kenn Starr – Square One (CD) (2015) (FLAC + 320 kbps)

Kenn Starr - Square One

For me, Kenn Starr’s brand of underground rap has always been like eating vegetables. I like it, it’s mentally healthy, and it keeps my brain tight. But exciting it is not. “Square One” is an enjoyable album, and underground legends Kev Brown and Black Milk produce a work that allows Starr to do what he does best: Masterfully weave words through relaxed beats. Sometimes he arrests the audience with his skillful delivery and lyrical niceness, but equally as often it simply turns into coffeeshop mood music.

“Square One” opens with a track of the same name, setting a jazzy, mellow vibe that lasts through the whole album. There’s a dose of frustration in the beginning of the album as strong as the synth instrumentals, a typical sentiment for underground rappers wagging a finger at an industry obsessed with radio singles and marketability. Starr is gifted enough to channel this emotion into his rhyming, addressing his frustrations with lines like “Check the resume/I ain’t one of the draft picks/the playground legend been stressing me as a has-been/in the industry where you’re only good as your last hit/and I never had hits so it didn’t surprise me” (Say Goodbye).

There are several shining moments in the album that reaffirm the reason Starr has amassed such a significant underground following. In “Strangers,” Starr is in his element dropping the finest wordplay over chill snares. “The Definition” featuring Melanie Rutherford is a great friends-with-benefits track about relationship definitions. It’s also a testament to Black Milk’s ability to produce a track that feels vintage but not dated, harnessing old-school boom-bat beats and a choral melody with a wandering hook overlaying subtle beatboxing in the drum loop.

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