DJ Nappa is a name that really should need no introduction. A veteran of the UK Hip-Hop scene, the Luton-based producer first caught the attention of many heads back in the late 90s as the sonic backbone of the mighty Phi-Life Cypher crew, with the group’s debut “Baddest Man EP” release quickly becoming a cult classic, due in part to Nappa’s accomplished, sample-based beats. Just from hearing that initial PLC white label back in 1998 stood at the counter of London’s Deal Real Records (and promptly buying a copy), it was clear to my ears (and to those jostling for room at the same counter) that the tracks thundering from the shop’s speakers had been made by someone who obviously took their craft seriously.
Fast-forward over twenty years later and Nappa’s impressive discography shows exactly how serious he’s remained about his music, with a number of critically-acclaimed Phi-Life Cypher projects under his belt, plus work with the likes of MCM, Inja, Cappo and many more.
The talented crate-digger previously dabbled in the realm of instrumental Hip-Hop back in 2014, releasing two volumes of his “Late Night Beat Tape” cassettes, but his first release for the We Stay True label finds Nappa really upping the creative ante, moving in potentially unexpected directions yet remaining on-point and clear about his artistic vision at all times.
Nappa could quite easily have taken the predictable approach to this project and put together a collection of typical boom-bap beats, all of which, I’m sure, would have been made to a very high standard. But that would have been the easy option. Listening to “Redress” you definitely get the feeling that Nappa wanted to take full advantage of this opportunity, to both challenge himself and also to offer a nod of respect to many of his influences.
The album’s opening track “The Fear” is an immediate attention-grabber, with the ominous combination of rattling drums and threatening synths hinting at what 80s TV show “The Equalizer” may have sounded like had Nappa been asked to provide a musical score for it in a different lifetime.
Any tension that may have been created by that first cut is gently blown away by the soothing pianos, echoing horns and deft scratches of “Speak”, a track that succeeds in its mission to showcase music as not only a means of communication, but also as something that can have a positive impact on our personal well-being. Good vibrations, indeed.
The aptly-titled “Make It Funky” is a loose and lively tribute to the iconic James Brown, whilst the KRS-One-sampling “Get What I’m Saying” is also drenched in old-school vibes, with the blend of slick, repetitive guitar licks and soulful vocal snippets possessing a hypnotic quality which is both relaxing and simultaneously slightly unsettling (in the best possible way).
Arguably my favourite track on the album, the retro drum-machine thump and syncopated handclaps of “Friday Late Night” immediately took me back to being a youngster in the mid-80s tuning in over the weekend to the late, great Mike Allen on London’s Capital Radio and hearing the latest fresh sounds from the likes of Just-Ice, MC Chill and DJ Cheese. So I couldn’t help but smile when right at the very end of this blast of b-boy-influenced nostalgia the warm, inimitable voice of Mr. Allen himself can be heard for a few brief seconds lifted straight from one of his many classic shows. Brilliant.
The melodic head-nodder “Relax Your Mind” ends the album on a mellow note, demonstrating Nappa’s knack for knowing how to let a track breathe, whilst also ensuring there’s enough happening to keep the listener locked on and in the zone.
An album that encapsulates a variety of sounds and styles yet remains cohesive and concise throughout, “Redress” is a body of work Nappa should be proud of, which not only highlights his undeniable technical abilities, but also captures his genuine passion for the art of making music.
Give the man behind the beats some credit.
“Redress” is available here via We Stay True.