RML & Kount Fif Present…
“The Swashbuckler Volume 1: The Viking Wars”
(Man Bites Dog Records)
To say the 90s were an incredible time in Hip-Hop is something of an understatement. With production techniques and lyrical styles becoming elevated to new levels of musical perfection, East Coast classics such as Nas’ “Illmatic”, Wu-Tang’s “Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” and Tribe’s “Midnight Maruaders” left an indelible mark on the culture and influenced an entire generation of Hip-Hop junkies, some of whom would go on to make their own contributions to the rap game in subsequent years.
With that in mind, this lengthy compilation project from the Man Bites Dog label is part homage to those boom-bap Hip-Hop heroes of yesteryear and part proof that there are still current artists today who’re able to channel those 90s influences into quality music in 2012.
Largely-produced by DMV music man Kount Fif (whose credits include Vast Aire and Killah Priest), with further input from Bronze Nazareth, Melodious Monk and Brinknam, “The Swashbuckler” is an unapologetically hardcore collection of raw, stripped down beats tailor-made for the long list of featured emcees who each take their opportunity to shine, harking back to a time when lyricists literally lived for the moment to get behind a mic and unleash verses painstakingly crafted to ensure they snatched their props from anyone listening.
The opening “Early 90’s” perfectly sets the tone for the remainder of the project, featuring Rotten Apple residents Double A.B., Karniege and Torae revisiting some snapshot memories over a booming, Timberland-stomping beat, with references made to playing Nintendo, running wild on subway trains, chain-snatching and tagging-up their respective neighbourhoods.
On paper, the pairing of missing-in-action emcee Nine and West Coast wordsmith Planet Asia on the string-heavy “Year Of The Hustle” may seem an odd combination, but like many of the not-so-obvious collabos included here, the mix of the NY vet’s gruff delivery and Asia’s nimble wordplay works well. Such is also the case with the lumbering, ominous “The Crusaders”, which finds Wu affiliate Killah Priest dropping heavy-mental imagery in his usual deadpan style over dramatic fanfare blasts, whilst upcoming lyricist Empuls effectively counters Priest’s low-key flow with an agitated delivery that ensures he stands-out against the Sunz Of Man member.
Elsewhere, Boston’s Akrobatik spits positivity over solid beats in his typically authoritative, forthright manner on “Out Of The Darkness…”, whilst “Arkansas Toothpick” is a sparse, atmospheric posse cut featuring Copywrite, Outerspace’s Planetary, Jason Rose and Strong Island mic fiend Roc Marciano each displaying top-notch penmanship with intricate verses that will have lyric-lovers reaching for rewind.
For pure nostalgia reasons, Heltah Skeltah’s rumbling, bass-heavy “Never Ending” also deserves a mention, with the Brooklyn duo once again showing the chemistry that made them such firm fan favourites when they debuted in the mid-90s, dropping rugged-yet-amusing punchlines in abundance (“S**t’s wack like wearing new Nikes out in the rain…”).
At seventeen tracks deep, there are a few cuts here that could have been left in the studio, but worthwhile appearances from the likes of Inspectah Deck, Royce Da 5’9, U-God and Vast Aire ensure dull musical moments are kept to a minimum.
Leaning on Hip-Hop’s past glories as a creative crutch because you have little to offer in the present day is something that’s caught a few artists out over the years, but as evidenced by the majority of the beats and rhymes contained on “The Swashbuckler”, when handled by talented individuals, paying homage to rap’s Golden Era can still be a worthwhile exercise.
Double A.B., Karniege & Torae – “Early 90’s” (Man Bites Dog Records / 2012)