Sandbox Automatic
The Giant Peach
Grand Buffet

Hip-hop for the uninitiated

em Feature

Let's face it, ladies and gentlemen, rocking out in a skinny tie and one of your Dad's old sweaters has been letting you slide as ‘hip’ in England since people actually picked up Smiths albums, but after seeing the Nth indie-rock-band-cover of The Face magazine, you've realized that shit just isn't going to fly any more.

Deep down in us all is a burning desire to play music loud enough to rattle our teeth and force titties to bounce and asses to shake. We want OUR asses out there shaking, dammit. And fuck The Streets.
Anyone still listening?

But at the same time there's an entire side of hip-hop just hiding beneath the surface. Think of it as the smartest lyrics you've heard in ages. Think of it as production that's more layered than a Godspeed You Black Emperor album. Think of it as indie-rap; as goth-rap; as intellectual hip-hop.
Think of everything you wanted in music - and shaking asses.

So here, six American "underground" hip-hop CDs, all easily available over the internet full of everything I've been talking about. You don't even need a record player - yet.

Atmosphere - ‘The Lucy Ford EPs’
Rhyme Sayers Entertainment
Imagine me, a junior in high school - maybe earlier, bored punk-rocker in an art school, my favourite music almost all obscure crust punk and ska bands, writing a fanzine with Rancid on the cover.
And my friend and semi-hero, James and I are hanging out in his room and he puts on a hip hop 12".
“Dude! Hip-hop? No fucking thanks!” But I humour him, and he puts on the freshly released ‘Ford’ 12" by Atmosphere, ‘The Woman with the Tattooed Hands’ to be exact.

Thick bass, snare, and the occasional break beat all layered on top of a jazzy piano riff so thick it makes me tingle when I listen to it (then, definitely, and even now sometimes). A song about a woman with tattoos that…well; I don't want to spoil the song for you.

Just about every week for a year I would pester my local record store to get it in, and just when I had forgotten about Atmosphere - and that first taste of hip hop that agreed with me - the owner says that they finally got in the CD compilation of the two 12"s I was always asking about. It’s hard to find, very hard to find. Rhymesayers website is probably the most infrequently updated "updating soon" page on the web.

EL-P – ‘Fantastic Damage’
Definitive Jux Records

With the possible exception of my father; EL-P is the one of the most threatening looking white people outside of a madhouse. Something about the baseball cap and sunglasses screams ‘badass’. Why can't I do that? The production of ‘Fantastic Damage’ kind of makes you feel like the star of a Japanese horror action movie directed by David Lynch. And just when I'm thinking "maybe he's using a little too much echo on the vocals" I'm distracted by a line like "Sign to Rawkus? I'd rather be mouth-fucked by Nazi's, unconscious." Woo. It’s the perfect example of a nerdy guy writing and producing his own shit. McFly! Damn!

Sage Francis – ‘Personal Journals’

This is the album I use to get all my friends to like hip-hop so I can listen to it around them. Not that there's anything ‘easy to listen to’ about it. "Every time I listen to 'Inherited Scars' it makes me cry" says my girlfriend. Tragedy and comedy amazingly worded over more than a dozen producers and DJs from one man - Sage Francis. Honestly, he weaves words in an ungodly talented way, and they get up inside your head. When was the last time the lyrics to
something got in your head? (and no, I don't mean singing Pink in the shower) And…ah I'm fucking tired of writing reviews.

Aesop Rock – ‘Appleseed EP’
So I lied, and the uber-out-of-print Appleseed EP is the hardest album to find, but worth it. Aesop Rock is the voice of the asphalt in the run down neighbourhoods of New York - literally. Ace Rock sounds like he swallowed a handful of glass before recording; in a great way. It’s the kind of voice you can only find in hip hop, impossible to imitate in both tone and speed. The thing I love most about this album is the production. My friend Chendo used to say that anything that had a good string sample was instant head nod material. I must agree. This is the face of hip hop.

Alais – ‘The Other Side Of The Looking Glass’

Another showcase of Anticon Record's willingness to experiment with what is and what isn't hip-hop. No, not in an ‘Andrew Q and the Free Jazz Crusaders’ kind of way, but a self-produced and almost painfully self-conscious vein. Imagine the music a beat poet would make if you took away free jazz. Imagine piano riffs. Soft beats, but ones that will still make your head nod. "This time the rhyme will intertwine with your spine and help you realize that I'm matching words for the sake of it. C'mon, y'all, rhymes can't intertwine with your spine, it's not physically possible." I'd like to think that if I made a hip-hop album, it'd sound like this. Only this is really good.

Grand Buffet - ‘Sparkle Classic’
Brickbrain Productions

This shit is underground. Lord Grunge and Grape-A-Don know how to cut shit. Rhymes about Skeletor, thirty foot tall androids, and Slippery When Wet never sounded so fucking tough. The only reason these guys aren't all over every magazine on the face of the planet is they won't go major until they get an offer on their terms only. They're touring Europe in the early September, so go.
Trust me.

So you can find any of these wonderful albums at,
or (or buy direct from and, except Appleseed. You can still get the rest of Aesop Rock's stuff from Sandbox and The Giant Peach. Now, be gone.

Arpad Crisis


Arpad Crisis is an independent freelance writer. His views do not necessarily coincide with eyemachine's

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