Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Album Review: Average Rap Band - El Sol (2016)

I picked up my digital copy of the Average Rap Band debut album, El Sol, as long ago as April, but in typical lazy arse fashion, as a grumpy greybeard and confirmed hip hop sceptic (context is everything), I’ve waited until the year is all but over to share my thoughts about it.

Then again, if you're looking for timeliness and relevance, you'd hardly come to everythingsgonegreen for the good oil, would you?

I hope not ...

So anyway, the 11-track El Sol is the first upsized album release for ex @peaceniks Tom Scott and Lui Tuiasau, as the Average Rap Band. It’s a follow-up to last year’s well-received Stream of Nonsenseness EP, and as you’d expect from this pair, it’s yet another state-of-the-art benchmarking album for the local hip hop scene.
I don't think it's too much of a stretch to call this "local"? Even though Scott and Tuiasau are now based in Melbourne, and not Auckland, where they previously made a big noise as part of the critically acclaimed @peace, and prior to that, as part of the wider Home Brew crew.

Those former projects tagged Scott and Tuiasau as massively talented wordsmiths. Masters of rhyme, and students of flow, each man possessing an uncanny ability to turn even the most mundane routine observation into something resembling an existential vision. It isn't just about being clever and wordy, it's also about timing and having the delivery to ensure those words have maximum impact.

El Sol is packed full of such seemingly throwaway (but not really) moments, and the duo's attention to detail when it comes to straight up storytelling is a pivotal element here. As is the sense of place present in each tune - helped by a clear commitment to telling these tales in unashamedly authentic "Kiwi" accents, rather than falling into the common (and often cringeworthy) trap of seeking to imitate our American brethren.

Musically, it draws from a relatively broad base and these narratives are underpinned by a variety of funky beats - from 80s style Jam & Lewis-flecked slow-jams to replica G-Funk styles. Even where the subject matter veers toward the serious, the vibe underneath it all seldom deviates from summery and relaxed. It all tends to blend together seamlessly, and in production terms, nothing ever feels out of place or rushed.

Highlights include the sublime 'Pool Side' (a Tuiasau stand-out moment), the humorous 'Pizza Man', and the great-ball-in-the-sky worshipping title track.

Ps. All things considered, I guess that’s a favourable review for someone who struggles with post-1990 hip hop. But I also picked up new work from past heroes like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and Common, during 2016, and I struggled with each one of those albums. Yet, stuff like El Sol, plus new EPs from the home-schooled likes of Raiza Biza and Yoko-Zuna were impressive this year, and it’s clear, despite a sense of default cynicism, hip hop from this corner of the globe is currently flying a steep upward trajectory …

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