2015 has been a fantastic year for Hip Hop in the UK. Something I am clearly happy about, because I seem to be writing about it an awful lot. It’s difficult to avoid with so many quality releases. High Focus records have grabbed most of the attention, with powerful albums from Four Owls, Lee Scott, and Dirty Dike, as well as promising e.p’s from the likes of Ocean Wisdom. Illinformed is closely linked to High Focus; handling the entire production for Verb T’s fantastic album ‘The Man With The Foggy Eyes’, he is also brother of Leaf Dog, who is a quarter of The Four Owls. However, to release his first proper solo album he has decided to keep it within his own family, choosing to release ‘The Mould Tape’ via Real Life Drama Records, a label headed up by Leaf Dog and BVA. Although it’s an apple that doesn’t fall far from the High Focus family tree, this album will hopefully highlight that there isn’t just one stop for quality Hip Hop in the UK.
It has been quite a long journey to get to this album. It has taken 2-3 years, with some of these beats/ideas apparently dating back even further. But don’t mistake that for laziness. Illinformed has cut his teeth by producing for Lee Scott, Verb T, Jam Baxter, and the mighty Jedi Mind Tricks. He has also produced several mixtapes inspired by smoking weed, as well as the Brothers Of The Stone album, which saw his beat making skills fronted by BVA and Leaf Dog. This work has all help lay a solid foundation, and with even a quick flick through Illinformed’s back catalogue, you can see the progress and evolution that has taken place to arrive at ‘The Mould Tape’.
I think this is a great album. It manages to be a place where old and new meet. Illinformed displays a production style that is heavily influenced by 90’s Boom-Bap, merging it with current UK rappers. Its nostalgic and new all at once. Musical phrases composed of chopped kick drums and snare loops, horns and piano samples, which are then punctuated by dusty vinyl, dj scratches, stock sound effects and old movie samples. All this works to conjure up images of Temple Of Boom era Cypress Hill, The Psycho Realm, Rza and Method Man, until you hear the unmistakable UK accents from all the MC’s.
The Cypress Hill/Psycho Realm vibe is accentuated on tracks like album opener ‘Where’s The Bud’, where the infectiously head nodding beat is complimented with a xylophone(?!) sample and then blessed by Eric The Red and Leaf Dog, both of whom have a nasal vocal delivery akin to B-real or Jacken. All this is then interspersed with scratching from DJ Riseone who uses an American male voice sample to complete the old Hip Hop vibe. Maybe it's the family symbiosis that make the track work so well; Ill-informed, Leaf Dog & Eric The Red are all brothers in real life. Or perhaps it’s that perfect trifecta of the 1990’s, Hip Hop and Marijuana. Whatever, it’s an extremely powerful album opener and successfully sets the tone for the rest of the album; spin it back, skin up and get comfortable, you’re going to want to pay attention…
The album is packed with guests, Illinformed eager to produce a ‘real’ Hip Hop album, rather than release an instrumentals album. At first it’s very much 'stick with what you know'; The family affair of ‘Where’s The Bud’ has a beat which dissolves perfectly into ‘Still Slippin’ a track with snapping drums, sliding bassline and echoing bells all providing an eerie, sparse backdrop for BVA to deliver some of his best verses. But the guest list becomes huge as the album progresses, and ‘War Drum’ is an early posse cut, with 6 rappers all turning in strong verses, easily attributed to Illinformed and his fantastically simple, spiralling beat. Once again songs merge, and ‘War Drum’ seamlessly mixes into next track ‘Gutter Funk’, another dark beat drenched in the sounds of Temple Of Boom interludes and marijuana residue. Despite the shopping list of rappers however, this very much remains an Illinformed album, and you are never far away from being reminded of that. The beats prevail, they are subdued but anthemic, it is virtually impossible not to nod along. Yet they are also relatively simple; using delays, echoes, and short loops to compliment the strong drum patterns.
With ‘Blunderbuss’ we see a change in the tone of the album slightly, being more laid back and brighter, a great platform for Sonny Jim and Fliptrix to deliver verses that have a sunnier disposition. As we move towards the end of Side A things become slower and dreamier, ‘Back Down’ has a sleepy beat matched by BVA’s verse, before Leaf Dog’s slightly more aggressive second verse makes sure you haven’t been lulled to sleep by his brothers hypnotic beats. ‘Half Dead’ is a trippy end to side A, Jam Baxter, Lee Scott and Bill Shakes all deliver verses that invoke hallucinatory imagery. It is almost a record designed to be smoked along to; you roll it, light it, smoke it, and Side A carries you through your high, and just as you are dreamily nodding out, the record needs flipping over; giving you opportunity to wake up, roll up again and repeat the process for Side B.
In that respect, and another indication my theory is right, Side B mimics the previous side in layout. We start with ‘Nine To Five’, another infectious head nodding beat that lets Leaf Dog and Eric The Red deliver more Psycho Realm inspired reflections, the family connection again providing one of the albums stronger tracks. ‘Blunt Rock’ and ‘Long Nights’ both maintain this momentum, delivering snapping beats and great verses throughout, Smellington Piff literally spitting one of the albums best punchlines with “Watch your step when you walk on the cracked ice, two-faced fuckers get slapped twice…” ‘The Platoon’, side B’s posse cut is also an album highlight; it’s rolling snare drum and off key piano providing a sparse platform for Bristol Hip Hop collective Split Prophets to all turn-in amazing verses. It’s not a perfect album though, and there are a couple of flows that aren’t that great. Personally speaking I find ‘Everything To Gain’ to be the weak point on the album, Tony Broke and Bang On don’t really bring anything to the project. Also I can’t put my finger on the reason why, but I find ‘Getting Mouldy’ to be quite an anti-climactic album closer - perhaps it’s the repetitive hook, or the rather abrupt way that the beat seems to fizzle out. That being said, don’t write it off as a bad track, Illinformed and Jman still both compliment each other really well.
I will admit, this is perhaps not for everyone. But if you are a sucker for Boom-Bap, love to smoke and are interested in exploring a range of contemporary UK rappers in one sitting, you cannot go wrong with this album. With the release of ‘The Man With The Foggy Eyes’ and ‘The Mould Tape’, Illinformed has produced two greatly diverse sets of beats this year, both being released a couple of weeks apart, and both with the sincere potential to make several end of year ‘best of’ lists. Illinformed is a great producer and you should check out his work…