Band: Booth Boxers
Album: The Enigma Code
Label: Killamari Records
Pressing: 1st pressing. CD
It comes from a place of great personal bias when I pose this claim, but I’m sure some of you will agree; Nothing good comes out of Burnley. A bad girlfriend, an even worse job, some very dodgy ‘football’, some of the weirdest humans I have ever met, and a host of other generally bad memories are all attributed to Burnley. Until Now, that is. Despite the album having a release date of July 2015 (according to Bandcamp), the lads from Booth Boxers got in touch with me in January asking if I would write a review. I obliged because after hearing a couple of tracks, it was so intriguing that I wanted a good excuse to hear some more… And it still comes as a great surprise to me, that something as accomplished, sunny, positive and fun as ‘The Enigma Code’ is in fact a byproduct of Burnley. Although wildly different to last months review of the Razorrawks album, Booth Boxers are nevertheless another bright light for Northern Hip Hop
The group is comprised of MC’s Seek (The Northerner) and Morgz, with the line-up filled out by DJ Trauma. It does almost seem like a shame to review the project at this time of year, because this is without doubt a perfect Summer album - the whole vibe of the work is positive and upbeat, and the production has great warmth - bouncy kick drums, buzzing snares, soulful keys, with samples ranging from Woodstock-esque guitar licks to jazz flute. All this acts as a hazy backdrop to the fierce turntablism of DJ Trauma and the punchy, humorous, and extremely Northern wordplay of Seek & Morgz. The guys clearly love their Hip Hop and surrounding culture; every track is drenched in 90’s nostalgia, paying homage to Golden Era Boom Bap and perhaps back even further into early Sound System and B-Boy culture of 80’s New York. Some of these instrumentals would be perfectly at home on The Rubble Kings or The Whackness soundtracks. There is a great familiarity to the sound - you can hear the influence of EVERYONE in Booth Boxers; Nas, Biz Markie, De La Soul, Beastie Boys, House Of Pain, Cypress Hill. I occasionally even hear elements of Binary Star or Jedi Mind Tricks. The closest actual comparison I can make is by likening the group as a whole to UK rapper BVA, who despite being part of groups The 3 Amigos and The Four Owls, has carved out his own independent identity based on a local boy accent, humble yet accomplished ‘everyman’ wordplay and a love for witty punchlines.
However, Booth Boxers aren't derivative, and they don’t actually sound like any of the above - they have absorbed their influences well, yet they have still brought themselves vividly into their art - The wordplay is so proudly Northern in their dialect, flow and punchlines. The album kicks off strong with title track ‘The Enigma Code’, a beat that uses a simple, steady drum break, ringing electric guitar samples and a piano loop reminiscent of the opening bars to Axel F, albeit down-tuned and dampened. This all lays a great foundation for the staggering, stabbing verses which are punctuated by some intricate scratch work from DJ Trauma. It’s a great first track, and acts as an accurate mission statement for the whole album.
The guys manage to take this introduction up a notch with the fantastic ‘Kick Back’, a track that uses brushed drums to form the main spine of a contagiously head nodding beat. The wordplay here is laden with punchlines, the MC’s trading almost single-breath verses before teaming up for a great main hook. Booth Boxers manage to juxtapose their B-Boy flexing and battle raps with tracks like ‘Friday Night’, which is essentially their inspired re-working of Jazzy Jeff’s Summertime. A rose tinted, story based view of Northern Summers - Outdoor stereo systems, BBQ’s, female flesh, alcohol and marijuana. This particular track is not always my preferred style of Hip Hop, but having invested many youthful Summer evenings the same way, this track is pure nostalgia. From the clapped, snappy drum loop, to the subtle synth keys and that amazing jazz flute sample, right through to the brilliantly comical verses - you can’t help but smile and reminisce while this track plays.
‘All Out War’ picks the pace back up with a beat that's jam packed with big-band brass, electric guitars and sound effects. This is almost a posse cut, bringing in friends Scorsayzee, Chris Leese and Ken Masters to all deliver hyped verses. However ‘Never Really Lived’ changes tact once again, taking cues from MC’s such as Guru of Gang Starr, the lads spit more philosophical verses highlighting the morality of pursuing selfishness, greed, money and fame rather than knowledge, love, and compassion. The main hook even re-works insights from the Dalai Lama. The more astute verse structure remains for the following track ‘Light The Fuse’ which casts a critical northern critique over media manipulation and celebrity culture. I think Booth Boxers may be more comfortable when delivering punchlines, but conceptually these two tracks really stand out on the album, and I feel that the content of the wordplay here elevates the talents of each MC.
The latter stages of the album are also really solid. ‘Switch Mode’, ‘Believe’, ‘Now’ and ‘No Grudge’ are all great tracks, each flexing different styles of vocal delivery - ‘Switch Mode’ is hyped and belligerent, solid verses of metaphorically raised middle fingers, over a marching-style drum pattern punctuated by some epic brass in the hook section. ‘Now’ is a conscious Hip Hoppers head-nodding track, about living in the now, chasing dreams, and finding focus in music. My personal favourite of these tracks however is ‘Believe’, which has an absolutely infectious disco/motown/soul crossover beat, female vocal sample, and some more jazz flute which are all sampled from Patti Jo’s ‘Make Me Believe In You’. All four verses are rapid fire, staccato style verbal workouts, and the guest raps from Faze & Chatterbox are arguably the best guest spots on the album. Top this off with some great scratch work from DJ Trauma, and you have an absolute 11th hour banger.
This is a solid release. Northern, humorous, nostalgic, punchy, sunny and genuinely positive. I didn’t want to break it down for you track by track, although I almost have done regardless! My main aim here is to pique your interest enough to go and check it out for yourself. For those of you who still mainly listen to US Hip Hop, but want a jump off point for the UK side of the fence, this may actually be a fantastic place to start; it pays solid dues to US Boom Bap, but crafts out of that love an album that is unmistakably from the North of England. If you are a genuine fan of Hip Hop, this is essential.
Author: Tim Bridges