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HUS KINGPIN & SMOOVTH - H.N.I.C: Hempstead Niggas In Charge (LowTech Records)

 One of the most sublime releases from the current crop of dated-yet-delicious grainy 90s-style hip hop from the East Coast. Hus and Smoovth have been dropping gems both solo and together for a while but this collaboration is perhaps the sweetest set either have ever given us - less confrontational sonically than Westside Gunn/Conway or even Action Bronson/Roc Marc but all the more sumptuously compelling for it. On one level, if you're the kind of hip hop fan that cares about currency (as opposed to Curren$y) and contemporaneity this might come across as too dated for you, utterly shorn of any autotune or any trap dynamics - this is unapologetically dated, grimy, grainy East Coast hip hop. However, what it innately realises is that the sound crafted in NYC in the early to late 90s was perhaps the greatest music hip hop ever gave us - a sound that still sounds just as luridly noir-ish and unsettlingly neon-blind as ever. Crucially -  with Hus' relocation to L.A the album can avoid all pretence at being some kind of imaginary document of a retooled past - rather it takes both an affectionate look back at HK's Long Island roots, but knows those roots are irretrievable - consequently it's an album under no illusions about what can be 'recovered' but that delights in re-assembling a hip hop something like a dream of perpetual heights, that transports you away from the lows currently pulling rap under. It's a nostalgic, yet utterly fearless delight of an album. You're being given a tour of these guys memories, both sonic and lyrical. And they're masters of their art.

"The Hus Kingpin sound is like if Nas, Portishead, Sade, Noreaga and Scarface formed Voltron" - Hus Kingpin

Opener 'Bloodsport Kings' actually puts that rain-lashed East-Coast feel right in your ear immediately, then strafes it with smears of blaxploitexture while Hus bends his lines round syntactical arcs you can't predict and between layers of metaphor that demand instant rewind. The stunning 'Can't Complain' pulses with a Premo-style propulsion but tweaks the bleakness for a more hopeful new-day vibe ('on the rise like a souffle') than you might expect -  or rather a sense of careless abandon that takes a gloriously resigned look at the streets as they blur by, sudden snatched glimpses of detail and wonder flying by as the accelerator gets pushed deeper. 'Frank Matthews' could be a Griselda Gang production but there's no aggression here, no snottiness - rather you feel at home in its mournful confines, even as the sky darkens and the rain rolls in again. This is music made by people remembering a time when rap soundtracked their youth, now seeing no reason why rap can't also express their current transition between the past, present and future. Rap's past flits inbetween the lines of these tracks - is never explicitly foregrounded but remains threaded within the mental spaces of each line. The downered jazz-funk of 'The Unveiled' and 'Mega Genesis' leaves you heavy-lidded and head-nodding before the astonishing 'Hempstead' tenderly traumatises your calm with some utterly gorgeous Adrian Younge-esque arrangement and heartbreakingly broke-up verbals. 'Ocean Bricks' is perhaps the most contemporary thing here - a skull-cracking lo-end and beats that take the trap-dynamic and strafes the stereo soundscape with wibbly peripheral detail. Highlight,  'Colours Of A Butterfly' is just staggering - a backdrop more akin to Chief Telemachus or Jehst than anyone from the US right now and a truly chilling narrative about loss and longing ("every butterfly that lands on me I think it's her, I started collecting them, I even learned how to feed 'em so I can keep 'em alive for her . . . most n***ers never felt that") that leaves you choked, devestated. This is what rap can do, remember? If you do - consider H.N.I.C an essential for 2017. Taste it and get hooked. 

(Neil Kulkarni) 


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