Hip-hop's ascendancy over the past decade from one of many pop music genres to the One Sound To Rule Them All has left a string of casualties along the way. The biggest of these for me has been individuality. When everyone's competing for only a handful of space on the airwaves, fewer and fewer rappers seem willing to take chances. But it was that “anything's fair game” attitude born of sampling that made hip-hop so exciting in the first place. What's the point in being able to do literally anything when your palate is the entire history of recorded music when all anyone wants to do is be Kanye? ("But clearing samples is expensive and complicated now..." oh yeah? Well we're overdo for a revolution to reform arcane copyright laws that only protect record labels. What better way to do it than by boldly ignoring the law with music?) So it's been encouraging watching indie rappers reach back to the Golden Age over the past year for inspiration. The latest of these is Magnetic Forces, whose debut Skunkworks Protocol is all the right kinds of retro. They just don't make shit like this anymore.
The samples tend to stick to a jazz and soul chords + funky drums and basslines + scratched instructional video samples formula. Over 19 tracks the sound starts to get a little samey, and far too few tracks distinguish themselves from each other. But this is old school no hooks just beats and vocals hip-hop, and the point is mood and flow. And Magnetic Forces have no shortage. Producer AdVantage's beats are lovingly hand sampled and crafted, and loaded with the kind of scratches and voice samples that once were obligatory and now are almost unheard of. But this is the kind of hip-hop I grew up on. MCNuttz has an easy flow; conversational and chill. “You didn't know? I got the seminal flows / I don't rap about guns or call women hoes” he spits on the highlight “EQ Voodoo.” He's at his best when he's rapping about politics and current events “like UC Police, all I see is Nazis” but far too often goes to picked-over material about his favorite plant. Thankfully there's more than enough solid material here to overwhelm the periodic bong hit.
If you dig smart and soulful old-school hip-hop definitely download this record. Did I mention it's free? No? Oh well it's all sorts of free via Bandcamp.
- Words by Nathan Leigh