Review Summary: A great opportunity to sample a diverse range of Australian hip-hop.
Even as a born and bred Aussie (no, I don't have a pet kangaroo or wrestle crocodiles), I can understand why international listeners have trouble coming to terms with hip-hop emanating from the land down under. Ignoring the arguable lack of cultural identity (which is likely to be a day-long debate), the laid-back demeanour and Australian accent simply do not theoretically compute with the worldwide perception of what makes successful hip-hop. And yet, Australian hip-hop has carved itself out a little niche over the past few years... If not on an international scale, then on a local one at the very least. So where would one go to sample a one-stop shop of the best of Aussie hip-hop? Well, there may finally be an opportunity for aficionados of the genre all around the world... And it comes in the composition of the much derided format known as the producer album.
Initially from the Gold Coast, but now based in Melbourne, Mark Landon - professionally known as M-Phazes - may not yet be a household name, but could one day be mentioned in the same breath as Timbaland and Dr. Dre. Not only does he have the necessary ambition to take on the world, but if debut LP 'Good Gracious' is anything to go by, he also has the talent. Favoring an old-school kind of vibe, the producer has the ability to put his own swing on things and modernize traditional beats. It all stems from the passion he has for his craft, a trait specifically referred to by Horrorshow's Solo on excellent opener 'For What It's Worth'. Having already worked on a number of local (Bliss N Eso, Illy, Drapht, Spit Syndicate, to name a few) and international (Pharaohe Monch, Royce 5'9 & Amerie) releases, M-Phazes provides a diverse snap-shot of Australian hip-hop over the 66 minute duration.
Over the course of 15 tracks, there are 15 different artists providing vocals. Due to that fact, it would be nigh on impossible to not have some issues with flow, but in general, M-Phazes does a fantastic job in adapting his beats to each individual rapper. On 'The Freak Show', which features Illzilla's Mantra, Landon seamlessly merges a darker, more ominous sounding beat with a bouncy carnival theme. Soulful backing vocals and music complement (Obese Records CEO) Pegz's 'Blind Man'. Oz based UK trio Nine High receive a suitably grimy backdrop on the anthemic ‘That’s What We On’. While a funky blaxploitation theme cleverly hooks the listener in as Dialectrix spits out rhymes at a rapid rate on 'The Facilitator'. Another key component to the variety and, ultimately, the success of 'Good Gracious' is M-Phazes' love for live instrumentation. Having played drums before getting into hip-hop, and being a clear fan of the boom-bap style, this is an undoubted strength in providing cuts such as 'Goodbye Gravity' and seven minute closer 'Take It From Me' a rich, value-adding depth.
Many of the big names of Australian hip-hop are here, with arguably The Hilltop Hoods and Downsyde being the major exclusions. Unsurprisingly, it is the most successful of the artists appearing on 'Good Gracious' who end up with the more accessible offerings. 'Walk On Clouds' shows why the vocal stylings of Bliss N Eso could see them challenge to be Australia’s number one hip-hop exports, while Muph & Plutonic are great on lead single 'Goodbye Gravity', which is nicely topped off with a catchy chorus sung by Candice Monique. There is even a surprise in the form of the usually rather poppy (relatively speaking) Phrase lending his vocals to electro clubber 'Music Box'. While it will polarize, it clearly shows the producers want to challenge himself and take risks. Other polarizing cuts are Drapht's nasally delivery of the well-worn theme that is the humorous conspiracy theory on 'Where's Elvis?', and the mid-album interlude of sorts which sees Forthwrite (360 & Pez) illustrate a hilarious drunken night out at a bar on 'The Club Song'.
No matter what one may think about the lyrics and vocals on this album, fans of the hip-hop genre should be impressed by the quality of the beats and overall production work evident on 'Good Gracious'. In attempting to branch out and incorporate as many components and influences within the genre as possible, M-Phazes has produced a debut LP which is at the very least interesting for covering as much ground as it does… If anything, it is only lacking a completely instrumental cut. Considering the broad spectrum of sounds, styles and themes - the tracks literally move from humorous to serious, and from boasting to introspective - Landon has created a sufficiently consistent release, even if it may be lacking that killer hit which stands out and makes a huge impact. So no matter where you are currently residing, if you are a novice on all things relating to Australian hip-hop, 'Good Gracious' provides a great opportunity for you to rectify that and sample a diverse range of the land down under's finest rappers and most exciting producer.
Recommended Tracks: Goodbye Gravity, For What It’s Worth, Walk On Clouds & Music Box.
The reaction to this album around Australia has actually been quite interesting. I can't actually see anyone liking every single song on here... Not because there are 15 of them, but because it has a lot of variety for a hip-hop release.
Ooh, I have yet to hear Mantra's album. Dare I say it, but maybe there's an opportunity there for you to write your 1st review.
I've done a few hip-hop reviews in the past Jared. It will either be old-school 80's/90's stuff or Aussie stuff most likely though. In what is going to sound contradictory, I tend to prefer mainstream hip-hop, but I absolutely hate most of what is called mainstream hip-hop these days.
I totally agree on your triple j compilation comment iisblack... That's why I went with the summary & intro paragraph that I did. To that extent, it definitely achieves its purpose imo. 66 minutes worth is a bit much though.
"Good album this. The track with Solo rules. And omg, Davey and hip hop?"
I thought one of the other Aussies around here had listened to this album, but couldn't remember who it was... Shoulda known it was William the Vooligan. I agree on the opener with Solo... Great track. Hey, I've done about 10 hip-hop reviews before!
Dev, your club/dance/doof-doof expertise carries over to hip-hop yeah? If so, I'd be interested to know what you think of this when you get a chance.
Uh, I know what you mean and kind've. Luckily for you I also love hip hop and, like you, prefer the older stuff. I'll look into it, last aussie hip hop I checked out was Hilltop Hoods, which I really enjoyed