Review Summary: True kings don't demand respect, they command it.
"To be a king amongst many is to recognise your simultaneous importance and insignificance; to take charge of the fleeting moment afforded to you and do with it the very best you can", so claim Horrorshow on the liner notes of their third album King Amongst Many. The duo of MC Solo and producer Adit have been turning heads in the Australian hip hop scene with their first two albums The Grey Space and Inside Story which were released only 18 months apart and landed the duo slots supporting the likes of Hilltop Hoods, Bliss n Eso, The Herd and constant sold out shows in their hometown of Sydney. When you add to this their first international guest appearance on King Amongst Many, an increased amount of guest appearances by both upcoming and well known Australian MCs and vocalists, and a #2 debut on the ARIA charts, these start to seem like the signs of future kings in the making. However, the future kings have heeded their own advice and have indeed taken charge of the moment by giving us the best album they possibly can - and possibly one of the best hip hop albums of the year.
Those who were expecting more songs in the vein of The Party Life and The Show might be slightly disappointed; King Amongst Many continues a progression into darker lyrical and musical territory for the band which was not at all unexpected for Horrorshow fans. The more thoughtful and introspective kind of songs which partly dominated The Grey Space and which were perhaps scaled back a tiny bit for Inside Story are the main focus of King Amongst Many, seeing Solo cover topics such as social class distinction, white privilege, and Australia's treatment of Aboriginals amongst the familiar sentiments of lost love, depression, gentrification and the human condition. Musically the pair's sense of melody is more present than ever, with the album featuring a generous amount of catchy choruses, effortless switches between rapping and singing, and a diverse range of beats and instruments brought together under crisp production.
Solo definitely does not disappoint those who were drawn in by his thoughtful and conscious lyricism in the past, painting a ghostly picture of nighttime Sydney on Listen Close and Dead Star Shine or narrating a family tree story on Down the Line with the prowess of any acclaimed novel writer. The 'serious' songs are separated only by the amusing night out at King's Cross that is Nice Guys Finish Last (featuring a verse and sung chorus by One Day crew mate Joyride) or the upbeat fan thankyou Make You Proud. The aforementioned Listen Close is a lyrical highlight, seeing Solo personify the city he hails from - "I've felt it's heartbeat, watched the life breathe through the cracks in the concrete, and where it stops is beyond me" - accompanied by appropriate cuts and an eerie beat by Adit. One can picture themselves sitting beside the rapper himself "on the same train platform that Lawson waited on, except that somehow the scene appears differently, soaked under the cold pale glow of electricity" as he spins tales of relatable but unique topics.
First single Unfair Lottery enters with a pounding drum beat accompanied by a shrill string section, a chorus as catchy as any first single should be and hard hitting lyrics concerning those who are "spending long nights on the streets alone under the watchful eye of CCTV". Similarly, On the One Hand echoes this sentiment, with the chorus of "I got somewhere to sleep and I got love, and when I see somebody with nothing, it makes me count all my problems on one hand", illustrating the notion that how lucky most of us are to have what we have often goes unappreciated. A guest verse by the Hoods' Suffa is another album highlight, adding "I'm blessed and I gotta stress that I recognise that [...] because my day job's spitting raps, paid for flipping tracks". An emotionally charged guest verse and sung chorus by indigenous rapper Jimblah only add to the already razor-sharp Own Backyard, in which the chronicle of a "dark past buried in our own backyard" is contrasted by the ethereal keyboards and marching-band snares to create what are possibly the album's most sincere moments delivered by the two MCs. Whether you agree or not with lyrics such as "the heartless catch cry that it's all in the past, that sounds like a coward's remarks; this is happening right now", Jimblah's last words will hit you like a slap in the face: "See they tried to wipe us off the face of the Earth [...] need proof? Look around you".
Maintaining order in the kingdom is producer and multi instrumentalist Adit Gauchan. His keyboard and bass playing skills are present as always, but it is the keyboards that are utilised to full effect within King Amongst Many, coming to the forefront in songs such as Dead Star Shine, Can't Look Away and On the One Hand. Aside from the mesmerising but bleak outro of Human Error (which perhaps is the duo stopping to give us some time to our own thoughts), Adit's beats and production are always the perfect backing to Solo's lyrics, ranging from bouncy and dreamy to moody and piano-driven, and then powerful and in full force. The more interesting aspects of the album's production lie in the whistling tune of Down the Line, the powerful pounding drums and cymbals which close Own Backyard, and the simple, stripped back piano and guitar groove of the title track. The problems on King Amongst Many are very few - some fans may prefer the lesser amount of guest appearances used on their first two albums, although not one feels unneeded or out of place here. The intro and outro combo of Human Era / Human Error doesn't stand up to the two previous amazing album closers that were Note to Self and Walk You Home, but when comparisons are put aside King Amongst Many stands on it's own as a very solid and consistent album in terms of quality.
The final verdict is that Horrorshow have produced an outstanding album without any braggadocio or rap battle championing that hip hop fans are familiar with, and they have the dedicated fanbase to prove it. I'm not going to finish the review with the usual moanings about some of the mainstream "gangsta rap" that can be found on the airwaves, but I guess it just goes to show that "true kings don't demand respect, they command it".