I have to confess that the standard of music which falls into the broad hip-hop/rap/urban spectrum that has come my way of late has certainly left me feeling unsatisfied. The problem, I guess, is to do with the double edge sword of progress. Hip-hop pretty much invented the technological tools it needed to make its music in the first place, rules were broken and remade on hot-wired decks in South Bronx community centres and house parties that gave birth to a sound and a scene. A scene made and populated by mavericks. Fast forward 40 years and that technology is not only readily but cheaply available, meaning that there has been a massive uptake in people hoping to make a name for themselves in those genres. But just because more music is being made doesn’t mean that the percentage of good music increases. The reality is that a whole wave of mumbling bedroom rappers are releasing low grade, wannabe lyrics to the same trap-rap beats and electronic tweeness. And the reason I say all of this is because listening to Initium has pretty much restored my faith in modern hip-hop. It is everything the above description isn’t.
Dantian Collective remember what is important. They remember that the genre was founded on sharp lyrics and confident beats, on a battleground attitude and a certain swagger. They also remember that within the beat you need hooks and melodies and this album is full of them. Right from the off the bruised and brooding sound of Planet Asia marks this out as something special, lyrics that are barb and witty in equal measure, that not only have something to say but also say it in style.
There is a martial spirit to the duo in general, the lines between physical and sonic conflict being blurred and the result being, as they so cleverly put it, “mic martial arts.” See, they even do puns! And this spirit is evident on Snappin’ Nex wandering from images of Silverback gorillas to the Star Wars universe and back again as they draw their lines in the sand. Break Bread is the perfect nod to their inspirations taken from the early pioneers, soul hooks, funk baselines and dance beats all being cut up and bent to their will, a song that both tips its hat to the past whilst looking into promising new futures. Verbal Assault is a scowling sonic slice, What You Want is soaked through with echoes of the past whilst standing proudly in the here and now and Marvel continues their love of using sci-fi as an analogy to make their point.
It’s obvious that Dantian Collective know how to pen a tune but it is their lyrics that really makes the album stand out, which for a genre build on lyrical wit and wisdom, barb and battle, is as it should be. They conjure scenes and scenarios filled with brilliant imagery and analogy, from sci-fi to martial arts to superheroes to history to the hassle and hustle of the street, they cross universes and create their own worlds all the while offering up challenges to anyone and everyone who wants to take them on.
As I said, its an album that has largely restored my faith. At its heart is the same struggle and frustration that beat in the music of the giants whose shoulders they stand on, the same confident swagger, the same confrontational stance. Acknowledge the past, make music for the present and build a glorious future. Dantian Collective have got it covered.