Alan Bonner-Lighthouse Song

alan bonner
Having been compared by critics to the likes of Rufus Wainwright and David Bowie, finishing touches are being made to Alan Bonner’s second album Balladeer is out Monday March 4th 2013, a set of beautifully crafted songs of love, loss, hope and redemption from a 21st-century Troubadour with folk leanings and a pop sensibility. You’ll hear Alan’s own unique take on the romantic and the political, the heart-breaking and the uplifting.

A great talent coming through the UK alternative scene, Alan’s excellence with stripped-bare, minimal backdrops is gaining him some great traction and this single is as good a demonstration of that capability as any. The track opens with familiar-sounding string work, the output being a warming blend of jaunty (great word) and easygoing, before progressing nicely into accompanying bass plucks and backing vocals, whilst Alan’s vocals also evolve in their intensity and emotion. One of those tracks that’s just beautifully simple, and highly replayable. Look out for that album, and if you’re interested in catching him live, tour dates are available here.

Caveman-In The City

CavemanInTheCity
If you’re looking for something to add to that car playlist, look no further. The lead single from their upcoming self-titled album, Caveman come through with a lovely soundscape that’s definitely going to stick around for those sunny drives (only a few months away now!).

The production has a great selection of layers, including punchy percussion, sharp guitar plucks alongside softer, delayed chords, and running through it all is an atmospheric dose of synth that bulks this out nicely. The sporadic use of vocals is excellently done too, particularly towards the end, allowing the instrumentation enough room to breathe and create the dynamic, uplifting and lively vibe that packages this track together. A very enjoyable listen, and look out for that album on 2nd April.

Joey Bada$$-Don't Quit Your Day Job

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Most of you will know this by now, but here’s the backstory: Joey tweeted a Capital Steez lyric from Survival Tactics, “tell the Based God don’t quit his day job”, and Lil’ B took offense. He proceeded to release a ‘warning shot’ track targeted at Joey, who responded with this feud-ender mere hours later.

I can’t give enough credit to Lee Bannon for this production. He’s only gone and sampled what’s arguably my favourite R&B song of all-time in Janet Jackson’s That’s The Way Love Goes, and has let the quality of the sample do most of the work, aside from a little tempo increase and a heavier focus on the revamped percussion; they’re two delicate touches that take this beat away from its R&B roots, and rightfully more tailored for Joey’s use. The raps are short but as good as you’d expect from the gifted MC, combining his characteristically clever bars with some direct shots at Lil’ B, before closing with a few shoutouts. Regardless of how lame the ‘beef’ is, it’s nice to get new Joey, especially when backed by this sort of production.

Theme Park-Tonight (Video)

Adding to the recent spate of bubbly, upbeat pieces of alternative music from several artists, this new effort from Theme Park will sit firmly within that group as one of its leading pieces.

Bright, uplifting synths combine with crisp percussion and flashes of distorted guitar for a fantastically layered hook, whilst the more scaled back medley of funky plucks, easygoing percussion and a plethora of sharp samples in the verses contrasts that nicely. The vocals also benefit from a superb blend of styles, with the rousing, high-pitched style of the hook playing off the more sombre, downcast verse for a seperation that certainly helps anchor the song around that hook.

The visuals mix together the lavish with the ethereal, as the scenes are mostly filmed in rather opulent settings, though the misty filter, lighting tricks and slow pace combine to make the most of those synths and delayed guitars. Look out for the self-titled album on 25th February.

CyHi the Prynce-Ivy League: Kick Back (Mixtape)

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It’s fair to say that for most of the hip-hop community, the jury’s out on whether CyHi’s got enough to really make an impact. He seems to have had some great opportunities, from several features on Kanye’s much-loved G.O.O.D. Fridays series a couple of years ago to his inclusions on the Cruel Summer album, but never seems to do enough to stand out.

It’s another chance to change that here, and he’s got a great cast of supporting acts to help him boost his reputation. Guest spots include Childish Gambino, Big K.R.I.T., Yelawolf, Smoke DZA and several more, whilst the production lineup features Lex Luger, Beat Billionaire and a couple of newer names behind the boards. Generally speaking, I’ve tried to support CyHi’s work where possible, and here’s hoping the Atlanta native can now justify that; find out for sure with the free stream and download below.

CyHi the Prynce-Ivy League: Kick Back

Toro y Moi-Grown Up Calls (Live)

Toro’s Anything In Return is undoubtedly one of the best album releases in recent months (I intended to write a review, but finding time between regular posts was tough), and whilst it’s a disservice to the album to pick out individual tracks, this certainly stands out as one I’ll be replaying once listening to the whole LP becomes a chore.

Performed live for a French radio station, Toro proceeds to do away with his luscious synths and chilled percussion to deliver the track with only a piano and his vocals. It’s easy to get wrapped up in his excellent production work whilst listening to his works, and with his whispery voice usually operating as another instrument rather than a top layer, this is a great opportunity to spend a little more time with the lyrical output of the track. This stripped-back performance unquestionably adds a lot of depth to the track, with the soft keys lending more emotion to his vocals, and if anything it’s a nice tangent that makes listening to the original an even better experience. Get that album now if you haven’t already.

Rick Ross-B*tch Don't Kill My Vibe Remix

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So, it appears someone took a shot at Rick Ross. Now, I’m sure we all agree Ross isn’t exactly slimmer of the year, and hence shouldn’t be too hard to hit, right? Yet, they missed. Either he’s very lucky or this is a bit of a stunt before his various projects drop this year. Call me a cynic for suggesting that, but we all know it happens.

Nothing more than a verse tacked on the top of Kendrick’s excellent album jam and a few adjustments to the bass of the track (turned up and pitched slightly differently), and though his laidback flow fits the beat well enough, there’s not a great deal going on that makes this worth listening to over the original. Probably worth a quick listen, but don’t hurt yourself trying to replay it or anything.

Foals-My Number (Video)

I do genuinely enjoy this song, and having admittedly slightly forgotten about it, this makes for a timely reminder with its accompanying album due out in just a few weeks on 12th February.

I gave the audio a glowing review last month, and hence I’ll not repeat that here, but those guitars remain s deliciously infectious as they were back then. Despite all of its upbeat stylings, there’s still something likeably stripped back about it, and that’s represented well in the video, which is focused mostly around a performance of the song. It also pans away to various goings-on in and around that show, from drunk (or related) youths hanging around the venue to a dance trio getting down outside, the latter eventually “making it inside” and undoubtedly livening up proceedings, though there’s a nice twist on that at the end.

It’s a very fun and mostly quite feelgood visual, with a simple and unfussy execution that reflects the key parts of the audio wellm whilst making for a welcome refresh of the song. Worth a watch, and definitely look to grab that Holy Fire album in a few weeks.

Ryan Leslie-Carnival of Venice (Video)

Despite my appreciation of his past works, I’ve distanced myself from R-Les’ recent efforts as his new penchant for rapping seems a waste of his singing talents. Nonetheless, there’s only so long I can sulk.

The lyricism is as ‘bragger rap’ as you’d expect from a relatively mainstream act, but with a better twist as he often focuses on his half-decent intentions for his wealth, whilst also having progression in moving through his day to his evening. It’s not going to lyrically blow anyone’s mind, but is change from the usual fare, and comes packed into an intense flow with a monotony that enhances the beat’s impact. !llmind serves up an excellent backdrop here, arguably the track’s highlight, with dark, moody synths blending with raw, scratchy production and ominous vocal sampling for a beat that will be the envy of many, and would certainly afford more praise had it been given to a more established MC.

The visual has a nice pacing to it, slow with quick scene changes that match up well to the movements of the audio, and does well in tandem with the music. It’s hard to hate this; credit to R-Les for delivering quality in a different lane to his usual style.

The Foreign Exchange-So What If It Is

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So What If It Is” is The Foreign Exchange’s new single from their “+FE Music: The Reworks” remix compilation. Spanning 2 discs, the set features remixes from Nicolay, Zo! 4hero, ?uestlove & James Poyser, and serves as a primer for The Foreign Exchange’s long-awaited 4th LP, Love In Flying Colors.

One of my go-to acts when I’m in a new music dry period, and they solve both problems with some brand new work. The production’s distinctly more electro-infused than their previous works, combining uptempo percussion with bright synths and lively electronic samples, whilst Phonte’s vocals are certainly uplifting throughout. His lyricism still retains a touch of bittersweetness for that grounded quality, and this is a nice change of pace from their usual works that comes off very well. Maintaining a sense of chillout within the otherwise busy backdrop, Nicolay’s served up a production that hovers a line that’s so difficult to master, and the overall combination is a likeable effort that sets their forthcoming projects up nicely.

The 1975-Chocolate

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A sprightly slice of alternative from this Manchester band, from their Music for Cars EP due on 4th March.

The production’s got a heavy pop influence, with the soft yet bouncy guitar work sliding alongside relatively gentle and upbeat percussion work for a summery, mainstream-friendly backdrop that’ll certainly inject some brightness into your headphones. The vocals follow suit, with a thoroughly positive delivery that packs in a little motivational lyricism alongside touches of storytelling for an easily-digestable piece, and one that complements the instrumentation very well. It’ll be too ‘smooth around the edges’ for most alternative fans, but I’d imagine the younger audience will really take to this, and there’s some potential for this track to really get some traction.

Pusha T-Wrath of Caine (Mixtape)

wrath of caine
Very excited to give Pusha’s latest project a listen, his first since 2011′s Fear of God I and II releases, and the final one before his debut album drops in March.

There’s plenty expected of Push on that upcoming LP, and there’s no doubt he’s carved out quite a place for himself in hip-hop as a solo artist over the last 2 years. Features on this tape include Wale, Rick Ross and the ubiquitous French Montana and Troy Ave, whilst the production lineup is rather tantalising, with names such as The Neptunes, Kanye West, B!nk, !llmind and more contributing their works. Lots to look forward to in the near future from Push, and it starts with that free grab below.

Pusha T-Wrath of Caine

Jonny Debt-Prince of the Golden Horseshoe

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Another inbox gem. One of the more diverse projects I’ve heard in months is Canadian upcomer Jonny Debt’s fantastic 11-track album, combining folk, country, hard alternative and punk into a surprisingly cohesive mix.

The guitars are insanely funky from start to finish, helped by their almost freeform nature in many tracks, the crowning glory of an instrumentation set that also includes some great variety in the percussion. Jonny’s vocals have to be versatile to keep up with the superb backdrops, and they don’t disappoint, with funny, lighthearted deliveries alongside more sombre, thoughtful performances, facets that extend to the ever-catchy songwriting too (tracks 6 and 7 couldn’t represent this dichotomy any better). That diversity will probably mean several will really love some tracks and hate others, but those of a more varied taste will enjoy this regardless. I skip over emailed albums like this on a daily basis, but I’m genuinely glad I gave this one a go. Do so yourself below.

Jonny Debt-Prince of the Golden Horseshoe

Cassie-All Gold, All Girls ft. Lola Monroe and Trina

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The latest in a now-plentiful range of All Gold Everything remixes, but one with a nice twist of originality as 13 for ’13 nominee Cassie grabs Trina and Taylor Gang’s Lola Munroe for a remake.

The intro sets things off really well, as Cassie harmonises over the faint sounds of Trinidad’s single, before the track fully expands with her own take (though it could be both her and Lola) on the ubiquitous hook, with the double-layered vocals being an excellent choice of delivery. Trina’s verse is the highlight as far as the rap contributions go, bringing a heavy dose of much-needed intensity to proceedings, whereas Lola’s seems just a little too close to the flow style of Nicki Minaj’s more recent works, though there are glimpses of talent in there. Nice to get a remix of this that doesn’t rely on the original’s hook, and it’s at the very least one of the more unique takes on the track.

STRFKR-Atlantis

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If you’re a fan of Empire of the Sun, Mansions on the Moon or Unknown Mortal Orchestra, imagine combining the three and you’re pretty close to the sound of this very track.

Dreamscape synths, retro-inspired melodies and guitar work, and strong electronic percussion combines for an alternative pop production that’s part laidback, part groin-meltingly funky. The vocals match up that backdrop, with ethereal, high-pitched yet gentle verses that definitely have an Empire of the Sun feel, before the band cut loose in the hook with a more grounded vocal style that makes the most of the production’s upswing in that section. A cracking slice of alternative pop from STRFKR (of course, pronounced star f**ker), be sure to grab that Miracle Mile album on 19th February (pre-orders available).

Ester Dean-How You Love It ft. Missy Elliott

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Outside of the Missy feature this is not my thing, but the mainstream and chart fans should give this a go. Ester’s been threatening to break into mainstream consciousness for years, and having been the writer behind some of pop and R&B’s biggest hits in that time, her stop-start attempts at going solo appear to have settled.

The production’s helmed by Stargate and Benny Blanco, prolific hitmakers in their own right, who serve up bassy, clap-heavy verses that build to the hook well, one which throws in uplifting synths for a typically pop-style step up from verse to chorus. It’s a little too ‘paint-by-numbers pop’ in the hook for me, but credit for good structuring and Ester does a good job making both the verses and hook very catchy and memorable, something most artists only manage for the hook. The Missy feature is my highlight, with the slow paced first half of her verse building to a rapid fire second half, the latter being a great reminder of the fantastic flows she’s capable of. One for the pop audience no doubt, though the rest will want to catch the tail end of that Missy verse.

Smoke DZA-Gotham F*cking City ft. Joey Bada$$

On recieving Smoke’s K.O.N.Y. mixtape in October, this was the standout track. That’s not just because of the feature and Batman-related title either: the production is J Dilla’s hugely-underappreciated and utterly phenomenal Over the Breaks (sidenote: Dilla fans in London and Manchester, check out these Dilla-related events).

Backed by booming percusson and snarling synths, DZA opens with a very likeable, Pusha T-esque verse, combining the thoughts of a ‘disaffected youth’ in with some aggression, and packaging the lyricism into a good flow that rides the beat well. Joey’s on next with a slick delivery of his own, throwing together some very clever lines in a performance that quite simply oozes confidence and quality, and he’s unquestionably a great fit for this dark and intense production.

The beat is allowed time to breathe towards the end, and that allows the video’s story to surface unopposed. The monochrome filter serves to enhance the production’s downbeat nature, whilst the video’s focus on the grittiness and inherent perils of street life are in turn boosted by the audio, building to a dramatic twist at the end that makes this worth watching. It’s a raw, realistic video and when backed by the excellent audio, it’s one you’ll watch several more times. Great audiovisual.

Kilo Kish-Creepwave ft. Flatbush Zombies

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Kilo Kish fans, don’t be confused (as I was): there is already a track under this title, but it’s been heavily reworked for this version from her upcoming K+ mixtape.

Coming in at just over 6 minutes long, this one features an extended intro lines up synths that are atmospheric and airy synths alongside those of a darker, more ominous persuasion for an aura-filled intro, before throwing percussion into the mix for a hit of intensity. The track then comes back to the recognisable synths of the original’s opening, though the changes are soon noticeable, with a couple of additional lines and re-recorded vocals that sound much crisper than the previous version. Add to that new backing vocals, a good Zombies feature and a great instrumental section to close, and this is a worthwhile upgrade that definitely trumps the original. A good track that sets the mixtape up nicely, and with Childish Gambino, Star Slinger, Earl Sweatshirt, The Internet and more set to feature on the mixtape, there’s plenty more to look forward to.

August Alsina-I Luv This Sh*t ft. Trinidad James

August’s got a new project landing in March, and taps up fellow recent Def Jam signee Trinidad James for his first release from that mixtape.

It’s somewhere between slow R&B and hip-hop, the middle ground many R&B acts seem to have unfortunately gravitated towards, though August carries it off much better than many as he relies on his vocals more than his raps, unlike several of his peers. The track’s got an obvious anchor point, that being the motivational, horn-driven hook which has August flexing his vocals more expansively than in the verses, though those they do progress nicely in terms of production; in particular, the second verse throws in a couple of sharp guitar notes not found in the first, adding a touch of diversity.

The Trinidad verse was never going to be classic rap, but it’s an OK contribution that suggests he should handle himself well enough on the plethora of R&B tracks he’s inevitably going to be asked to guest on. It’s a decent, if unspectacular effort from August, but given his youth and relatively new status to the game there’s plenty of time for stronger material to be released.

DJ Kay Slay-Grown Man Hip-Hop pt. 2 (Mixtape)

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Normally DJ’s mixtapes/albums are ones to avoid for me, and I’ve never been massive on Kay Slay’s material anyway, but the features on this do make it worth at least a brief look.

Raekwon, Busta Rhymes, Styles P, Bun B, Joell Ortiz, Jay Rock and Saigon are just a handful of the names appearing here, and at the very least its good to get verses from that collective. Excluding the intro and outro, there are 19 tracks on this too, so probabilities suggest there should be at least a couple of gems buried in there somewhere. Nothing I’m going to rush to listen to, but still worth grabbing for free below.

DJ Kay Slay-Grown Man Hip-Hop pt. 2

Gold Panda-Trust EP

Over the last few months I’ve taken a huge liking to Gold Panda’s music (thanks Ed), and having ridiculously overplayed his entire back catalogue, this brand new 4-track EP comes as a lovely surprise.

If you’re a fan of the various Clams Casino instrumental tapes, you’ll definitely enjoy this. It’s rather more reserved and darker than his previous works, and given the conditions outside it’s a change that’s welcomed, and one that he pulls off with in typically skilful fashion. The component parts of the beats seem to range from unusual background noises (pretty sure I heard a car door shut in track 2) to atmospheric synths and luscious layers of percussion, with each track packaging everything up into a wonderfully cohesive piece of music.

The EP’s sequenced nicely, as the final two tracks add progressive touches of positivty, though still contained within the slightly downcast soundscape of those before them, and this is a collection of instrumentals that will make a great addition to your library; be sure to buy the set.

Havoc-Tell Me To My Face ft. Royce Da 5'9"

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I was pretty reluctant to listen to this for two reasons: firstly, hip-hop has been legitimately poor in recent weeks (with a couple of small exceptions), and secondly the whole Mobb Deep split ridiculousness really soured my view on them both. However, there’s nothing like good music to win you over, and this first single from Hav’s upcoming 13 album will do just that.

The production is a great blend of that trademark ominous style of Hav’s mixed with a lively edge, combining dramatic synths with soft keys and a pounding, bass-heavy percussion that drives the track along well. Easily one of Hav’s best beats in recent times, and his raps are suited well enough too, with his natural lyrical aggressiveness capped well with a confident, slightly laidback delivery, whilst his hook scales the beat back and spotlights his unquestioned intensity. Royce’s contribution is a welcome return to the scene, his ranges of flows being extremely watertight, packing in wit, a touch of introspection and more into a verse of great quality, capping off what is certainly an enjoyable all-round hip-hop jam.

RDGLDGRN-Million Fans

rdgldgrn
One of the easiest picks for my 13 for ’13 list, and they’ve justified that selection with the release of some brand new material, the first time since 2011′s I Love Lamp.

Taken from their debut EP, set for a 12th February release, this is our first listen of RDGLDGRN being backed by the legendary Dave Grohl on drums, and that’s precisely what you’re greeted with when you hit that play button. Crashing percussion turned right up, the song begins with an intensity that’s built on superbly with Green’s raps, a light dose of keys, and some thoroughly excellent guitar work from Red and Gold. The latter adds a fantastically attitudinal element to the track, and works in tandem with the drums to add an energy to the track that belies its relatively slow pace: it’s a watertight blend of hip-hop and rock that’s very, very difficult to get right but they’ve done just that. Though we’re longtime fans here at OTU of the band in their various iterations, I certainly didn’t expect this from them, and I’m more than pleasantly surprised with the output. Can’t wait to get this into my collection, and that EP can’t come soon enough.

Arima Ederra-Flow Chart (Video)

I briefly lauded this wonderfully talented soul singer in my 13 for ’13 without ever actually posting anything of hers on here. Time for that to change, and even though it’s not in my top 1 or 2 from the EP, that’s not disparaging to this track at all and it’s a great introduction to her abilities.

The production choice is soft, subtle and massively suited to her voice, with sharp percussion and claps thrown in with gentle and deep synths that are almost flute-esque in their delicateness, the combination being a punchy beat with a mellow aftertaste. It’s the type of beat most vocalists love to work with, and hence it allows Arima to bring some variety in her vocals, with relatively relaxed verses delivered in short lines, and a more emotional and expansive hook. She holds her melodies for much longer and with considerable skill in those choruses, and it’s definitely a highlight of the performance.

The visual captures the elements of the song nicely, with the darkness embodying the more atmospheric elements of the audio, whilst the level of activity and intermittent bright flashes of colour work nicely with the percussion and verses. Good all-round product, and you can grab the track on the free EP here.

Casey Veggies-Life Changes (Mixtape)

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One of the more talented young rappers coming up, narrowly missing out on my 13 for ’13 list, Casey Veggies is the next of the new generation of MCs to drop off his latest work.

I’ve only caught one track from this prior to today’s release, Lifestyle, but it was definitely an enjoyable listen with the highlight being the synergy between the smoothed-out production and Casey’s easygoing raps. If that formula’s anything to go by, this should be a very good 13-track project, and hopefully one that helps pull Casey up to that next level of fandom and popularity. Features are at a minimum with appearances from Dom Kennedy and BJ the Chicago Kid, so there’s enough spotlight on Casey-stream and download for free below.

Casey Veggies-Life Changes

Disclosure-White Noise ft. AlunaGeorge

disclosure
Potential for a huge hit here, with a slice of electro that’s got plenty to like about it. The primary synths are really lively in this one, bouncing around the track like it’s 2004 again, and they’re backed by some nice layering throughout, with bassy percussion that’s also got a couple of likeable rough edges. It’s all added to nicely in the bridges, which throw in some darker, atmospheric synths to up the anticipation for the energetic hook’s arrival, and on its entry that chorus doesn’t disappoint.

Aluna’s vocals are a great fit for this type of production, her high-pitched vocals playing off the synths excellently whilst contrasting favourably with the percussion. Any self-respecting club DJ should be looking to add this to their playlists sooner rather than later, and yes, you should too.

J-Dilla Changed My Life @ Ruby Lounge, Manchester - Friday 1st February

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For the third year in a row Manchester’s Hip-Hop community are coming together to celebrate the life and work of the one and only James ‘J-Dilla’ Yancey. Always sold out in advance this event has become the not to be missed date of the year, much like it’s London equivalent now in it’s 7th year.

This year we once again have the brilliant Detroit MC and friend of Dilla’s Phat Kat on hosting duties while some of the UK’s best DJs pay tribute to a producer that has influenced them all. With Spin Doctor mixing an all AV set, special guest Kidkanevil both alongside Manchester’s own Me Scruff, Hoya Hoya, In The Loop & Juicy residents there is a phenomenal amount of talent on show tonight all giving up their time for free to raise money for the J-Dilla Foundation and Lupus UK. With yet another exclusive T-shirt designed and printed just for these events available alongside Dilla produced CDs and more this event is sure to be another huge success!

Minimum donation: £6 advance, buy here
Time: 9pm-3am
Address: Ruby Lounge, 28-34 High Street, Manchester M4 1QB

J-Dilla Changed My Life @ Scala, London - Sunday 3rd February

londonflyer
The UK’s Only OFFICIAL J-Dilla Tributes. All proceeds from tickets & merchandise go to J-Dilla Foundation & Lupus UK. For seven years on the trot London’s No.1 Hip-Hop party promoters and thousands of dedicated fans have celebrated the life and work of the incredible James “J-Dilla” Yancey.

Standing alone as THE Hip-Hop event of the year it is hard to better it year on year but with a refreshed line up of DJs spinning Dilla classics you know and rarities you don’t, Spin Doctor spinning a special AV set & of course the t-shirt designed exclusively for the event this is sure to be another big year. DJs performing for free on the night in loving memory are: Shortee Blitz, Mr Thing, Spin Doctor (Dilla AV Set), Kidkanevil, Alexander Nut, Kutmah, DJ LoK (Dilla breaks set) & special guests. Hosted by Phat Kat.

Minimum donation: £6 advance, Ticketweb
VIP tickets: £30, grants exclusive access to VIP bar and balcony & includes an exclusive J-Dilla T-Shirt & CD.
Time: 7pm-midnight
Address: Scala, 275 Pentonville Road, Kings Cross, London N1 9NL

Rockie Fresh-Electric Highway (Mixtape)

rockie fresh
Rockie’s another great example of just how good MMG are at promoting their artists. Say what you want about their music, but the vast majority of people that sign with them tend to command massive amounts of buzz in a very short period of time.

Whilst I’ve not been a massive listener of Rockie’s music, he’s clearly a young guy with a lot of potential, as demonstrated with his most recent release from this very project. Outside of that track there are very few features on the tape, though Curren$y makes an appearance, and hence it’s a good chance for Rockie to justify some of that hype. I can’t promise he will, but I can promise you can find out for free below.

Rockie Fresh-Electric Highway