Despite being around more than long enough to pay dues, both Mr Brown and Confucius MC to date are artists who, even relative to their niche, have yet to catch the share of limelight they deserve. Possibly victims of their own depth, while both have UK hip-hop royalty keen to collaborate and are widely rated and respected by those who know them, neither seem to get as much play or exposure as their talent warrants. After rinsing this EP for the last couple days, I can’t stress enough how much it is not to be slept on.
From the first seconds of Confucius MC and Mr Brown’s conceptual collaboration The Artform, the project is vividly Cinematic. From the jump, occupying multiple sonic settings and eras at once is a facet of the production, blending far east, old Hollywood and urban Britain seamlessly. First track Artiste deftly sets a scene that echoes through the rest of the EP. Complimenting Con’s formative influences of classic Kung-Fu movies, early Wu-Tang and the teachings of the Chinese philosopher of the same name, production at points through The Artform has Oriental melodic features. On Artiste, this is one component fused into a tune that sounds like a spaghetti western in space. Having a lot of different things going on that intuitively should clash but somehow gel seems to be a trademark of Mr Brown’s beat making. The guy’s style is complex. It works.
True to its title, the EP is a celebration of hip hop as art. Both critical and passionate about the state of rap, Confucius focuses his lyrical gaze across tracks on the different points of the artistic triangle between creator, product and consumer. The intent to allow the EP to be interpreted this way is obvious with track names Artiste, The Art-Form (parts 1 and 2) and Eye of the beholder. On the nose as this may be, the clarity of creative purpose doesn’t limit the abilities of Brown or Con to be deep with it. With a defined topic area to stay within (at least vaguely) at all times, Confucius unleashes assured and colourful lyricism throughout. Mr Brown doesn’t stumble in creating a fitting musical texture to compliment. All this is atmospherically tied together by numerous art focused samples picked from old movies and interviews with artists including Rakim and a soundbite from the grandfather of British graffiti, Robbo.
Fun fact: The opening samples to the EP are taken from the 1956 Kirk Douglas movie Lust for Life, about the life of Vincent van Gogh. It’s anyone’s guess whether the significance of this choice is to draw parallels between a painter who was famously ahead of his time, to his post-impressionist creative approach, to the artist’s internal struggle between genius and madness or just because the particular quotes work for the album.
Trying to isolate stand out tracks to recommend would be a bit redundant in the case of The Artform. Although there is a sense that it could have been a bit longer after the 7 short songs have finished, it’s a solid decision to have made the project an EP instead of trying to draw it out into a full length album. Trying to stretch exploring angles of a simple concept out over twice as many tunes could have become samey. As it is, each chapter takes a separate viewpoint on the topic matter and the more general art related references in Con’s hooks and verses work as a refrain tying everything together instead of becoming tired and repetitive. Tracks segue smoothly into each other, all distinct and musically rich phrasings of an overall trip. At points, washing warmly over the listener on tracks like The Art-Form and Sincere Love. At others, less soothing, such as the malevolent malfunctioning robotic sounds of The Art-Form Pt. 2 feat Jehst, where Confucius MC brings more of a bare-faced front to his flow or Different Ending which showcases the lyricist switching up the pace of his delivery with more complex rhythm patterns.
Closing track An I Me switches its silver screen musical underpinnings to something resembling early Manga movies, with Confucius embedding a number of Anime references in his bars for keen listeners to check off. As a last tune, it sees Confucius become more elusive and metaphorical with his lyricism. Once the vocals are done with, it subsides in its final moments into a reprise of futurist Sergio Leone stylings before an off the wall sample ripped from a classic movie signals the end and leaves you sat in unceremonious silence, wondering how the fuck the whole thing flew by so quickly.
The Artform drops today (26th June) on Mr Brown’s own We Stay True label. Some cool extras make copping the physical product enticing. Beyond the simple, Akira inspired, lettering on the album cover, there’s a full lyric book accompanied by some dope artwork. There’s also an exclusive instrumental B-side on the limited run of 250 vinyl available.
Pick up a copy here, also available on all good streaming services.