Strange U #LP4080 Review
Presumably at some point at the start of this strange decade we have been living in, Kashmere the longstanding man of a thousand names decided that there was a gap he was compelled to fill in the UK hip hop scene. While this is entirely speculation, I imagine an epiphany moment down a deep rabbit hole induced by days of acid at which point the Iguana Man realised that it was his responsibility to take on the mantle of the UK’s answer to MF Doom. Emerging from this entirely unsubstantiated spirit quest, he set about creating a soundscape and new identity typified by heavily psychedelic melodies, jarring beats, poetically dislocated topics and imagery and then even threw in the Marvel Comics inspired mask for good measure.
The shit works for him. Choosing to do something so ambitious and managing for its stylistic similarities to come off as more of a nod to Doom than jacking his style is no small feat. While comparisons to Doom are unavoidable, Kashmere and Zygote’s Strange U are not a tribute act in the slightest and carve out a take on the Doomesque approach to hip hop that is distinctively UK and markedly more raw with a heavier drive and weirdly loose bangers abounding.
Strange U emerged with their first EP in 2013 shortly followed in 2014 by EP #2040. Not too hard to muster up a connection here. Bar a few singles in between, #LP4080 is the first Strange event in the last few years. After a chunky waiting period the first full length album is finally here and the good news is that it’s sick.
From start to finish, Kashmere lyrically bobs and weaves. Balancing the deep and the ridiculous, he manages for the most part to maintain an ability to surprise throughout. Although as that’s what I’ve come to expect from Kashmere I guess the fact that he does isn’t that surprising. In terms of topics, #LP4080 in some way or another has the tone of a comic nightmare all the way through, tempering a terrifying outlook of people, culture and where the world is heading with beatscapes and lyrics that revel in embracing the ridiculous.
It’s probably a sound decision in light of the chaotic imagery cascading through the verses that Kasmere (aka Obiesie Adibuah) as standard opts to break up the insanity with hooks of a simpler nature. In opposition to the weird wordsmithing that forms the bulk of the tracks, the choruses generally take the form of a perverse phrase on repeat soaked in delay. The function of this often acts as immersing the listener in attempts to clutch at the meanings tied together in the verses before throwing the overall abstract meaning of the song in their face in its simplest form. Equally useful in breaking up the verbal assault are the couple of odd instrumental tracks where Zygote masterfully adds a surreal intermission.
Doctor Zygote deserves props for consistently bizarre production. Strange U’s instrumental sound has forged a distinctive style since their first releases, typified by sounding like retro video games and the far future simultaneously. Zygote throws together a mix of 8-bit sounds, cinematic samples, chugging bass lines and off kilter kicks and hi-hats that creates a width and depth to the tracks which fully immerses the listener. Everything sounds crisp as fuck while being laden with enough echoing effects to vary between sounding like travelling down deep tunnels to riding a satellite through space. All this adds up to creating a sound for Strange U which has the feeling of a current view of our future phrased from a sonic platform a few decades in our past. It’s like an audio version of watching cult sci-fi horror movies from the 70’s and 80’s.
The LP boasts a solid number of stand out tracks with a range of different strengths. Terminator Funk is a great opener. Lurching forwards like a giant robot on a mission, it’s a stomper that it’d be sick to see live. It’s not the only head nod tune on the album. Other examples come in the guise of the tongue in cheek braggadocio of Grizzle and contrasting hilarious self mockery of penultimate track Waste of Space where the Iguana Man departs from his oddly dark musings on present and future to childishly take the piss out of himself in lyrics like; ‘This ain’t a Freddy mask, this is my face, I’m a loser, I might try living in space. Never been a popular guy, I was only trying to say hi and I got rocked in the eye, Never ask me how the music is going, It’s going terribly, I think about quitting this bitch and going therapy.‘
Mumm Ra, King Kashmere’s ode to a monster is probably the biggest banger of the project. Lyrically its one of the least elusive tracks on the album with the subject matter chronicling a lust turned to hate tale with a horror story as its vehicle. The vocal journey works perfectly on a driving bass and beat combination that from its drop is reminiscent of what was so sick about hearing Tribe’s We The People not so long ago.
The horror theme rears its multiple contorted heads repeatedly as #LP4080 progresses, phrasing different facets of itself deftly. Darkly sci-fi imagery is commonplace over the course of the album, most prominently when painting twisted future portraits on Eden’s Husk ft Jehst where the two genre heavyweights paint a dismal view of a burnt, toxic world in the year 2050. Extending the global environmental crisis currently escalating to its possible crippling conclusion Kashmere and Jehst descriptively track through the various attributes of a planet where man’s days are finite.
‘The sky’s burning, aviation is over, the ozone is gone, radiation exposure, can you handle all the dread, the ecosystem is fucked, all the animals are dead, could all have been avoided if we thought about the future, now it’s all up in the toilet, polar ice caps melting into the ocean, 200 ft tidal waves crashing over the barriers, to travel as far as the inner city, the one’s who escape will be the ones to write history, unless they cannibalise each other’s flesh, in a mess trying to rationalise each others deaths.’
There’s a heavily dystopian edge to a large bulk of the material on #LP4080 some of which sees Kashmere dwelling unnervingly close to the present day. Dipping their reptilian toes into the waters of political satire, one of Strange U’s most scathing tracks to date is Mr Kill, which dropped on Nov 11th last year. Featuring a nauseating mix of gross out imagery and depictions of excess with a darkly comic political narrative Kashmere tears into the political establishment by caricaturing the intentions behind the masks of our ruling elites. There’s an obvious added irony lurking in that when its rolling off the tongue of an abstract mask wearing counter-cultural poet such as Strange U’s front man.
For a cutting extension of Mr Kill (although it actually appears earlier on the LP), see also Hanging Chads for Kashmere’s campaign ad which says it all really about the political status quo as its remained unchanged in living memory. While this is essentially just a skit track, its worthy of mention as he hits the nail on the head when the preposterous disgusting nature of what he proposes in his bid for head of state is a clear mirror for the actions of our world leaders in reality. Its done simply but by putting crude satire in a psychedelic format that seems to distort reality it forces home how insane it is that the social destruction that he describes his intent for is actually far more of an honest depiction of how the powerful operate today than the sugar coated version we’re fed and come to accept to some extent as being real.
It’s worth mentioning that the videos for all singles off #LP4080 are another way in which Strange U have managed to forge a continuity between all facets of the project. A signature style visual jams together disturbing and pop culture footage and random images that look like they’ve been cut out of magazines with scissors. Bulletproof Moustache ft Lee Scott showcases intentionally shoddy camera work like a child filmed it on a camcorder in the early 90’s mixed with 8-Bit avatars of the two MCs spewing surrealist lyrics loaded with retro references colliding off juxtaposed pop culture clips. All of which compliments Zygote’s SNES style synths and bass nicely. Shots is another one to check and cracked me up multiple times. The scathing take on the hip hop mainstream and idiot culture in general, is effortlessly fuck you, intelligent and silly at the same time and the ridiculous video adds to the crease effect.
Going overboard on collaborations has been a common phenomenon on hip hop albums for a long while, with vastly varying levels of effectiveness. LPs saturated with guest spots on occasion are excitingly diverse but often come across as packing in too much filler or dick riding credible associations to pick up the slack for an inability of the title artist to provide enough fire to compose a dope album on their own. This in mind, you can’t really argue with the balance that Strange U have struck with features on #LP4080. Collabs are limited to four cameos. All of which are sick and don’t detract from Obiesie’s ownership of the lyrical terrain.
These team ups appear as contributions from industry legend Jehst and Blah Record’s main man Lee Scott (as already mentioned above) as well as verses from High Focus’s founding father Fliptrix and Nottingham rapper Cappo. As line ups go this one is pretty flawless. Every one of them steps up to the plate and kills it in keeping with the audio arena provided by Zygote and adds a complimentary texture to Kashmeres lyrical approach. Breaking from the verbal pace and flow style that is Kashmere’s signature throughout the rest of the album, on Illuminations the Iguana Man speeds up his verse to keep pace with Fliptrix’s excellent guest spot. Particularly as the instrumental is Zygote’s most chilled, spacey and minimal offering on #LP4080, this sudden alteration of momentum in the vocals towards the album’s end is a welcome shake up. Final track and penultimate single, Zuul, complete with 80’s b movie style ominous bass and a runaway metronome dot see’s Cappo throw down the gauntlet with an imagery laden boast rich in mind bending scheme extension.
Theres not much to level at #LP4080 in the way of criticism. If anything, it would be that most swords are double edged. Creating and maintaining a project that through its sound, lyrics and visuals has as much continuity as Strange U, amounting to being a defined artistic whole that has been a distinctive entity since its inception is very impressive. The one downside of this is that even if that entity is something as weird, wonderful and ingenuitive as Strange U, by the nature of being a specific thing it means that at its least stand out moments (of which there aren’t many on #LP4080) it can sound like ‘another Strange U beat’. As #LP4080 stands at a point where the group are fairly new and still very exciting this is barely a noticeable issue, particularly as the vast majority of the songs have something that give them an individual significance. The challenge for them with future releases will be to continue to surprise when the benchmark they’ve set for insanity thusfar is already more experimental than the majority of hip hop artists ever get.
Strange U, as the name suggests, aren’t ever going to be everyone’s cup of Tetley’s. Fans of a more standard UK hip hop beat and flow pattern or hip hop with a grimier edge may be likely to disregard them. While this means that they will most likely permanently occupy a specific niche in the UK scene without many comparable acts to keep them company in that space, it is also likely to ensure them dominance over it (in the short term at least) and a dedicated long term fan base. #LP4080 is a consolidation of an expectation of quality and integrity based on all the smaller releases that have come before it. Production and bars kill relentlessly from start to finish and I’d be very surprised to talk to fan’s of Kashmere, Zygote and Strange U who weren’t more than satisfied with this step in the Strange odyssey. The two artists are both pretty prolific so hopefully it won’t be too long before there is a new chapter. In the meantime, King Kashmere and Bambooman are releasing a short EP entitled Supergod on the 3rd of March and Strange U will be showcasing material off #LP4080 during the High Focus Records event at Concorde 2 in Brighton on March 10th.
#LP4080 is out now and available on High Focus Records.