Ballin’ Like A Laker – Blazzphemy(reviewed by Dave Franklin)

It’s safe to say that hip-hop, like most genres, has come a long way since it took its first creative steps. What grew out of the dissatisfaction and street culture of South Bronx fifty years ago has travelled all around the world. And whilst those first pioneers made their music by re-wiring sound systems into primitive samplers, today’s technology has not only resulted in mass access for aspiring rappers, DJ’s and music-makers, it has also caused the genre to evolve along some wonderfully diverse and divergent lines.

The art of making music in this now broad genre is, perhaps, to take enough elements of the music’s past sounds and styles so that there are familiarity and continuity to it, but also to look forward and explore musical pastures new, so that there is also something fresh on offer. And if that is where the balance of making hip-hop music in the modern age lies, it is a sonic juggling act that Blazzphemy pulls off perfectly.

The individual building blocks may have changed a lot these days but the sound is easily recognisable. Rather than reworking the grooves and infectiousness of old soul records and R&B licks, today’s artist is wrapping skittering trap percussion around deep bass pulses, washing it with synth-string lines and beguiling peripheral sounds.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is the vocals and Blazzphemy’s deft and dexterous melodies and accessible word-play is everything that the genre was founded on.

If previous releases offered everything from the Latin grooves of Sabes to the relentless, stream of consciousness word salvos and twitchy rhythms of Jiggy, here Blazzphemy offers something more musically understated and considered. And it is this blend of vocal restraint and mid-pace delivery that makes the song so effective. It’s easy to fire off all your lyrics in frantic and frenzied salvos but to hold back, to chose your moment, is much more effective. Ballin’ Like A Laker is the sound of an artist choosing their words carefully, of making each one count, each line loaded with intent, each phrase full of melody as well as meaning.

Perhaps the ingredient that makes everything work so effectively here is space, ironic for a genre normally happy to embrace quickfire deliveries and load the music with dense tones and interlocking textures but space is the key here. Space allows room for everything to percolate and infuse perfectly. And it is in these spaces that atmospheres are allowed to build. In the spaces between the end of one lyric and the intake of breath before the next, in the gap between the bass beats, woven through the sparing electronica which makes up the musical middle ground, these atmospheres and moments of anticipation add so much.

They ensure that the various sounds and samples employed don’t get in each other’s way, that Blazzphemy can ring every ounce of mood and emotion out of the notes and the beats, that everything gets heard and nothing steps on the other’s creative toes. And all of this builds the perfect platform for the lyrics.

And the lyrics combine all the hallmarks of hip-hop, honesty, smart narratives of the hustle and hassle of the street and personal reflection with accessibility and an almost pop-sensibility.

Put all of these balancing acts together, the past and the present, the familiar and the fresh, the underground cool and the mainstream appeal and it is easy to see why we can expect to be hearing a lot more from Blazzphemy.

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