Grand’lusions – Calamity Jones (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Hip-Hop is known more for short, sharp and shockingly effective sonic hits rather than anything designed on a more ornate and grand scale, which is what makes this new album from New York’s Calamity Jones such an interesting concept. A hip-hop concept album may be a rare commodity but why not? Boundaries are there to be pushed, generic fences to be (hip-)hopped, sonic barricades to be destroyed and raised again with new purpose.

And so, with Grand’lusions we find ourselves in a more progressive territory, a place where the music has not only embraced the bounce and bars and beat of the hip-hop sound but which finds other, more interesting and less obvious reference points and inspirations too. Right from the opening track, Welcome Back, you realise that the sonic touchstones and musical inclusions are sourced from a much wider palette that you find elsewhere in the urban scene. Classical harpsichord sounds dance with 80’s synth washes to create a cinematic opening gambit before it settles into its own confident and soul-searching rap groove.

Boulevardium Saunter does just that…saunter, a smooth and soulful guitar line acts as the platform for some deft and dexterous lyricism, Blue in Nature is grounded in chiming piano cascades and JFK to LaGuardia is the perfect modern urban workout. There is even room for some jazz-pop vibes on Back To The Shindig.

And if the music can be deemed to be progressive, the lyrics are certainly equally so. Rather than the usual self-aggrandisements or self-pity which seems to litter modern rap and hip hop, Calamity Jones seems to remind us that making music gives you a platform, so why not have something to say? And he does. Eloquently. Through dexterous word play and intricate lyricism he blends poetry with reality, philosophy with social commentary, humour with emotional soul-searching. And whilst this might come from a very personal place, there is also an everyman quality to what he has to say, something threaded through the worlds that we can all relate to. Intimate and personal yet universal and relatable? How cool is that?

One of the things that a lot of modern hip-hop music has lost is its musical middle ground. Composers seem so focused on the beats that drive a song and the lyrical flows that connect with the listener that they forget the importance of the melody which sits between the two, rounding the song out and acting as the musical glue. Thankfully, Calamity Jones understands the necessity of such a sweet centre and fills this space with, not only music garnered from all musical quarters but blends plenty of sounds and styles which previously had no business even hanging out together.

And isn’t that where it all began? Before everything conformed to a recognisable template, before the rules wereset in stone, before this new movement even had a name, it stood for creativity, adventure and rebellion…musical at least, if not actual. (But sometimes actual too.) Hip-hop was created by broad-minded revolutionaries who begged, borrowed and stole music, tore it apart and rebuilt it to their own needs. So groundbreaking were their ideas that they even had to create the required technology to do so.

And Grand’lusions echoes the spirit of those early pioneers and Calamity Jones not only follows in their footsteps but beats new paths for others to follow through the sonic undergrowth. It’s as simple as that.

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