Cult vocalists and complete unknowns trade the mic on this Earth-shaking hip hop set.
Adam Kennedy 2012-04-02
Sprawling collectives have been part of hip hop from the artform's inception: Native Tongues, Wu-Tang Clan and Odd Future, for instance. But even by those standards, Quakers are a rather sizeable entity, numbering more than 35 members and pooling talent from around the globe.
Led by three producers, its most famed brainchild, Portishead's Geoff Barrow, is a busy chap in 2012 by all accounts: he’s juggling this record, an album from his improv-krautrockers BEAK> and his compositional electronics project Drokk. That toil hasn't driven Barrow to God, however. Rather than oat-loving religious sorts, these Quakers are more interested in shaking the Earth to its foundations.
Lining up a revolving lyric-spitting cast, Quakers negate any danger of a cypher-slash-compilation vibe via a production consistency that holds together the disparate rhyming contributions with the elasticity of freshly chewed gum. There's time for the occasional chorus – case in point, Emilio Rojas' claustrophobic breathlessness on Belly of the Beast – yet, more often than not, the mic is passed after a mere handful of electric bars. 'Less fat, more heat' is the motto, it seems.
An analogue fuzz adorning Barrow and company's beats is thoroughly in keeping with trademark old skool-minus-worthiness aesthetics of Quakers' label, Stones Throw, with a liberally applied special ingredient: 1970s television incidental music funk. Russia With Love's backing track, for example, rocks a synth line that would make Ronnie Hazlehurst proud.
An astute mix of cult name vocalists – Prince Po, Dead Prez, Aloe Blacc – all weigh in with cameos of note, though a clutch of lesser names hit hardest. Not least Tone Tank, posing sexually explicit questions regular rappers are presumably too shy to tackle on What Chew Want.
There's a suspicion that, considering the personnel involved, referring to Quakers as a collective is a touch disingenuous; gathering in one room at the same time would represent quite the feat of schedule alignment. But fresh and subtle spins on hip hop are sufficiently widespread throughout this set that it's just about the only complaint worth making.