Krate Krusaders - Volume 2: When The Needle Drops (self-release)

Producer led albums can be a fickle beast. Get it right, and you may have classic on your hands; a full unified vision with consistent production levels and beats which showcase a variety of styles, hopefully alongside a diverse mixture of emcees to suitably adorn them. Get it wrong, and you are left with the sonic equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting (or a John Squire if you wish to be more derogatory) and a seemingly random selection of emcees bolted on top to really drive home the mantra of "if you throw enough shit, hopefully some sticks."

Released Jan 17th, 2012 / By Matthew Bayfield
Krate Krusaders - Volume 2: When The Needle Drops (self-release) South West, UK bred production duo Krate Krusaders, thankfully have managed to drop their newest compilation When The Needle Drops firmly in the first of the two categories. Having produced in the past for the likes of UK veterans such as Cappo and Genesis Elijah on his Before I Was Famous album their credentials are certainly in check, but WTND sees the pair spreading their wares over a much grander table.

Volume 1 of the series featured a strong guestlist of UK artists and a polished production style which had leanings into more old school boom-bap sounds (as seen particularly in opening track 'Live On MPCs') alongside a penchant for cinematic string samples. Volume 2 takes a similar template, but expands upon it substantially, showing an obvious growth in both scope and finesse.

From the opening orchestral flurry of the intro comes 'Braindead', carrying a thickset stomp of a beat and imbued with a nervous tension via its plucked string samples. A beat like this could quite quickly swamp the wrong type of emcee, but a well chosen Baron Samedi delivers an aggressive and determined verse which keeps pace expertly. Throughout the album from thereon orchestral strings are a key weapon in the Krusaders production arsenal, galvanising the album with a certain cinematic quality. Given the relatively low profile of these producers on the grand scale of things the album sounds extremely high budget and generates a vibe not too dissimilar to the sort of sounds independent US hip-hop was producing in the mid noughts. A worthy comparison to this sound, particularly on tracks such as the Clarity & Crucifix fronted 'Delusions Of Grandeur' would be the lush and orchestral but frequently dark, aggressive beats of Stoupe, the producer of Philadelphia outfit Jedi Mind Tricks fame.

All this string based, widescreen work could run into the invariable problem of sounding repetitive and one dimensional in amateur hands (indeed the string laden sound was pretty much bled dry in mainstream hip-hop in and around the mid 2000's) but another key facet of the Krusaders skill set is their ability to both select and apply lyricists in a balanced and strategic manner. A prime example comes in the form of one of the albums most eccentric numbers 'Modern', a spacious, almost Morricone eliciting beat which shuffles along on a laidback drum rhythm and spaghetti western string hits. The track itself is so delicate it would work just as well as an instrumental piece, but through the application of a rambling, almost conversational lyric courtesy of Homeboy Sandman it becomes one of the standouts on an already impressive set.

It is also a credit to the duo that, with bigger names such as US stalwarts like Akil The MC, formerly of Jurassic 5, and Ugly Duckling's Dizzy Dustin providing vocals they have not forgotten the always overlooked UK crowd. As excellent as say, a DJ Format (another British producer) release is, it is always a little disheartening to see his lack of homegrown emcees therein, favouring more of the independent US variety. Krate Krusaders thankfully give as much of their spotlight to some of Albion's finest as to any of their colonial cousins. Dr Syntax, without doubt one of British hip-hop's most consistent voices, brings perhaps the record's most energetic and uplifting performance with 'On A Rise' and Jack Flash, a grossly underrated emcee, particularly for his introspective works, delivers one of the album's deepest cuts on 'Live A Little Better'. Add to this mixture of ego-free vocal placement and extremely polished production levels appearances from the likes of Ramson Badbonez and Sonnyjim to name but two and it is fair to say that as early as January When The Needle Drops could prove to be one of the most consistently impressive hip-hop collections to come out of the UK this year.

The album is available for download now directly from the Krate Krusaders website.