Hip-hop supergroup produces a mixed bag of rap vignettes
Fuzzface (Geoff Barrow of Beak and Portishead), 7-Stu-7 and Katalyst are Quakers, but they’re not a part of the traditionalist Christian denomination that formed in 17th century England. The trio of producers and the 32 other beatmakers who orbit them make up the supergroup Quakers, and they’re anything but traditional.
Signed to Stones Throw records in 2012, the collective released their self-titled debut album in 2012 to general acclaim, but have since returned to obscurity–until 2020, that is. Quakers released a 50-track beat tape earlier in the year and are set to drop their second project of 2020, II: The Next Wave, a 33-track mixed bag of hip-hop vignettes ranging stylistically from vintage, old school sounds to wonky experimental beats.
II: The Next Wave covers a massive swath of hip-hop leanings with the common thread being some truly astounding performances from featured artists. Some of Quakers’ beats are nasty, while others are a bit wacky and still more are simple and minimalistic, but almost every track is packed full of lyrical and rhythmic cadence on the part of the supergroup’s guest rappers.
The record kicks off with a few eclectic bangers with some nasty flows. “Start It Like This,” featuring Phat Kat, includes some vintage guitar sound over a heavy bass and stuttering percussion, and Kat brings a laid back flow to the tune. The off putting track “One Of A Kind,” featuring Guilty Simpson, is just as compelling. It features some creeping string vibratos, ghastly saxophone riffs and a heavy bass that combine beautifully together alongside Simpson’s ’90s style flow.
That ’90s influence pops up all over the record, giving it shades of vintage hip-hop. “Bare Essentials” and “Fa Real” are two other examples, as featured artists The Niyat and Jeru the Damaja respectively bring the heat with some nasty, steady flows. Other times, the ’90s feel shows up in the beats themselves, like on “A Myth,” which features a rolling organ reminiscent of earlier hip-hop. “Who Dat” captures a similar feel with its wavering, lofi guitar sound that almost harkens back to the classic rock of the ’60s. Or take “Test My Patience,” whose acid bass and trumpet riffs bring a jazzy, bluesy tone.
While some tracks on II: The Next Wave sound a few decades older than they really are, others sound a few decades ahead. “Approach With Caution” features Quakers’ most successful experimental beat. It sounds almost like an M.I.A. song, with a cheery keyboard riff taking center stage over a bouncy bass line and some laid back percussion, while featured artist Sampa the Great sing-raps over the beat. “Gun Control” and “The Line” are also compelling. On the former, dissonant glowing synthesizers waver gently over the mix before being shoved out by a raspy, grainy guitar that packs a major punch. The latter track uses shrill synths and booming percussion to create a delightfully eerie sound. But sometimes Quakers’ originality misses the mark. Take “Radiola,” a wonky track with a beat made up of a bouncy bass, dissonant organ chords and what sounds like a slide whistle(!?).
As for the album’s other 22 tracks, they’re a mixed bag. It sounds as if Quakers are tinkering and experimenting with their beats, drawing upon a wide variety of instruments, flows and beats. “Heat On It” is a highlight among the miscellany. Laid back, elegant and sun-bleached, it almost feels like an old Kanye West beat, combining smooth strings, chipmunk vocal snippets and a simple but catchy bassline into a surprisingly clean mix.
“Double Jointed” is another intriguing offering, buoyed by military style drumming and a palpable Southern mood on the hook created by detuned guitars and panhandle vocals. And “Another Kind Of War” brings a delightfully relaxed and soulful beat with some wavering guitar and soulful vocal samples, making for a retro feel alongside featured artist Jeremiah Jae’s laidback flow. But many of these vignettes leave more to be desired. “Morphine,” “Hit List” and “Pain” all fit the bill, with simple, static beats that lack the oomph and creativity showcased elsewhere on the project. Sometimes, Quakers rely a bit too heavily on the excellent lyricism and flow of their featured rappers to carry songs.
But overall, II: The Next Wave is an entertaining collection of hip-hop that will keep listeners on their toes. Nasty lyrics and flows from featured artists add a lot to the project, but Quakers hold their own with more than a few memorable, experimental mixes. While not every track takes a risk (and not every risk pays off), by and large, Quakers have assembled a compellingly eclectic batch of tracks that each offer up a different slice of hip-hop.