Geoff Barrow loves to talk shit. In a music industry full of calculated collaborations, fabricated beef and desperate ass-kissing, the mind behind Portishead has been cheerfully speaking his mind in public for over a decade now. So now that he’s turned his creative attention towards hip hop, there’s going to be a lot of folks feverishly searching for angle to return the favor…unfortunately for them, Quakers turns out to be a real deal masterpiece.
NOTE: All tracks are streaming only
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First of all, the lineup. The range of guest emcees on Quakers is unreal, but they’re all low key masters of the artform. No celebrities here, just insanely talented true believers. For Word is Bond readers, this project is essentially a dream team presentation. Diverse, Aloe Blacc, Dead Prez, Krondon — the list is consistently surprising and yet it all makes perfect sense.
The promo from Stones Throw insists that the name “Quakers” is about earthquakes, but I don’t buy that for a second. This is 41 tracks (seriously, yes) of non-stop, no-hooks, zero-filler hip hop. These guys are purists, religious zealots in the Temple of Rap….you know, the other kind of Quaker.
To be clear, Geoff Barrow might be the celebrity face of this album, but he’s only 1/3rd of the production team. Joined by legendary engineer Stuart Matthews and Australian beatsmith Katalyst, they pack this full of sonic ideas — everything from dub reggae to a jam in actual 7 / 8 — which is music nerdspeak for “insanely hard to rap over,” but Barrow’s buddy Coin Locker Kid pulls it off with style to spare.
If there’s any weak spot here, it’s the rappers themselves. Quakers is billed as a “35 person hip hop collective,” but what that boils down to is “a whole bunch of guest verses.” Everyone here takes their appearances seriously, but a number of verses never stray from generic boasting material. Still, given the “90’s hip hop on LSD” aesthetic of Quakers, somehow even the bland verses sound perfect.
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Many of the best appearances on the album are cats I had never heard of, like Quite Nyce, Tone Tank, and especially Coin Locker Kid, who gets more tracks on this album than anyone and demonstrates remarkable range and control. As expected, the veterans really shine here: Guilty Simpson continues his perfection streak, Buff1 destroys his cut, and Finale and Prince Po both deliver the most complex flow patterns Quakers has to offer.
It’s very appropriate that this would be a Stones Throw release, because Madlib was clearly a central influence. From the psychedelic sound collage work to the samples themselves, America’s Most Blunted has his fingerprints all over this album despite not being involved whatsoever. Then again, if you think a heavy Madlib influence is a bad thing, I have to question your f’ing sanity.
Here’s your chance to question mine: I’m going to say that Quakers is the best hip hop album of the year so far in 2012. There’s been a lot written in the past five years about the lack of quality control or meaningful standards in rap. Major artists have been releasing mixtapes that are exponentially better than their albums for a decade straight now. Albums have been reduced to product by committee, artistic vision gets watered down into radio-friendly crap, and meanwhile, the market gets more flooded every year. Drop a single, drop a video, drop an EP, every single week. The cycle of constant content has become the standard by which we judge success.
In that context, Quakers is something radically different. There was a tremendous amount of effort put into this project — most artists would have broken this up into an entire years worth of releases and promotion. Instead, the Quakers team created a monumental album, an album that makes pretty much everything else since Wyclef Jean’s sprawling mess The Carnival look very, very half-assed by comparison. The difference here is that Quakers is tight, every minute of every track. I’ve seen a lot of reviewers talk about this as experimental, or even electronic music, but that’s assinine: this is hip hop, plain and simple.
And it’s damn near perfect.