Hip-hop at the moment is just plain weird. Since trampling rock music a few years back, the genre has become an unstoppable boulder of cultural relevance backed by three decades of momentum.
It's a level of saturation near impossible to comprehend, where just keeping up with trends can feel like a spectator sport. Similarly electric is the idea that stars can come from anywhere. Though this is laughably optimistic, as finding creative rappers on platforms like Soundcloud can feel like looking for a needle in an autotuned haystack.
In other words, I'm glad I found this album. Bullies is the self-titled debut from a newly named trio of producer Azarias with MCs Denmark Vessey and DrxQuinnx. While I'm unfamiliar with the latter, Vessey and Azarias caught my attention in 2017 after casually releasing one of the decade's most wildly creative hip-hop albums under Buy Muy Drugs. Their debut unravelled Denmark's lyrical themes into webs of fabricated conspiracy to create a sonic world unlike much else I've ever heard. Bullies' lo-fi boom-bap feels restrained in comparison, but that's far from a bad thing.
Azarias' sparse sampled beats host offbeat vocal performances, finding space to experiment with glitchy textures without ever leaving a backseat role. It's honestly impressive how well the trio compliment each other, Quinn and Vessey's styles have significant overlap but always remain distinct.
While Denmark is clearly the more experienced MC, Quinn's presence adds real chemistry as the two trade bars on everything from new-age religion to prescription drug abuse. Their skill disparity rarely shows itself but can ruin songs when it pops up. Denmark's verse on Heru is an album highlight but Quinn's annoying sing-song vocals sound like a bad impersonation of Busdriver.
Bullies owes a lot to early backpack rap, both MCs share a scattershot lyrical approach characteristic of hip-hop in the internet age. Denmark's aforementioned verse on Heru mentions snorting cocaine while bumping jazz legend Wayne Shorter, and Quinn cockily brags about his knowledge of Sun Tzu. This refreshing approach to 'conscious' subject matter, along with stripped back brevity, really ties the project together as a whole.
Despite sharing an aesthetic with dozens of other DIY hip-hop projects, Bullies is far more than meets the eye. Despite barely reaching the half hour mark, there's not a track on here that feels uninspired. All three members make an effort to compliment and vary their respective styles,grabbing your attention then rewarding you for it.
Let's not let this one get lost in the crowd.