Up front admission; Antipop Consortium are my all-time favourite NYC poetry slammin’ Indie Hip Hop crew, running lyrical rings around themselves, their listeners and backpack totting amateur MCs. APC’ initial brief tenure from 2000-03 left a healthy back catalogue, including four hyper-dense, adventurous albums that melded experimentations with the form of hip hop (check the Warp EP The Ends Against the Middle, for example) and the abstract lyrical precision of Beans, Priest and M. Sayyid. A previous collaboration with Shipp, Parker and band, Antipop Vs. Matthew Shipp was released in 2003, and for this reviewer, remains a potent and engaging blend of jazz and hip-hop. Pianist Shipp, convenor of the Blue Series Continuum for the Thirsty Ear label, has been cross-pollinating these two influential strands of creativity for quite some time, with releases from DJ Spooky, Mike Ladd, El-P and Spring Heel Jack during the last decade.
My first impressions about the reformed Antipop Consortium, on their Big Dada-released album Fluorescent Black from 2009, was that that spark, that nameless indefinable something that made APC Version 1 so great, had waned. The line-up was the same, and it was released on a label that to these ears once stood for the greatest in British hip-hop; yet Fluorescent Black, despite having some absolutely stellar flows and beats, left me of the opinion that overall, the reformation was a bad idea. Has Knives From Heaven changed this conviction? This new album is definitely closer to the freewheeling spirit and pure NYC vibes of Antipop Vs. Matthew Shipp, and the next-level science fact stream-of-consciousness of their early albums.
The period in hip hop that APC emerged out of, from 1997 to around 2002, was pretty damn special; maybe not quite on par with the gold-standard era of 88-93, but for indie kids alienated from rock bands and misfits from all walks of life, this purposefully intelligent and emotive era seemed electrifying at the time, and still sounds pretty special in retrospect. The best tracks from the Anticon label, Ozone Entertainment, 75 Ark, Def Jux and Nova Scotia’ most heroic lyricists, Buck 65 and Sixtoo, remain potent examples of what hunger and passion can achieve. That era is over â€” maybe people over 35 shouldn’ comment on hip hop. I just can’ separate Antipop Consortium from their formative environment.
After many nights spent with Knives From Heaven, I’m certainly impressed, maybe not to the same levels of breathless monomania that Antipop Vs. Matthew Shipp reduced me to, but it’s certainly truer to the ethos of their early work. Knives From Heaven leaves me hungering for more vocal tunes; with Beans and Priest’s surreal quatrains outweighed by a heavyweight jazz improv inflected fusion of piano, bass and MPC sorcery by about three to one, perhaps the publicist had it correct for Knives From Heaven:
â€œâ€¦not boom-bap sprinkled with sophisticated jazz melodies, but rather sophisticated music presented in the structure of a hip hop beat tapeâ€
I’m reminded of a line from Antipop Consortium’ still staggering tune “SLLAB’ from Tragic Epilogue – What Is Your Malfunction?
Proclaiming the future was old-hat for these cats in the year 2000, has the world caught up? APC, Shipp & Parker have decamped to another country, beyond the valley of the beat-tape, where sallow piano players with mercurial fingers and inspired poets rub shoulders with the ghosts of Ornette Coleman, the ECM label, James “Blood’ Ulmer and their own back catalogue. A self-referential reflexivity to the current state of the game, or a thumbnail sketch of what could have been, I can’ quite work it outâ€¦ But damn, it’s good to feel the warmth; that the spark from the fire in which they burned is still smouldering.