Blank Canvas: Wall and Piece by The Doqument was released in 2014. Back then Kendrick was still cool with rap fans but no one else, back then we didn’t know quite how bad Trump could be and we didn’t have any idea what Covid was. It felt like something else could have happened. In 2014, I imagine a Steve Parr type character spinning a giant Wheel of Fortune. Had it landed slightly differently, The Doqument could have been who SWIDT became or perhaps could have shared the spotlight with Church and AP at a Six60 gig. They certainly had the talent and founding member, ImaGe, went in pretty um, heavy on Matt Noble’s Heavy medley. But this, their standout album was a bloated double disc filled with great raps but few notable hooks. It was a monolith just when rap was splitting off into all the things we know now. I wrote about it then for Ayebro back then and now Ayebro is mostly no longer a thing, it’s here for history’s sake.
The Doqument are nothing short of ambitious. Last year they released their debut, The Rookie Album, and this year they are back with a double, Blank Canvas: Wall & Piece. That’s a huge amount of content in a short space of time. The new one from this foursome, consisting of $ikeOne (MC), imaGe (MC), Shaqles (Producer/MC), and Mac Major (DJ) confirms the reinvigoration of Aotearoa Hip Hop Music.
The first half of this giant album, Wall, is quick, dense and marked out by inter-changing verses from the three MCs. Differing styles emerge form each of the vocalists, but there is a cohesiveness to the overall sound. These three are really working here – marking out their lines like they’re rostering shifts. It is easy to compare this style to other hard workers in a bigger scene or crew that provide the foundations for others to spark. Guys like Inspectah Deck from the Wu-Tang Clan or Lloyd Banks from G-Unit continually hold solid verses, although haven’t sprung single after single onto urban or mainstream radio. And that could be the fate of The Doqument if they came through with the Wall alone. It seems targeted specifically at honest hip hop audiences and doesn’t bleed the edges. But Piece, the second half of this double, is an entirely different story.
Conjuring up appearances from our NZ’s big names like David Dallas and PNC, the second half of this album also conjures up buoyant beats and heady grooves. One of the stand-out tracks of this half, Shawn Kemp, is bass injected and elevated like Kemp himself was in the 90’s (you know before the cocaine). The MC’s attack the beat; and, to use their analogy, are like Shawn Kemp attacking the paint. The trio show their skills are not just a flash in a pan particularly as they hold their own with veterans on their own tracks. This is particularly of note on Avant Garde with PNC, a slick rhythmic peak. The second half of this double is possibly where many people will start. It demonstrates that even with that incredible amount of quantity, they are able to produce some quality tracks.
Mazbou Q’s journey to the debut album, ‘The Future Was’ is incredible. It covers several genres, countries and name changes and yet is so complete. Its rare that a local rap album sounds this focused and fighting fit. It’s helped by Mazbou Q’s high energy that has seen his live performances win over fans with ease. How he arrived at this sound has taken plenty of interesting turns and the album is all the richer for it.
Mazbou Q aka Hugh Ozumba’s family left Anambra state in Nigeria for the UK where he and his sister were born. They since immigrated to Aotearoa/NZ where he found himself in Tāmaki Makaurau with a head filling up with classical piano. He then took on the heavy metal sounds of East of Eden before launching as Unchained XL and finally Mazbou Q. Along the way he has delved into West African highlife and East Coast inspired boom bap, the influences of both spill into this album of conscious hip hop.
After a distorted introduction, the album launches into Q’s buoyant style on Don’t stop regardless and funk-filled, The get up. The sparkling instrumental provides a launchpad for Q and he uses it to chirp, chime and flow with ever-changing intonations. Horns, drums and sequences of synths take Q’s vocals with them as he leapfrogs around different vocal delivery styles. The layering in production is one of the highlights here. Each track could easily be filled by super-group The Roots as much as Q’s single-handed deftness.
Raiza Biza shows up for the aptly named G.O.A.T problems, and Jane Deezy adds vocals to the final track of the album, otherwise the features are from further afield. Myele Manzana is fantastic on the Blackalicious-esque Just let it go, and Cee Blu takes Q’s hyped flow and settles the track Best of you into an uplifting R n B space. The frantic The fire of time will cross genres too, though, as this album shows Q’s flexibility and range, each track builds on the others. It just needs a lead single to have the same beautiful visual treatment of 2020 single, To the gates.
By Hp (The original version of this posted by online NZ Music space, Too Much Sauce)
Everyone is wearing activewear but me. I’ve never felt so inactive, so sloth-like. We’re all getting coffee, but afterwards the activewear wearers will go and be active. That’s what they signed up for when they got dressed this morning. I will eat a scone.
You’re looking out the window, right-angles from me. There is a self-consciousness about the way you’re holding yourself, back straight, your concrete smile. You’re wearing trainers.
I think I see you look over, when I turn to look at the man with the dachshunds, but I can’t be sure.
The last time we saw each other I was on a rowing machine sweaty and out of shape. Embarrassed, I pretended not to see you. I can’t make flirtatious small talk when I might throw up my spleen. You walked away to lift weights and I turned the music up in my headphones.
The time before that, I had bought you a drink in a nightclub and then left when you accepted it.
The athletic gentleman you’re with has the kind of tights on that help your blood pump effectively, or hold your stomach in, or perform micro-colonoscopies. As you go to pay, he is out on the footpath stretching.
The time before that, was when a boy we knew had killed himself and we held each other at the funeral. I remember the rain in your hair.
As you walk past my table, I look up, faux-casual, and exclaim, “It is you! I thought you looked vaguely familiar.”
Your eyes were like earthquakes. You sat down across from me and talked quickly. My ears buzzed. You were even more beautiful now you were here. I felt awash with light, though, what were you saying?
It was everyone we expected minus those who should’ve really been there. Chattering and chortling continued nevertheless. It was as if the ghosts of the vacant didn’t really fill in space like overgrown traffic islands. My girlfriend toasted and called for everyone to sing Happy Birthday. I think there was cake that no one ate. No one wanted that sacrifice mouthful of ruddy beer ruined by the sweetness of cake.
Taxis were called and one burdened soul was tasked with herding feebleminded drunks into cabs. We converged on a bar named for the illiterate; The Book and Badger, or The Horse and Cart, or Hall and Oats or something. Shots and more beer reigned. The music seemed specifically designed to get people to dance by creating untold anxiety from the knees down. We danced like the junkies and punks we used to be. Then people leaving. People called fond farewells and casual hoorays. A kiss goodbye from my girlfriend. A raft of handshakes. Then you.
You drew your hair back like a pull-start lawnmower and your face sparked with a glimpse of affection. Or was that guilt? Or just your after work drinks finishing too early? It’s too hard to tell in this light.
You slip across the room and lean on the polished wood of the bar. The sleeves of your navy button down are rolled up to the elbow showing off an infinity of gipsy bracelets. I try looking past you at the ghosts we left behind, but you swerve into my line of sight. I feel like I’m playing the piano one handed, but order us drinks anyway. You pick out every angry thought I ever had for you and throw them over your shoulder like salt for good luck.
*A long time ago this story was Highly Commended in the National Flash Fiction Day competition. I just recently found it, and thought to put it up. Originally published here
Louie passed away midway through last year (2021). I did not know him, though I have been a fan of his music and podcast for a long time. I saw this review I wrote for his last album as I was looking for something else. The websiteI wrote it for is now kaput, so thought I should repost. It’s a small testimony to the man. RIP and love to his friends and whānau.
Louie Knuxx has been in the thick of a resurgence in progressive rap in Aotearoa for more than a minute. His last record, PGT/GRR took his gruff vocals and spun them out over interesting beats and dark topics at a time when his peers were pushing boundaries too. PNC released arguably the record of his career, The Codes, the same year and @Peace had come up with the sci-fi fuelled philosophical masterpiece, @Peace and the Plutonian Noise Symphony and both had shown up on PGT/GRR. It was a time to be incredibly proud of the hip hop scene, but if anything, it felt like Knuxx could go further. On Tiny Warm Hearts, he has.
The most noticeable feature on the new one from Knuxx is the superb beats. They eek out over the record, a dark underwater feel with sparks of sweet treble like coming up for air. In and of themselves, they are cool and interesting, but it is their pairing with Knuxx’s flow which makes the sound both unique and infectious. Opener, Body, with great support from MZWETWO is a smooth number that is a must listen, but it works on the album as someone slowly opening a door. It gives a hint of what is to come, but not the whole view just yet. By the time the album crawls through to stand out in the hall, tracks like YARP, and the title track the view is full.
Knuxx’s lyrics can be hard to capture as they ricochet around these beats. That might put people off on another record, but like Blu or Oddisee lyrics, you end up going back over the tracks again and again to catch the gems. Just like his perfect pairing of beats and delivery, Knuxx’s pairing of stark imagery around sex and crime is paired with great lines you don’t expect on a record with these themes. “This apartment snazzy/the décor even better” has to make you smile on a track about Suzie’s Perfect Pussy (PPS). Because this album is still up for a pay-what-you-like/koha to download, it’s a must grab for anyone digging rap that is confident in stepping outside the comfort zone.
Ngāti Māhanga son, Charles N Charge aka CnC, has been crafting politically conscious and verbally dexterous raps for quite some time, but his latest album is a powerful step forward. The Pre-Conditioned Horiis short in track numbers (8) but heavy in themes. Charles’ complex and sometimes heavy personal journey is on show here, but he wants to discuss more than that; more than Enderly and Frankton, more than gangster rap, but broad swathes of Aotearoa from his perspective.
Following a quick intro, opening track, ‘Stand in Your Truth’ quickly tells listeners this is going to be honest, pono retelling and frankly that might rub people the wrong way. Charles launches headlong regardless. As he lyrically cuts up anyone from doubters to passive aggressive onlookers, he also drops some of the best lines in Aotearoa rap;
“You couldn’t cast a better leading man/Dr Ropata returning with these surgical murderous hands.”
It’s the matching of different elements that demonstrates the depth of Charles’ lyricism. On ‘Fuzzy Noise’ he makes more family friendly references to the likes of Bill Burr and Cookie Monster, but on the very next track he retells stories of using a flathead screwdriver for a burglary. His rhymes don’t stop there though, he contextualises the story around making sure he can provide school lunch for his daughter after having been rejected for a job due to his gang associations.
This is a distinctly Waikato, Kirikiriroa, sound and the sense of place grounds the soulful beats and syncopated rhymes. Whether Charles is referencing Tainui waka, Hamilton hip hop hero, Slip of the Tongue, or Waikeria prison, keeping the markers local gives a strong sense of identity. There is a sense of knowing Charles and his home intimately after spending time with these songs. That’s in part due to his honesty he referenced up top, but also because he is willing to give so much more than generic punchlines and crime metaphors, he gives himself.