The first great hip-hop of 2018 has landed in my ears courtesy of Grand Analog. Their latest, Survival EP, is a incredibly fine-crafted piece of hip-hop. As I get older I have less time to spend obsessively dissecting music – especially something like hip-hop that demands such a high degree of attention – my music needs to work equally well on my headphones as walking through the city or bumping on the speakers with a group of people, and few things lately have hit both sides like Survival. Starting your night off? “Ballad of the Beast” is going to get heads bobbing something fierce. At the height of the party and need something silky smooth and deeply groovy to get help peoples' hips moving? “Quiet Life” is going to be the thing you need. Ending your night and need something a little more gentle and pretty in your hip-hop? “Survival: The Levy” is sure to scratch that chilled-out itch.
As expected as a live-band oriented hip-hop group, the beats here are unfathomably lush, popping and dripping with the warmth that only a unified whole of moving parts can deliver. The flourishes of electronic music are used to great effect (As Grand Analog is want to do), pushing the groups trademark future old-school sound ever-gently forward. Good on the headphones, good on the dancefloor (As we discussed). The sequencing here is similarly deft – everything meticulously laid out, giving a strong sonic arc to an EP, something that often goes overlooked on such releases. The instrumental tracks here are indispensable little bridges, pulsing with depth and feeling. MC Odario Williams is as fly as ever, hitting each track with well-earned confidence. He's not here to overwhelm the ears with speed. Homie is here with that direct flow, giving his thoughtful, witty and clever wordplay raps space to breathe and be heard. Some incredible guest spots – including show-stealing spots from Posdnous of the mighty De La Soul (“Mutations”) and one of Canada's true treasures, Shad (“Ballad of the Beast”) – round things out and compliment Williams' lyrical stylings perfectly. (Special props to the basketball raps too, from both Odario and Shad. I feel like I don't get enough basketball references in my modern hip-hop.) It all adds up to making Survival the first gotta-get-in-ya rap release of the year. Go listen to it.