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Artist
CoN & KwAkE
ReleaseProduct
Eyes In The Tower
Label
Virgin
Catalogue Number
NRR0004
Release Date
July 29, 2022

Genres

‘Eyes In The Tower’ is a uniquely London evolution of classic hip hop. It brings through lineages of jazz and was built on a cypher in which saxophone, drums, piano and double bass freestyle as powerfully as the lyricist. It is about friendships that have been built over thousands of hours hanging out in bedrooms, basements and back rooms. It was brewed for over a decade before being made in three days.   CoN&KwAkE are Confucius MC and Kwake Bass. They share long and entwined histories with saxophonist and Native Rebel label owner Shabaka Hutchings, and with many of the incredible London musicians and producers who have emerged over the last decade. The basement jams they hosted – originally in Kwake’s teenage bedroom and later in his Brockley Rise ‘Drumgeon’ – were part of a rich and interconnected community where beat-makers, instrumentalists and vocalists would come together and make the music they needed. ‘Eyes In The Tower’ draws as much from on musicianship developed in locally-famous south London bedrooms as from players schooled in world-famous Conservatoires.   It is the second release on Shabaka Hutchings’ Native Rebel Recordings, where he invites friends and family to RAK Studios improvise around sketches he’s written specifically for the invited artists. The first release was Chelsea Carmichael’s bold and expressive ‘The River Don’t Like Strangers’, and like that release, ‘Eyes In The Tower’ contains evocative photography by Native Rebel’s in-house visualiser Adama Jalloh. It was mixed by Dill Harris and mastered by Guy Davy at Electric Master London.   “It’s very humbling [doing this record with Shabaka],” says Kwake Bass, “but humbly, I would say it’s quite seamless; a natural progression. It’s a long time coming. As artists we’ve all rubbed off on each other. The umbrella – the label – is an opportunity to be around each other creatively. It’s exciting.”   These two have spent years making things happen from the sidelines. Con has been embedded in UK hip hop since the early 2000s and spent over a decade as an educator in a primary school, which involved running Rap Club, where he’d bring artists like Kwake’s Speakers Corner Quartet to meet the children. The club included pre-teen versions of Jesse James Solomon and Lowski. Back in 2013 Con was the support of choice for Mos Def, and this year he was touring with UK hip hop stalwart Jehst.    Kwake is, among many other things, Musical Director for Sampha and Kae Tempest. Back in 2006 he turned his beat- making into live drums for Speakers Corner Quartet, the house band at the much-missed Brixton open mic night of the

same name, and in 2021 both Con and Kwake performed at the sold-out SCQ show at The Barbican. He started playing drums aged five, was playing sessions with his musician dad in his early teens, and switched live drums for beat-making aged 14. He got back behind the drum kit when he was 21 and has become the player of choice for travelling US heavyweights, playing with MF Doom, Jeru Tha Damaja and Joey Bada$$ as well as UK major players Lianne La Havas and Mica Levi. As well as his own drums-n-electronics live shows, he is a director of his Lewisham-borough studio The Room where the album was part-produced. “It’s a self-sufficiency centre,” says Kwake. “It’s important for me to uphold the lessons I learned from Uncle Doom and places like [Brixton open mic night] Deal Real.” It acts as yet another culture-generating aspect of this powerfully local set-up.     “It’s a massive opportunity to have the art form of hip hop heard in this space, with Shabaka’s approach to it,” says Con. “There’s a genuine respect for the craft which isn’t always present in certain high-brow spaces.”   “It’s letting rap be part of this journey in a way the jazz police can’t shut the door on,” adds Kwake.     This means tracks like the underground anthem ‘CNS (City Never Stops)’ which evokes the orange glow of pre-LED street lights in soft, circular musicality. It includes the movement-inducing ‘Greedy Drum’ where free-flowing piano lines from Alex Hawkins make future samples around Kwake’s fully individualised playing, deep-rooted low end from bassist Neil Charles, and Con’s vocalised insights (sample lyric: ’truth becomes stretched/ lies become wider’). The band bring forth uncompromising realities throughout and especially on ‘One In Five’ with Con tearing through the untruths to spray light on the way structural oppression is replicated: ‘machines are now sick with conditions they caught off us.’    It also means lyrical themes that cover the panopticon (a disciplinary concept designed by Englishman Jeremy Bentham in which an observation tower is placed within a circle of transparent prison cells), vampire movies and what Con describes as the reasonable paranoias of a generation denied the optimism of the ‘80s kids that came before them. These musicians are looking out, seeing clearly, and broadcasting truths that turn the panopticon tower from a symbol of oppression to one of powerful clarity and resistance. It makes Public Enemy’s CNN of the streets a south London thing.   It’s also about lineage: Con’s mother was a highly respected community educator and his Grenada-born father played jazz, reggae and soca and was connected to Brixton pan-African activist Spartacus. Kwake’s parents both DJ’d, his dad had a soundsystem and played bass in influential anarchic punk-dub band Persons Unknown, and his aunty put on parties in a Hackney railway arch known as The Lock.    The duo bring their histories with them. They hold the centre of this phenomenal recording, interpreting Shabaka Hutchings’ sketches on the fly with Shabaka using hip hop MCs’ phrasings to inform his horn licks, which range from deep and meditative to stone-cold riffs that power through and around the improvised recordings. The music carries a deep knock inspired by moments of hip hop genius from early ‘90s boom bap to the Madlib-era sample masters and through to Kendrick and co. These references are layered with the uniquely London sound of people who’ve grown up improvising their own musical structures to create the sounds we all need.    “It has all these strands: education, love, friendship,” says Con. “Nurturing something for a very long time and believing in that nurture, in incredible music, and aspiring to make something that really moves people. It comes from an understanding of what you need to put in the room to make that happen.”

Track List

  1. Eyes In The Tower
  2. 15 Minutes
  3. Dance In The Dark
  4. One In Five
  5. C.N.S. (City Never Stops)
  6. Mental Note
  7. Martin
  8. Greedy Drum
  9. Looking For What
  10. One In Three
  • Eyes In The Tower

Virgin

Hip Hop

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