The explosive duo pay homage to hip-hop’s Golden Age with a nostalgic, yet polished release.
The resurgence of MC/Producer collaboration albums has provided some of the greatest Hip-Hop output in recent years, and given the emphatic waves made by the entire Outsiders Syndicate roster, the prospect of these two Bay Area talents teaming up is enough to excite even the casual listener. Feeding off the shimmering nostalgia of Hip Hop’s Golden Age, ‘Respect The Skills’ combines Lmt. Break’s epic boom-bap production with Nord1kone’s scintillating rhymes, reigniting the visceral sounds which shaped the iconic era of the 80s and 90s.
A mammoth 21 tracks which surpass an hour in run time, the sheer quality which prevails throughout the album ensures hip-hop heads are in for a treat. Right from the prominent kick and scintillating snare which opens the album on ‘Sound Of The Syndicate’, Lmt. Break immediately transcends the listener back to the vintage sounds of Pete Rock, with the pulsating rhythms and epic samples brilliantly capturing the culture of the era. But boom-bap beats are only as good as the emcee who graces them, and with Nord1kone’s relentless energy and irresistible wordplay, the duo breed a chemistry reminiscent of true greats such as 90s Nas and Preemo. Constantly at one with the beat, the Bay Area emcee finds every pocket within the instrumental, shedding rhyme upon rhyme in a manner so nonchalant, it appears effortless.
A rhyming dictionary whose “verbal left hook all it took to leave them shook”, Nord1kone’s relentless pen game consistently delivers verses of the highest calibre. Feeding off the grimy production, the emcee swiftly gets into his groove, with his direct cadence being a real captivating quality. Typically offloading flows in a manner which showcases his exceptional technical ability, tracks such as ‘Need You Know’ and ‘The Lab’ also present a focussed edge to his writing, the latter being a quirky track devoted entirely to scientific punchlines. Delivered with such conviction, it’s verses like this which separate Nord1kone from the bland and often derivative lyrics we’ve been accustomed to throughout modern hip-hop.
As once described by the great KRS-ONE, “The vibe of boom bap is to use the least amount of instruments to create the most rhythmic sound”, and this is certainly a formula adopted on ‘Respect The Skills’. As fellow Syndicate member Jimmy Beatz raps on the gritty ‘Smoke Signals’; “this that old school rap on the beats and the breaks”. And while tracks such as ‘Knock Knock’ and ‘Tech N Style’ capture this very essence through their sparse horn and menacing piano samples, it’s the iconic Preemo scratches which dominate choruses on the likes of ‘When I bust’, with its grimy core showing just how impactful this formula remains. Extending further into the vault, the Bay Area’s crew are invited onto a handful of epic cyphers throughout the album. While ‘Smoke Signals’ and ‘I Double L, Pt. 2’ both hold admirable verses, it’s the aptly titled ‘Enter The Cypher’ which truly captures the energy of the format. Attacking the beat from an array of angles, each of the emcees bring a different dynamic, with their domineering presence overruling the vigorous track.
But while ‘Respect The Skills’ certainly serves as an ode to this influential period of music, it does more than merely recapture what we’ve already heard. This modernisation can be found within the instrumentation on tracks such as ‘The Elements’ and ‘Brick By Brick’, the latter staying true to its punchy kick/hard-hitting snare combination, while also fusing some cinematic strings, offering an innovative combination of distinct styles. ‘Progression’ is another track which captures the duo’s artistry, opening up with the reserved ambience and mellow saxophone, before snapping back into the boom-bap rhythm in a manner which allows the beat-switch to hit just that bit harder.
An emphatic combination of polished, modernised production and the nostalgia of hip-hop’s golden age, ‘Respect The Skills’ is a potent body of work, capturing the relentless working relationship between two talented Bay Area musicians. With its infectious production, exhilarating verses and frequent shoutouts to greats such as Slick Rick and Marley Marl, the duo have succeeded in crafting a body of work which sounds current, but simultaneously would have thrived three decades earlier.