High Beams, the almost accidental collaboration between producer IllBaz and rappers Melodownz and Raiza Biza is one of the most exciting hip-hop records of the year. And 2018 has been no slouch in that regard.
The story goes that the rappers would pop round to the producer's pad to hang out and play video games. While they were playing he'd be making beats. It's easy to hear why they were inspired to put down the controller and compelled to pick up the mic.
The beats on High Beams are laidback, mellow and jazzy. They're old school, and would be right at home on Guru's influential Jazzmatazz series. Samples of Rhodes organ (Run Away), smooth sax (Never, Neverland) and jazzy flute licks (Major) are adorned with modern flourishes, like trap hats patterns, machine gun snares and repeating stacatto kicks.
There's only seven tracks on the album - hey, if it's good enough for Kanye, right? - but the album deftly shifts moods and tone, giving the album a pleasing variety and living up to the old showbiz adage of "leave 'em wanting more".
So you get the breezy, swoon of Red Wine rubbing up against the head nodding staunch of boast track Outchea and the stoned, summery groove of Major.
The trio of local hip-hop heroes also weren't shy about calling in some favours, with guests appearing on over half the tracks here. Che-Fu's velvet vocals slide all over Sky High, but Teeks' soulful baritone gives the necessary power and gravitas to their instant classic Live Stream - a sparse, jazzy call to revolution.
The rappers flow is superb, mixing up styles and delivery, and their lyrics are as varied as the musical moods. They address everything from chasing girls to the terror gripping the Gaza strip. High Beams worldly concerns reflect its creators diverse backgrounds; IllBaz is Palestinian, Melodownz is Polynesian and Raiza Biza is from Rwanda.
High Beams shines bright and has just set 2018's hip-hop benchmark.
IllBaz, Melodownz, Raiza Biza
High Beams shines bright.