Anyone with an interest in UKHH will be familiar with Dabbla, whether it be with his own trailblazing crew LDZ or alongside Illaman & Dubbledge as part of the Problem Child collective, his unique brand of rapid fire insanely literate flows are instantly recognizable and have inspired what seems to be an endless list of imitators. Jam Baxter has developed as a distinctly off kilter solo artist since he emerged from the creative stew of Contact Play. His first solo debut, the hugely ambitious double LP "Rinse Out Friday/ Spack Out Monday" was a welcome addition to the scene, showcasing his eclecticism and intricacy of lyrics. Frankie Teardrop AKA GhostTown has been twisting the boundaries of Bass music in all directions over the last few years, so it made perfect sense for the three of them to attempt a joint project and Dead Players is the result.
The LP kicks off with one of the more atypically "Hip Hop" of it's twelve tracks. "Winning" is layers of Soul-tinged Gospel sounds interlaced with heavy verses from Baxter and then Dabbla kicks in with his own spin. "Bottle" is the opposite; a nose splittingly heavy bass thump with Baxters first verse-and-a-half split by the catchiness of the hook before Dabbla flies in with both feet with some bars containing viscious anti-rapper weaponry.
"Arcade" immediately lives up to its title with distorted 8 bit bass and drums with Atari flavour keys during the verses. "Kneedeep" is a more stripped back beast, with an initially simple synth loop with GhostTown gradually heaps with more effects and complexity to match the spiralling lyrical flows exchanged between the two MCs. "Ever" changes direction again, with Jam holding the lyrical baton for the whole track, we go back to a more bluesy sampled feel with Baxters bars dripping with paranoia and his sense of alienation.
Then, from Baxters solo effort, we go to another extreme, with the only other rappers to appear on the whole LP appearing on "Velvet Swamp". Afforded this spot are Baxters Contact Play affilliates Ed Scissortongue and Dirty Dike. The music itself is all cascading piano loops and GhostTowns trademark heavy as hell basslines, Dike & Scissors fit in well with the Dead Players sound, which is to be expected considering their proven chemistry with both Jam and Dabbla on previous projects.
"Yeah" is probably the stand out track on the LP for me. An insane mix of hand claps, Bavarian sounding Polka and Jam/Dabbla's blistering double time rhymes. The hook is infectiously manic and insanely catchy, very reminiscent of Dabbla's classic "Lips To The Floor" and it's no surprise that this was the first single from the Album, with the superb accompanying video by SMB co-conspirator Monsta making it a perfect storm of a release.
GhostTown is a maverick beatmaker, it's precisely his eclectic ear that makes so many of the tracks on "Dead Players" so memorable and enjoyable. However, some of the tracks weren't such wise experiments personally and just didn't work for me. "Premium Merkage" is just a bit of a mess, opening like a Brazilian Street Party - complete with annoying whistle posse - Frankie chucks in layers of pitched down vocals and some slightly cheesy key riffs as a hook. Despite the best efforts of Dabbla and Jam, it just doesn't hang together as well as the rest of the LP. I personally feel that the whole pitched up/down vocals thing is heavily played out, so I was dissapointed to hear it in such evidence towards the latter end of the album.
"Badman" is Dabbla on his own over an Middle-Eastern tinged mish-mash with Arabian synths and machine gun snares. On paper this sounds like it should be a mess, but Dabbla's sheer ability and charisma on the mic mean this rises above its failings as a track. "Dirt Cloud" is a mix of strutting piano loops and a squashy sounding bass line accompanied by Jam & Dabbla's superb back & forths, an excellent example of the two principal players' chemistry on record.
"Fatman" is another stripped down, bass heavy display, Baxters changes of pace in his first verse stand out a mile on this track. Again though, the pitched down vocals saturate the hook, making it seem too similar to some of the previous tracks."Every Manor" closes the LP by going off on a completely different tangent, almost a pure Dub track, complete with guest vocals by Parly B.
By the end of "Dead Players" you're left with a fine display of lyrical energy and chemistry. Dabbla and Baxter work superbly as a team, some of the best back and forths I've heard in UKHH for a decade. This isn't typical UKHH though, with the maverick mind of GhostTown handling all the Production it was never gonna be that. As I've mentioned earlier in the review, on some tracks it just doesn't work for me, the pitched down vocals so prevalent throughout the latter half of the tracks make the whole project seem a bit samey, when it's anything but. Which is a shame to be honest, because I really enjoyed a lot of what's on offer here.
In summary I'd recommend "Dead Players" to anyone who'd looking for something not typically UKHH. It's not gonna be to everyone's taste. But when it works, as it more than often does, it's a perfect example of why UKHH is so unique.
9/10 - A fine example of the character of UKHH