Hip Hop music made with live musicians, as well as the more typical elements has always been a well loved part of the genre. From the Pop friendly sounds of The Fugees to more underground ruggedness like The Roots, the introduction of a live element to the proceedings has always added an extra vibrancy to records, as well as an element of the more spectacular to a live performance.
The Mouse Outfit have become comfortably the best example of this from the UK. The Manchester 9 piece conglomorate of musicians and more typical Hip Hop Beatmakers have been tearing up live venues since their formation. Employing both a wide range of influences as well as a large roster of rotating Emcees, most regularly local up and comer Sparkz and the legendary Dr Syntax, this is the first time the public has been able to hear a long form project from them. Manchester has emerged as a new bastion of UK Hip Hop in the last few years, with a huge amount of talent seemingly bursting onto the scene in a short amount of time. Crews like Potent and Ape Cult are adding another strong voice to the vibrancy that is UKHH.
"So bang your head until you snap your neck as if you backed a can of Stella and then you tried to do some capoeira" Every Single Time - Dr Syntax
The LP kicks off with Syntax over a synthy loop packed with bass stabs on "Every Single Time", Sparkz follows up with "Shak Out" on a Jazz soaked banger that bumps along on a lovely double bass line. Truthos Mufasa pops up next on smokers anthem "Sit Back" before Eatgood legend Kosyne joins regulars Synners & Sparkz on summer anthem and title track "Escape Music".
It should be stressed here that the production levels on this LP are on a completely different level to a good eighty percent of modern Hip Hop you'll hear. From the richness of the Horn section, to the punchiness of the drums, the musicianship and dedication to detail means that this is an Album on the next level to most of its contemporaries. From the Jazz-Hop sound of "Air Max" to the balls out Dub Step influenced "Kickstart" featuring Fox, which could almost have been lifted from a classic Leftfield LP, "Escape Music" never has the feeling of sitting still for one minute of the epic 19 tracks.
Other highlights of the LP for me included "Who Gwan Test?" with regular partners in crime Sparkz & Dubbul O, a Ska drenched beast heavily featuring the aforementioned Mouse Outfit Horn Section. Escape Music also heavily features Manchester crew Ape Cult (Black Josh on Jazzy swinger "Air Max" and Lyricalligraphy joining him on "Know My Face"). It's hugely refreshing to see so many up and coming local Emcees from the vibrant Manchester Hip Hop scene on this project. The presence of such an accomplished and technical Rapper as Syntax on the LP as a regular contributor has made the younger guys improve their game no end, this results in some of the sickest rhymes I've heard from most of these Emcees.
"Escape Music" is, in short, an absolute classic of an Album. You'll be hard pressed to find such an impressive debut anywhere in modern Hip Hop. The rest of UKHH better be ready, coz Manchester's warming up!
9.5/10 - Comfortably the best release so far this year
You can cop this on digital from the Mouse Outfit on Bandcamp