Millennium Jazz founder Gadget has long been a first-rate beatsmith; indeed the East London-residing producer, DJ and emcee displays ineffable wizardry on an MPC and an old-school integrity towards production techniques. His previous solo release ‘Sequences’, though extremely accomplished with its experimental mix of compositional and sampled beats, wasn’t the easiest one to tackle from a reviewer’s perspective seen as it lacked vocals. This time round however, his new release titled ‘The Dirty Thumbs Project’ pulls together a diverse array of top British emceeing and singing talents to lace his lovingly wrought instrumentals.
The album which is produced, mixed and mastered entirely by Gadget, keeps true to the roots of hip-hop whilst meandering through an eclectic blend of organic sounds fresh out the MPC. A selection of boom-to-the-bap beats add a percussive intensity to the weaved-in sonic layers, and a handsome batch of jazzed-out samples give a wonderful throwback feel which defines the sonic identity and dusty analogue steez of his MJM imprint. In comparison to the label’s previous release ‘The Gathering’, there’s a palpable increase in quality, too; indeed ‘The Dirty Thumbs Project’ feels well-oiled and structurally more solid than the label’s collaboration project released earlier in the year.
The album deftly showcases Gadget’s musical skill set and his unostentatious approach to making music. Favouring earthier textures, the album stays consistent and never ill-advisedly veers into the ethereal and abstract for the sake of diversion. Unostentatious, but still full of clout, the album begins with a neck-snapper of the highest order in ‘I Do’ which enlists the straight-faced, hardcore styles of EdXL, Joey Gzus and Innit Records’ founder Beit Nun who unleash their energetic syllabic bursts and straight-up no frills lyricism.
Contrasting to the raw and aggressive dimension is ‘From Where the Love Came’, with its interplay of female vocals from rapper Lady Paradox, who impresses with her lyrics as much as with her prosody, and singer Emma Louise who imparts some gorgeous tones. The soft drum beat and relaxed cool jazz seamlessly harmonise these vocals and contrive to make this one of the album’s stand-out tracks. In a similar jazz mode with its twinkling piano keys is ‘Passing Me By’, a joint featuring Spynal Records duo EdXL and Diligent Fingers who impress with their effortless ability to pen meaningful bars. The production on this also displays a razor-sharp sense of awareness of effective hip-hop and jazz fusion. As a fun deviation from the pervading jazz influence is ‘It’s Not A Good Look’ which is layered with a lively interpolation of North African instrumental sounds features a more playful, upbeat and humourous vibe. Featuring the Scouse vocal inflections of battle extraordinaire Oshea and J Taylor, it leavens the mood and proves that a lighter side to hip-hop is always welcome.
The real stand-out track has to be ‘You Ain’t Ready Yet’, an edgier number interlaced with a plethora of clever rhymes and witty wordplay, featuring freestyle expert LeeN and Croydon-based group The Merkers, the track mixes in street poetics with tantalising abstract shades. The intermittent high-pitched string screeches and minor chords infuse well with the stylistic intensity of the emcees, making for a raw, no-holds barred hip-hop staple. The only real let-down on the album is the incongruous ‘Sinners’, a track on which Telford rhymer and Amass Hegemony’s 777 lets out a stream of heavy invective against the duplicity and deception of the monotheistic faiths. The inflammatory rhetoric combined with a sinister church choir sample set into choppy, angular repetitions doesn’t quite fit into the album’s overall aesthetic and in my opinion, really ought to have been omitted from the album altogether.
Although the album is at times a little uneven, it’s still a very enjoyable wellspring of laid-back jazz-inflected beats, harder hip-hop instrumentals and occasionally eclectic musical flourishes. Indeed from a musical perspective, it is more than accessible to a cross-section of listeners, including those less attuned to hardcore UK hip-hop. The implicit and explicit variations in his tracks also prove that Gadget, as an ardent practitioner of the analogue arts, is also keen to see his style evolve subtly. Fully immersed in the elemental aspects of music production, he is a true, old-style enthusiast who deserves much praise for his contribution not only to hip-hop, but to the underground music scene in general.