Matter – The Stitch Up (Album Review)

Bespectacled indie rap swaggerer and proud Yorkshireman Matter really seems to have hit a rich vein of creative form of late. With a slew of dope emcee battles and a certified banger in ‘Ip Op’ to his name (a joint he and fellow West Yorkshire emcee Lunar C collaborated on a couple months back), Matter is not only representing his region to the fullest, but also proving himself as one of the more discerning practitioners of the UK underground rap scene. Forming one half of Leeds hip-hop duo Verbal Contact and being the founder of Northern Hostility, Matter is a hip-hop enthusiast to the hilt; though a bit nerdy-looking on the surface, he actually carries himself with a supreme sense of self-awareness and with pure swaggering intensity. Indeed, this is a guy who delights in projecting his flamboyant image right next to his earthy persona. His latest album titled ‘The Stitch Up’ released a few weeks back, aims to throw new light on an artist many of you will have hitherto only gotten to know as a battler — and with 15 dense tracks, it’s a veritable feast of straight-up lyricism over an array of reverberant bass-heavy sounds.

The album’s overall soundscape is one that is predisposed to independent music and directly antithetical to pop-rap. With it’s sparse, skeletal structures, it’s also reactionary to the sort of UK hip-hop that has either become woefully derivative, or is so often overly burnished with sampling and instrumentation that the original sentiments expressed through the lyrics are often left to shrink. Deliberately shirking anything resembling mainstream, Matter increases his aesthetic distance from the synth-driven pop world with a selection of rough-hewn lo-fi beats that are a bit wobbly and analog, and which hearken back to that stripped-down, old-school unison of verse and percussion. It requires repeat listens to realise actually how effectively these subwoofer-friendly bass beats accentuate the localist Yorkshire inflections and his down-to-earth lyricism. At the album’s core, it’s that sense of the ordinary combined with an iconoclastic bent that makes Matter’s wit and candour so lethal.

The beats may sound homemade and gauzy, bar a brief foray into dubstep in ‘6 Minutes’, but the album’s themes are certainly very rich and varied. Providing a more sensible and sanguine voice for the disenfranchised than most rappers out there, Matter puts forward his own unabashed ideas in his tracks, often by making provocation to the banalities of the consumerist society in which we live. While some of his jibes are subtle, others are more candid and petulant, particularly in tracks such as the industry-bashing ‘Hands to the Sky’: Be original? Nah. / Or highly lyrical? Nah. / Or individual? Nah. / Just be slaves to clichés. However, he offsets much of his freewheeling disdain for the mainstream with droll humour;  in ‘Opposite’ for example, he lays bare his contrary and recalcitrant nature:  Hold it wait – you’re into hip-hop? I’m into Slipknot. You’re into synth pop? I’m into glitch-hop. His comedy is definitely tinged with a slight misanthropy, and his overall expression is gloriously wiggy, albeit in an unerring and weirdly grounded sort of way.

The album’s stand-out track has to be the double-entendre-infused ‘100 Bullets’, with its tongue-in-cheek take on hip-hop’s obligatory element of braggadocio. The song displays a mix of farcical battle-rap throwdowns: If you think your style’s cold, then call me the anti-freeze; and some sardonically excessive bouts of self-aggrandizing: Microphone mangler, isotope damager / Leaving amateur, low-calibre battlers as cadavers. Often mired in a stream of complex lyricism, the track occasionally goes a bit awry, but I guess that’s kind of the point. For all his verbal acrobatics throughout the album, Matter does also give some pathos to his songs by also occasionally delving into introspection. Using the metaphor of a dwindling flame in ‘Light My Way’ as his small but enduring source of hope, he projects quite a dark, brooding picture of life’s struggles with a heady mix of gritty Northern vernacular and more florid, poetic strains: Everyday I’m in a next city, dragging my own personal hell with me/  That’s how I deal with shit, I’m drowning in a well of whiskey. In direct contrast to this is the ultra-minimalist ‘Stitched Up’ featuring Bad Taste Records frontman Trellion, and Verbal Contact affiliate, Prys. The lurching drum patterns and boom-claps cede attention to a frenzy of nihilistic slacker-stonerisms, occasionally with the sort of violent undertones redolent of Tyler, the Creator’s ‘Yonkers’. It’s daringly simple, yet mind-bogglingly effective.

Another stand-out on the album is ‘Cup of Life’; a track loaded with chiptune sounds evoking the sort of soundtracks from 8-bit Sega video games. It’s also fused with some ominous low-frequency distortion, and enhanced by a simple but highly-contagious hook: My dialectic’s inspired by the vision of the world I see behind these specs. Much of the album cranks out heavy sub-low sounds with the ubiquitous distorted bass warbles and syncopated rhythm patterns (including the distinctly reggae-style beat on ‘100 Bullets’) which all add to a unique cross pollination of sounds. It’s less a straight amalgam of genres here, and more a distillation of various UK-centric musical ideas built into an essentially traditional hip-hop framework. It’s also bold in that also captures the sort of authentic sounds often emanating from our own urban areas, rather than merely opting for a dusty breaks-and-beats and nu-jazz piano aesthetic native to New York.

With so much of hip-hop’s dissipated in overblown and complacent celebrity culture, it’s great to discover a clever, razor-witted emcee like Matter who is clearly dedicated to his craft. Admittedly his album is a little scattershot, but the amazing verbal components to this album are so rich that they are certain to leave an indelible mark on your brain. Maybe lacking in cohesion and fine-tuning, I suspect this album is heralding something much bigger, but it’s still the sort of product rap fans would be willing to pay money for. But hey – it’s a free download, so if you’re a UK rap fan you really have no excuse not to cop this.

Download ‘The Stitch Up’ for free from Matter’s Bandcamp Page.

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