Natural Selection – Rhythm By Numbers (Album Review)

For those of you who might not know, Natural Selection is a UK hip-hop duo composed of producer Brother Beatbox and emcee Deeflux. A like-minded pair who each bear similar stylistic aims, their raison d’être is essentially a shared love of music and a volition to create a hardcore, non-synthetic sound. Flying well below the mainstream radar, the duo remains steadfast in staying close to the essence of the art form; both in their adherence to and reverence for old-school techniques, as well as in their spontaneity of musical experimentation.

Rendered by an MPC and co-opting the talents of musical peers fluent in various musical disciplines, their debut release, ‘Rhythm By Numbers’ showcases the duo’s long-time collaborative efforts and the fruit of many hours of sampling sessions. There are a myriad of compelling musical elements at work in this album, but they don’t detract from its main aim: to get heads nodding. Displaying an obvious penchant for old-school boom-to-the-bap flavour mixed in with lyrical skill, Rhythm By Numbers establishes a commonality between Deeflux’s previous collaboration album 1984, but is much fresher and more experimental in sound. There’s a strong emphasis on fun and spontaneity within basic hip-hop parameters here; emanating an exuberant sound which is both retrospective and modern at the same time.

Basingstoke-based Brother Beatbox employs his talented beat craftsmanship to an eclectic range of instrumentation and melodies, while some truly masterful scratching is provided by Bristol-based DJ Fingerfood and DJ Juice. Disparate musical elements in this album include the flickering synth chords which add futuristic modes to joints like ‘Tell ‘Em’, a track featuring underground Detroit rapper Guilty Simpson, and the reechoing bassy textures of ‘Whomp’ an energetic take on the party track, which impresses with its beguiling musical intricacy. Hook-laden choruses are also a prominent feature of most tracks, and are, for the most part, carried off with real flair. One of the best examples of this the dope old-school call-and-response chorus in ‘Bomb Proof Style’, an acoustic guitar-spun joint featuring Lootpack’s Wildchild who laces his smoothly hypnotic vocal drawl all over some beautifully wrought musical accompaniments.

Sometimes the profuse musical layers in this instrumentals can smother the vocals, but for the most part they are subtle enough to cede spotlight to them. The live session material means 100% organic input, and you can certainly sense this, with judicious stabs of acoustic colour, percussive riffs and various instrumental stands often leavening the analogue intensity — honing an honest style which, sadly, very few hip-hop music practitioners, bar a select group of underground heads are still capable of producing. Fittingly, there’s no shortage of underground hip-hop featurings here, too; each selected to compliment and enhance the duo’s sound. ‘All Across the World’ for example, enlists LA-based Rebels To The Grain, who sling so many quotables back and forth that it’ll make your head spin: Too many flash emcees with too much oestrogen / Society’s my illness, and this my medicine. 

Conscious raps play a big part in the album, but aren’t your usual preachy, heavy-handed rants. Deeflux’s social commentary is delivered from a genuine, down-to-earth perspective, challenging society’s woes with refreshing equanimity. In ‘Hard To See’ for example, he reflects on the negative mindset of today’s youth, but remains refreshingly sanguine in his outlook: Nature or nurture – but what about the choice itself? Peer pressure is a bitch, but you have a voice as well.

Thematically, Deeflux stays true to familiar lyrical modes of hailing his own exemplary work ethic and staying level-headed amidst the chaos of modern life. ‘Real Shit’ is an exemplar of the album’s overall character; featuring  an anthemic chorus, wherein he laces some intricate stanzas set to an infectiously head-nodding beat: Paralyzed in the cavalcade / Known disciple lost, but still find a way.

Without creeping towards anodyne mediocrity, the duo deliver a transcendent message that can easily be felt beyond the confines of hip-hop. The album is also bold in its music as much as in its willingness to explore an occasional mundane humanity rather than legend or caricature; because of this you genuinely feel yourself connected to Deeflux’s commensensical outlook. His authenticity sustains him throughout the album’s duration, but occasionally his lines about his respect for hip-hop tradition are a tad overwrought.

Listening to Rhythm By Numbers is definitely an album-length experience; there are no real stand-outs, but as a whole it’s a solid and expertly rendered hip-hop album. In an age of ephemeral pop rappers with little appreciation for the fundmentals, both Deeflux and Brother Beatbox stand out with their abiding passion for the art form, and prove that they are in the game for the long haul.

http://naturalselectionuk.bandcamp.com/

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