Quakers is the best display of rapping I have heard in 2012. No question. Clocking in at 41 tracks and just shy of 70 minutes, the album is a lot to digest, both musically and lyrically.
Touting themselves as a 35-member collective, Quakers is the brainchild of production trio Fuzzface (Geoff Barrow of Portishead), 7-Stu-7, and Katalyst. Although it’s tough to imagine this project becoming a fully-functional touring unit, it’s an interesting approach that runs deeper than the group’s surface. What is striking about Quakers is the lack of any ‘big names’ - most of the MC’s on this record are criminally under-appreciated masters of their craft. Each and every one them is, indeed, an earth-quaker. From golden-era vets Prince Po and Booty Brown, to below-the-radar cats like Tone Tank and Buff1, Quakers put on a rap clinic.
Production ranges from the dusty, lo-fi sound that has been embraced and popularized by Stones Throw mainstays, to the adventurous sampling of a marching band version of Radiohead’s “The National Anthem,” which provides the score for a relentless rap onslaught by Guilty Simpson and M.E.D. on “Fitta Happier.” These are just examples, though; more prominent is the feeling of unpredictability that is typical of a great ‘beat tape.’ This production trio has crafted a sonic palette that defies convenient categorization.
There are just too many ‘moments’ on this record to choose from. One of the most impressive appearances is the from the Coin Locker Kid. I can’t say that I was familiar with him before this, but his three (3!) appearances on the record demonstrate his versatility and firm grasp on the art of emceeing. “Russia With Love” has him rhyming over a 7/8 beat (as all you musically-inclined rappers out there will know, that isht is HAAARRRRRD!). “The Beginning” sees him rattling off some ultra-cool, back-alley, come-over-here-and-let-me-tell-y’all-a-story-kids type rhymes over an eerie backdrop. “Mummy” marks a return to the mic for Chicago-based lyrical genius Diverse, who has been largely absent from rap since the release of 2004’s incredible One A.M. Prince Po’s verse on “Rock My Soul” reminds me why I listen to rap and on “Sign Language,” Aloe Blacc reminds us he can still rap.
Sure, we could comb through the minutiae of this gargantuan offering all day, speculating on how this thing came to fruition, what’s next for the Quakers, who the #*@& the Coin Locker Kid is and when he might re-appear, but let’s just enjoy this for what it is: a celebration of quality rap music, past, present, and future.