Bob Dylan released Time Out Of Mind at the age of 56. Tom Petty put out his Rick Rubin produced solo set Wildflowers at 44. Coming decades into their careers, both albums proved critical and commercial successes, credited with commencing a career renaissance for the former and further cementing the legacy of the latter.
Yet while classic rock gods get to enjoy lengthy recording careers, it's typically a different story for even the dopest emcees. "On the real, I feel like hip-hop is the only genre where the older an artist gets, for some reason people start shunning them," says Will Brooks of Dälek, on the occasion of the group's newly released album Precipice. "I still have a lot that I want to say, a lot that I want to express."
As MC Dälek, the project's namesake emcee since its mid-1990s inception, the New Jersey native has long spat profoundly and bluntly about the gravest issues of his times, lyrically attached to the local as much as the global. Back once again with Ipecac Recordings, the indie behind most of its recorded output, the duo of Brooks and Mike Manteca tend to match the severity of the emcee's subject matter with oft crushing and crumbling sonics. This generally led critics and listeners alike to affix labels like "dystopian" and "industrial" to the Dälek moniker. (Given that name's connection to the murderous exterrestrial cyborgs of Doctor Who fame, such descriptors seem particularly apt.)
Yet for the past two-plus years, we've been living in a version of the world that sci-fi doomsayers once presented on page and screen, with the global pandemic continuing despite the wishes of our people or the proclamations of our politicians. For someone who'd been actively making music professionally for three decades, the disruption hit hard. "We were prepared not to tour that year," he says. "I wasn't prepared for two-and-a-half years of not touring– that's crazy, B."
Since reemerging recording-wise with a reconfigurated lineup on 2016's Asphalt For Eden, Dälek had dropped a handful of albums including an eponymous one-off from the kraut-informed dark jazz side project Anguish with Faust co-founder Hans Joachim Irmler and prolific saxophonist Mats Gustafsson. But the pandemic halted Brooks and Manteca's original plans for a proper follow-up to 2017's Endangered Philosophies. Many songs and ideas written or sketched out prior to 2020 were set aside or abandoned.
For Brooks, the prospect of sending files back and forth seemed antithetical or otherwise unsatisfying for the purposes of making a new Dälek album. Though certainly never adverse to delving into dire topics throughout his discography, the pandemic proved an isolating experience, one largely spent in close quarters with his wife and dog. "The circles were tight," he says of the worst of it, when seeing family members or select friends were largely non-starters. "When you have that limited human interaction, you can't help but look inward."
Seeking a creative outlet, he channeled his quarantine energies into a series of mostly solo Meditations released through his Deadverse Recordings. Some seven volumes of material have appeared on Bandcamp to date, recorded more or less alone and at home in Union City. "I was able to have that immediacy where I was writing, recording, mixing, and releasing like all within a month's period," he says. "So I was able to tackle shit that was actually happening that moment, comment on it, and get it out there right away."
As things appeared to ease up enough to facilitate in-person collaboration, Dälek began to work together again. It was an adjustment, but Brooks recognized that there was not going to be an optimal endpoint to the pandemic to begin creating as a team once more. ("I don't really think there will ever be a return to normalcy," he says.) The resulting Precipice feels very much an audio document of the now, informed by these years of uncertainty and tumult but with a a certain amount of cautious optimism. "My music is in that is most definitely dark, no doubt," Brooks says. "But there always has been this continuous glimmer of hope that I try to convey that maybe not everyone catches.
"For as dark as life gets, it's still life and it's still a beautiful thing. I don't lose sight of the fact of how amazing it is simply to exist."
Ockham's Blazer, s/t (buy it / stream it)
A profound product of pre-pandemic serendipity, Ockham's Blazer combines the talents of jazzbos and hip-hop heads for a frothing fusion that slyly subverts both genres. Most of its members played in a group called Praq!, whose 2017 album Strom included a PremRock feature. With Backwoodz Studioz production familiar Fresh Kils and his baritone saxophonist pal Anthony Rinaldo now in the Viennese mix, the resulting Ockham's Blazer builds momentum up to and through its centerpiece "Drone," dropping to a late night lounge tempo on "Carpe Cortado." All the musicians make for an engaging if willfully eclectic ensemble. Still, it's PremRock's wandering lyricism that adds clout to the inherent cool, made evident by his verbal mixology on the boozy Badalamenti-esque brooder "Blood's Port."
Heem B$F, High Art (buy it / stream it)
While Benny The Butcher continues his journey over at Def Jam, the third pillar of the Griselda triumvirate concurrently cultivates independent talent through his Black Soprano Family imprint. Nearly a year and a half ago, Buffalo's Heem dropped the DJ Green Lantern helmed Long Story Short, a worthwhile effort with a few choice features. For this cannabis concept EP, he selects a few choice strains to guide his lyrical bap, with producer Marc Spano as his beatmaking budtender. He goes the indica route for "Don Mega" and the sparkling n' soulful "Hydro Plane," though sativa dominant hybrids get some "Buddah Love" by the end. On "Cheech And Chong," he extolls the various virtues of the plant with subtle nods to the titular duo's own musical history.
Guillotine Crowns, Hills To Die On (buy it / stream it)
Despite respectively repping NYC and Chicago, seasoned hip-hop artists Uncommon Nasa and Short Fuze have roughly a decade's worth of long-distance recorded history together. The former made beats for the latter on a handful of projects, yet their 2020 team-up under the Guillotine Crowns' moniker seems only to have solidified their bond further. With both rappers sharing the mic, tracks like "City Breathing" and the rugged "Art Dealers" find them in top thematic form. Their street knowledge and genre tenture serves them well too on highlight "Horseman Armour" with Duke01 and Gajah. For listeners who've followed Nasa from his Def Jux / The Presence beginnings, the production progression demonstrated on "Killer" and the clamorous "Rebel Crowns" will feel rewarding.