Review: Dead Players – Freshly Skeletal LP

Dead Players - Freshly Skeletal Front Cover

Dead Players are a London based experimental hip-hop trio signed to High Focus Records. The threepiece consists of
a producer known as GhostTown and two MC’s called Jam Baxter & Dabbla. 

Jam Baxter emerged into the UK hip-hop scene through collaborations with the Contact Play collective, where he built a solid reputation on account of his ability to recite complex rhymes with insane syllabic stamina. He went on to release his début album Rinse Out Friday / Spack Out Monday in 2010 with High Focus Records, taking his acclaim as an independent artist to new heights. Since then he’s released three more enigmatic, cannibalistic and downright disconcerting chapters to his solo discography; Gruesome Features LP, Fresh Flesh EP & …So We Ate Them Whole LP which was released earlier this year.

Dabbla is one of London’s unsung heroes in terms of his lyrical capabilities. As a member of both LDZ and Problem Child, his experience is not be understated; since he released his first song in the ether called ‘Morning Worship’ on Fist Of Jah by Dubbledge in 2005, he has released 2 albums & 2 EP’s for LDZ, 1 Problem Child album, 1 solo EP and now 2 full length Dead Players LP’s as well. Whether he’s letting loose with some satirical comedy or telling you exactly how things are with a fully forthright flow, Dabbla’s rhymes are so convincing that you’ll have difficulty believing they aren’t influenced by his personal experiences, which usually makes for a captivating listen.

The legacy of producer GhostTown stems from his first release back in 2009 on a Skrein album called The Eat Up, which contained a couple of his own electric beats. Since then he’s overseen about 15 more collaborative projects, a mammoth testament to his passion for creating experimental hip-hop. GhostTown’s productions defy convention as he produces music that’s undefinable to specific genre’s, preferring to implement multiple musical influences such as hip-hop, dancehall, grime & trap on an instrumental than just one – basically you can always be assured that the sounds you’re hearing are abundantly fresh and almost entirely original.

Dead Players formed as a collective following an interview Jam Baxter gave in 2010, in which he revealed that the artist he’d ‘most like to collaborate with’ was Dabbla of LDN Zoo. Once Dabbla heard about it, the pair got to know each other and decided to combine forces with GhostTown, who had experience working with both lyricists beforehand, to create what eventually became the Dead Players. By 2013, they released their incredibly acclaimed self-titled début on High Focus Records.

For proof of their popularity you only have to backtrack to this Summer, when Dead Players exhibited their verbal finesse to packed crowds at Nozstock, Boombap & Boomtown Festival. A combination of the collective’s exhilarating energy, clinical delivery and lyrical intricacy ensured that they received plenty of positive receptions as well as newfound fan-bases, who arrived just in time for the announcement that Dead Players would drop their 2nd full length album; the Freshly Skeletal LP, which as Baxter recalls was created…

“… over many an intoxicated night in my living room and on smoky summer afternoons on Dabbla’s veranda, with lyrics penned everywhere from Barnet to Brazil.”

The albums introductory is called Oh Well, opening with an intriguingly ominous instrumental from GhostTown, lulling the listener into a false sense of security before Dabbla commences with a sinister self-portrayal of his callous persona. Baxter follows, defining his eccentric mindset as he recollects a vivid array of distorted perceptions, giving the listener an accurate depiction of his illicit self. A compelling showcase of their individual traits.

This leads into Billa, which has an anthemic chorus and a hook made-up of chanting which goes ‘Billabillabillabilla…’, overlapped by a deep bass, pounding drums and wordplay that gives the impression that Dead Players are ready to commence on a warpath (Build another platform / Burn it to the ground / Winners to the front / Kick ’em while they’re down).

From there on out, the verbal animosity only intensifies. Nah presumably a follow-up to the track Yeah from the Dead Players LP – displays the antagonistic passion of Baxter & Dabbla to the livest extent as they take particular issue with pricks; namely those who’d try tell them how to rap, act or even dare confiscate Baxter’s booze, which for future reference are just a few ways which’ll piss them off. GhostTown emphasizes with an instrumental that has an unnerving evil circus kind of vibe to it. Although the beat sounds a bit unorthodox alongside the lyrical hostility, it’s certainly fixating. 

The first anthem lifted from Freshly Skeletal with a visual was Call Us Now filmed by Aboveground Media – a short and sweet exhibition of one of the album’s hypest tunes. You can expect the style to be consistent throughout the project.

This leads into track 5 called B.A.W.G. By this point in any album, a listener will probably have had the decision of whether to continue listening or switch to Youtube or something instead cross their minds. Well, with opening lines like Baxter’s – So I was riding a placenta out of this planets miscarriage / ballied up singing power ballads whilst I pissed acid – how could anyone not be further intrigued? Although admittedly his wordplay can be pretty difficult to immediately interpret, for the majority of the album Baxter’s rhymes are completely compelling to try and decrypt if you aren’t prepared to take his bars for their literal meaning.

The first big feature on Freshly Skeletal is Lee Scott (Blah Records) who makes his appearance on Do It. Scott initiates the track by demanding a drink from a fellow “la” before serenading the listener with what’s admittedly a pretty smooth ballad, which as the track unravels becomes the recurring chorus. If that’s not enough information for you to check it out then I don’t know what is.

GhostTown shines once again on Ringing with a beat that’s an engrossing mash-up of grimey, electro sounds fitted with manipulated bass levels which pack a punch with the speakers turned right up. Baxter & Dabbla bring the heat lyrically, Baxter commences by relieving his chest of some cynical outlooks on society whilst Dabbla goes in on an egotistical, antagonistic tip. There’s no clear correlation between their rhymes and the chorus is just as enigmatic, so it’s hard to suggest what the track’s actually about. It’s a banger though, still.

Another enlivening stand-out track is called High, where Dabbla effis, jeffs and basically wyles out whilst reminiscing on some wavy experiences over another hype beat from Ghostown, before Baxter relieves a few lucid renditions of his own to finish.

 

Infinite Limousine, probably the most energetic track featured on the project, is a high-octane grime-orientated posse cut featuring Sox, Ocean Wisdom, Illaman and Orific Vulgatron (Foreign Beggars) alongside Dead Players. Back to back the artists unleash their rapid flows with rhymes laced in comedic hostility, whilst GhostTown supports the spectacle with a bouncy, bassy beat guaranteed to make heads bang throughout the three-and-a-half minute track duration.

The tenth track Cooked is another hyperactive showcase which keeps the pulse pacing with screeching violins and resounding bass levels implemented into the instrumental, backing unrelentingly sharp-witted wordplay and a chorus which see’s Baxter revel in his cannibalistic comfort zone; my mind’s all Cooked / eat them all Cooked / Fling ’em in the furnace tell ’em it’s a look / left ’em in a back room hanging on a hook / bruv let’s cook, come on let’s cook, eat them all Cooked – the pace doesn’t cease and the project remains incredibly captivating.

Freshly Skeletal concludes with a finale called Drenching, for which GhostTown allows a minimalist yet heavy trap-infused beat to let the spotlight to shine on the lyricists for the last time. Baxter unleashes some more peppered metaphorical wordplay that hits the nail on the head each and every time. Dabbla comes through spitting with his usual top shotter flow, reinstating his position as an unrivalled emcee as well as a hardcore junkie. It’s an untouchable outro, with a fully addictive instrumental and bars which confirm that Dead Players are riding on top of the UK hip-hop scene.

 

The 11 track duration brings the album to a close within 45 minutes, it’s definitely not a strenuous listen and each track is an anthem in itself. Considering the collaborative history of the artists, the chemistry of the Dead Players collective is strikingly apparent. Both lyricists thrive over GhostTown’s intricately structured instrumentals which are full flavoured with invigorating sounds – the beats are surely one of the most captivating aspects of the release.

In regards to the lyricism, Jam Baxter & Dabbla both have individualistic styles, Baxter preferring to tear up an instrumental using cryptic metaphorical wordplay whereas Dabbla is much more forthright with his rhymes. You could argue that they clash at times, as subject matters become obscured by numerous potential interpretations, but even this slight criticism cannot deter the fact that the bars are still fully riveting whether you can grasp them or not. If you’re simply here to enjoy the music and not think too deeply into the messages a track tries to convey, then the duo will undoubtedly keep you fixated. This is another exemplary project to add to the artist’s extensive discographies, another showpiece for the illustrious High Focus roster that’s guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Purchase Freshly Skeletal CD : HERE

or via iTunes : HERE

Dead Players - Freshly Skeletal Back Cover

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