Griminess can create beautiful noise. Cryptic phrases occasionally offer absolute clarity. And sometimes, savagery is the most effective form of communication. For that, there are the Dueling Experts, the dark ninjas behind one of 2020’s most filthy, cohesive, and authentic hip-hop records. A self-titled masterclass of verbal carnage and bell-ringing beats that reminds you that if ain’t raw, it’s worthless.
You may know Verbal Kent, the battle-scarred Chicago sensei, who has proven his mettle time and time again on wax — both in his solo albums and in Ugly Heroes, a trio alongside Chris Orrick and producer Apollo Brown. But you’ve never heard him as serrated as he sounds alongside the Ghanian MC, Recognize Ali. Spitting pyroclastic flows over a treasure trove of lo-fi beats excavated from the legendary and mysterious producer, Lord Beatjitzu, the two craftsmen attack with meticulous rhyme schemes and hardbody vocals to spark melees. The beats are so adamantine that they could crush diamonds. Meanwhile, Kent and Ali exhibit a chemistry reminiscent of all-time greats like Billy Danze and Lil Fame of M.O.P., Raekwon and Ghostface, and Rock (Sean Price) and Ruck of the Boot Camp Click.
This is the sound of war. Hip-hop to slap the proverbial taste of your mouth. The soundtrack to bloody knuckle brawls and broken glass. Beats that sound like they were dropped on the floor and coated in filth, boasting an almost Beta-like quality while simultaneously exemplifying sampling and chopping in a 90’s RZA-like fashion. Guard your grill and protect your neck music. When the sum of all parts exceeds any one individual contribution, but all individual contributions are equally integral.
There is the title track which sets it off like a hadouken. A swirling haze of effects, spinal cord-snapping drums, the organ swells, vocal samples blur, and Verbal Kent snarls about the fragility of life, the permanence of memory, and threatens to make you taste his pepper spray. Recognize Ali pounces like a young Iron Mike, issuing threats that would make you call the coroner. Step the wrong way and he’ll put the burner to your mug and make it sing to your face. All the while they trade bars with the voracious hunger of a young Beanie Sigel and Freeway.
“The Middle Finger” is exactly how it sounds: a raucous eye-gouging shot to put holes in cerebellums. Another get money hymn over a beat that sounds like it was made in the same session that produced “For Heaven’s Sake” from Wu-Tang Forever. “The Cause of My Ignorance” bangs like a Havoc beat from Clinton’s first term, filled with scratched hooks and Verbal rapping about ripping your shoulders off. Ali drops gems on your head to make your skull crack. It takes it back to the essence of the Golden Age: no frills, no mumbling, just timeless boom-bap that makes you want to throw rivals off the roof.
It’s a complicated era, which makes the simplicity of a project like this infinitely more valuable. There will always be a startling raw power in the alchemy between scuffed and gully beats and rhymes so aggressive and energetic that when played at the right volume, all the plaster in your walls could crumble. It’s that that much more lethal when two elite MCs are trading bars with the swiftness and savvy of two bank robbers heisting seven figures from a bank without leaving a trace. You can have the rappers who just started spitting 18 months ago; nothing can match this level of expertise.
FORMAT: Limited Edition coloured Galaxy Vinyl
01. The Dueling Experts
02. Pray Hands Emoji
03. Part of Life
04. Dark Ninjas
05. The Middle Finger
06. The Art of Fighting Without Fighting
07. Two Isn’t Enough
08. The Cause of My Ignorance
09. A Secret Document
10. Arnold Palmer Sipping Arnold Palmers
11. Black Belt
12. Stones In A Glass House
13. Baby Shark
14. Your Fragile Limbs
Mello Music Group MMG001421