The Four Owls are back. The High Focus UK supergroup, consisting of Fliptrix, Verb T, BVA and Leaf Dog, return after the absolutely classic ‘Nature’s Greatest Mystery’ album, released back in 2011 with an unadulteratedly raw project packed with incredible beats and superbly crafted lyricism stuffed to the brim with substance. ‘Natural Order’ has had a lot of hype, with the release of the DJ Premier produced single ‘Think Twice’, and the impact of their debut make this release all the more anticipated. High Focus haven’t disappointed us yet, and this one is no exception, to say the very least.
From the soulful samples with crunching snares backing the Owls on ‘Rice Torture’, it’s instantly clear that the golden era infused hip hop these four guys specialise in still sounds as fresh as ever. With lyrics about their hip hop sensibilities and prowess, this opener sets the tone, and shows that amongst so much disappointment in mainstream hip hop, the underground is still where it’s at. ‘Silent Flight’, which was released with an impeccable animation video on YouTube prior to the album’s release, is still one of my favourite tracks. With the choppy vocal samples and consistently impressively delivered Owl themed lyrics this is a guaranteed anthem.
‘Think Twice’ showed that UK hip hop really is starting to get the recognition it so clearly deserves. The only track on the album not produced by Leaf Dog (did I mention it’s a DJ Premier joint!?), each of The Four Owls show why they’re so respected for their lyrics, flows, delivery and content. Verb T’s closing rhyme scheme is insane, and hopefully this Premier collab is the start of something special. The brass samples and in your face drums of ‘Defiant’ are well suited, and the muffled production on ‘The Four Elements’ both make for heavy listens; the consistency on ‘Natural Order’ is something to be congratulated.
Smellington Piff’s appearance on ‘Dawn Of A New Day’, another excellent Leaf Dog production with intelligent rhyming, is dope to see. The Four Owls have been around the blocks, and it’s always refreshing to see so much promising talent coming through the ranks. This track is a declaration for the return of real hip hop, and since the album reached the top spot in the iTunes hip hop chart, maybe it’s time you believed them. ‘Assassination’ is definitely a highlight, with Dirty Dike joining The Four Owls on a back to back series of incredible verses. Dike’s ‘dreaming of raping a boyband member in the face’ bar is enough to make you reload this countless times.
There really is so much to talk about here. The infectious organ on ‘Ain’t Like It’ and the well tackled concepts on ‘The Drama’ show the versatile skills of each member, be it lyrical or beat-making. ‘Open Book’ finds Jam Baxter making a brutal guest appearance, The haunting, soulful ‘Old Earth’ is also one of the most impressive tracks on ‘Natural Order’, and it finds the Owls demonstrating their introspective styles with flair and skill. The more relaxed side of the Owls’ music is found throughout their second album, with a good balance between that and more uptempo, aggressive tracks.
‘Natural Order’ is one of the most consistent, cohesive and raw rap albums I’ve heard for a long time. Each group member impresses, with Fliptrix’s savage flows and intelligent writing, Leaf Dog’s unique style and production talents, BVA’s charismatic delivery and old school flow and Verb T’s humble yet cutting writing all playing their part. It’s hard to pick a standout member, but Verb T’s showing on this album definitely leaves a lasting impression, but each Owl shines in their own right.
By Sam Bennett