Underground stalwart Shaz Illyork is a fine example of the slow-paced, stylish rap music that has become a characteristic of New York City rappers in recent times. The Queens MC enlists a host of wordsmiths for his latest project ‘The Sleepwalker (The Wide Awake Prequel)’, including Blankface, Chris Rivers and Innocent, and the hardcore, street-smart vibe is hugely entertaining, and remains so over the long run-time of the LP.
The Wu-esque ‘Make Way For The Gods’ is an early highlight with it’s hard-hitting production and gritty lyricism from Shaz and fellow underground spitter Blank Face. The traditional east-coast feel continues with the sublime ‘The First Sunshower’, which also features Queens MC Starvin B who puts in a stellar performance. The complex rhyme schemes and smooth flows are reminiscent of the long-gone golden era, and the dusty drums are subtle, steady and absolutely perfect for the raw vocals from Shaz and Starvin.
Slow-moving and cinematic, ‘Kandahar Dope’ is another gritty, street-smart banger with a tough, East Coast vibe that Shaz and fellow underground lyricist Tools Beastly tackle with prolific verses packed with grimey swagger from start to finish. ‘Lost Metropolis’ is laced with dope, soulful samples, and the nineties, throwback approach is handled with finesse and expertise. ‘Wild Germanz’ is a fantastic posse cut; epic, orchestral production and hard-hitting penmanship from a selection of independent MC’s including Chris Rivers and Guerilla Nems make it a definite highlight, and any hip-hop head will relish the copious amount of bars on display here.
‘The Sleepwalker’ features a number of really short tracks, and it’s a great recurring theme to have. Shaz never struggles to rip the mic, even if it is only for a singular minute, and the groovy ‘360 2017’ is a perfect example of this fast-paced, blink and you miss it spitting. The album closes out with the anthemic ‘Green Garshas’, and the textured sample-work is brilliantly executed and is a resounding finish to an album that is focused purely on quality beats and raw lyricism.
The cries of “hip-hop is dead” can still be heard from people who think that Lil Yachty and Uzi Vert are the only MC’s on offer in 2017, but a quick trawl through the underground hip-hop blogs can quickly lead you to yet another talented rapper who is pushing top-drawer material. Shaz Illyork fits into that category, and ‘The Sleepwalker’ is a concise, cohesive and consistently gritty project that is a surefire winner for fans of traditional, nineties influenced east coast bangers.
By Sam Bennett