Horrorcore hip hop is certainly an acquired taste. A taste that usually requires an appreciation of graphic violence and an abundance of testosterone. Although a similar taste can also be sampled in more conventional hip hop, Rhyme Asylum add an intelligence rarely seen by the likes of Necro. Boasting 4 members; Psiklone, Possessed, Skirmish and Plazma, each emcee cut from the same cloth as your Apathys and Vinnie Pazs. What at first appears to be mindless braggadocio and ridiculous claims of superiority, actually contains creative wordplay and an advanced knowledge of rhyme. It’s important to point out that Rhyme Asylum are a London-based group that made noise in the UK (as well as worldwide) with their debut release “State of Lunacy”, which featured fellow rhyme animals Copywrite and Diabolic. If you know about those two artists, then you’ll get a good idea of the content within “Solitary Confinement”. A morbid introduction atop horror-flick piano samples and Fat Joe scratched in sets the scene appropriately, although lead-single “Hate Music” is remarkably upbeat, with plenty of black humour as demonstrated by Possessed:

“Here’s my declaration of war, pray to The Lord
Name of my inner child, Damien Thorn
Live by the way of the sword
My name don’t ring bells (nah) it sounds Gabriel’s Horn
Chip off the old block of flats
Lungs transform oxygen to a toxic gas (Exhales)
Release a breath
Need to be given lethal injections every hour to keep me dead
Turn green when seeing red, beat my chest
Rub shoulders with me, freeze to death
I’m armed and dangerous
I carved the Star of David into the foreheads of master masons
Incarcerated in a mic booth
It ain’t a simile when I say I don’t like you
My IQ’s double your sperm count
Impatient, slit my throat just to get this verse out”

Possessed has a slow flow not unlike Evidence, albeit with a gruff delivery. It’s not surprising to see him all over the Internet in rap battle tournaments, and his style is the carbon copy of battle rap. Unlike Iron Solomon who struggled to adapt to full length songs, Rhyme Asylum works because each rapper receives 16 bars to try and outdo each other. Whilst Army of the Pharaohs have the market locked down as far as compiling as many underground lyricists as possible over generic beats, the creativity found in one line by Apathy, is evident throughout a whole verse by Psiklone:

(“Open Mic Surgery” feat. DarkStar & Ill Bill)
“I keep my eyes peeled with hunting knives
My voice alone provokes stone gargoyles to come to life
Gave nightmares spitting Lucifer lullabies
Tried a hundred times but can’t seem to fucking die
Run and hide
When disaster strikes, the whole worlds looking at me like Busta Rhymes
Turn the London eye colour blind
Muscles thrive off natural steroids in my blood supply
Psiklone a sick psycho
Drink and spit nitro and sprint so quick I switch time zones
Bury my landlords under the floor
When lightning strikes I hit back with double the force
Death sentences riddled with wise words
Like the Titanic you’ve only touched the tip of the ice berg
Grab minotaurs by the horns
I’m a higher force and I learnt to fly before I could walk”

“This Is Where” sums up the dank, depressive London in a recession-hit economy with sombre use of violins. Production is remarkably varied with Engineer holding down most of the album, but there are gems from Polish outfit The Returners and the unheard of Al’Tarba and Think. Whilst the content is primarily of the horror variety, Rhyme Asylum excel when applying their mastery of phrase manipulation to traditional topics. “Life Support” is a heartfelt message that many fans can associate with, the death of hip hop. Insisting it is on life support, the combination of scratched hook, mournful strings and heartfelt deliveries from Possessed and Skrimish, it is Psiklone who sums up the feelings of everyone keeping this genre alive and well:

“I put my soul in every rhyme that I write
[‘Big L Rest In Peace’] – cos [‘Ripping mics is the light of my life’]
Been fed up and my stomach is cramped
The scene has practically vanished but my hunger is back
Classics are haphazard
All I see is backpackers, wack rappers, black adders and backstabbers
As if that matters
When we’re out laying the ground breaking foundations like jack hammers
Miss ripping ciphers and open mics
It’s a lifestyle – we rock our clothes oversized
Inspired as an adolescent
By Roc Raida on cross faders scratching battle weapons
It’s my passion – banging the beats
From DJs to B-boys and the graff on the streets
[This is hip-hop] music’s inner vision
Bringing you back to ‘boom bap’ fused with super-lyricism”

“Next Level” and “Art of Raw” are boom bap bangers that will satisfy any hip hop fan. “Next Level” in particular demonstrates the lyricism described perfectly as Possessed and Psiklone trade bars:

“Throw punches with the strength of silverbacks – knock out your gold fronts
War machine
My voice don’t just stimulate ear drums it awakens dormant genes
Run towards the sea
Before we reach the shore the water forms as steam before our feet
[Concrete jungle] I walk the streets
And free fall asleep from the tallest trees like autumn leaves
Sole survivor of a dead chain gang
Drag the other carcasses across a wasteland
Next level, make a change to game plan
My brain scan results are the same as the Rain Man’s
Psychotic compulsions and urges
Spit on your grave ’til the corpse floats to the surface”

“The N Word” is a fine example of rapping using as many words that begin with N, but has been done to death by Papoose, Phi Life Cypher and others. Seeing as there are four lyricists in Rhyme Asylum, it’s interesting to hear Slaughterhouse’s Crooked I on “Event Horizon”, a track so overblown in execution it requires multiple listens. It stands out most due to its refreshingly simple hook, but will have you coming back for more with lines like “I ejaculate sperm whales out of my Moby Dick”. Crooked I drops probably his most ferocious verse in years, and demonstrates why he is the most consistent member of Slaughterhouse:

“On the microphone I’m chemical explosives, mixed in high doses
Sick as psychosis and Cystic Fibrosis
Touch me and die my energy’s high voltage
When I wrote this Hennessey had my mind focused
Every rhyme I write becomes my new magnum opus
Pointing a chrome magnum at whoever rap the dopest
You cats are hopeless matter of fact, fags are bogus
Snap your neck backwards maggot, I’m that ferocious
Crooked sick in the head hit you with lead
Pistols flashing like cameras I can picture you dead
Might grab a knife stick you instead
Since he ain’t stand up nigga, the feds found him missing his legs
I’m on the balcony practising ancient alchemy
Vest on the chest in case they try to Martin or Malcolm me
I know you think I love myself
Because this straight jacket is making me hug myself”

Considering this album was released in 2010, just when Slaughterhouse was on everybody’s lips, it’s a shame such a strong feature wasn’t promoted more, even with a video online. “Strange Deranged” is one of the catchier affairs but ultimately falls into monotonous territory as it becomes endless examples of psychotic behaviour. This is the major downfall on “Solitary Confinement” and where “State of Lunacy” quickly became boring. The style the Rhyme Asylum guys use works on emotional, realistic tracks such as “I Know” and “This Is Where” just as well if not better than it does on the fantastical “Broken Window”. Hopefully a third album is in the works which irons out the insanity theme and adds some stronger production, in which case Rhyme Asylum could well drop the classic album their skills show they are capable of making.

Rhyme Asylum :: Solitary Confinement
8Overall Score