Croydon based rap outfit TPS Fam have steadily been etching their name into the tapestry of UK hip-hop over recent years. Their 2012 sophomore album The Big Q.P was widely well received, firmly cementing them as a stand-out talking point, amongst a modern industry that often seems somewhat hindered by an overabundance of emerging mediocrity.
Since then, Big Toast, Jack Diggs and The Strange Neighbour have only gone from strength to strength, releasing a string of successful solo projects, and launching their own independent label Revorg Records in 2013. Hot Water Music, which shares its name with the 1983 collection of short stories by Charles Bukowski, is the crews third full-length LP. Firstly, let me cut straight to the point, there’s a lot to like about this album, so I’ll just run through some of my personal highlights.
After a particularly poignant excerpt from the Bukowski text, the album officially kicks off with Monday Blues, a tune concerning the perpetual dread summoned by the start of each working week. The combination of irate lyrical narration, moody baseline, and delicious saxophone sampling evokes an essence of urban blues, whilst culminating in a dark, gritty hip-hop sound that lays a solid foundation towards the overall tone of the album.
Fellow Revorg artist, and Prose veteran Efeks joins the crew for 5 Nuggets. Efeks slides effortlessly into the TPS fold, further illuminating the level fans can come to expect from the blossoming label. The tune concerns surviving today’s disastrous financial climate, whilst living as lavishly as humanly possible. The verses tie together with a delightfully blunt hook, and the alluring hypnotic swing of Strange Neighbour’s production.
Fresh from making notable appearances on past Revorg releases like Jack Diggs‘ Dirty Fingernails and the Strange Neighbour driven Heisenberg EP, Bristol powerhouse Sir Plus returns with an energetic opening verse on HD. Strange Neighbour jumps in assertively selling the Revorg reputation, before Jack Diggs lays down some intricate wordplay laced in implicit metaphor. The track ends on a high, as Big Toast attacks the beat with his signature direct, unapologetic, and suitably punchy style.
British / Dutch hybrid Dark Circle make a highly suitable contribution to Chill In, one of the more laidback tracks on the album. Here the MCs celebrate their downtime between the struggles of the working week and the grind of building a name in an often tragically underappreciated music scene. This is a classic “does what it says on the tin” affair, providing the perfect carefree soundtrack for listeners to kickback to. Hero ironically explores traits of the anti-hero, more prominently depicting a shadier side to the group’s persona than is found elsewhere on the album. Split Prophets rapper Datkid also contributes a fine verse, perfectly complimenting the soulful calming tone of the Jack Diggs instrumental.
Ruff Draft sees TPS enter full cipher onslaught mode, alongside Res of Split Prohets, Triple Darkness heavyweight Phoenix Da Icefire, and UK mainstay Gee Bag. Each MC hits their verse with style and authority, over an elevating up-tempo beat from Strange Neighbour. No one is outshone on this one, and the compilation of artists makes for one of the strongest posse cuts so far in 2014.
While there are plenty of other tunes worth mentioning, I think what stands out most about this release is its strong sense of direction. A lot of thought has gone into everything you hear, and the tracks really fuse together to capture a portrait of British life that is often harsh, grimly humorous, and deeply autobiographical. Overall, Hot Water Music is a strong follow-up to The Big Q.P. Thematically, the album hits many of the same notes as its Bukowski namesake inner-city life, working class struggle, the pursuit of vice as escapism from the mundane and does so with a level of maturity that’s admirable. It’s grown-man music, and when it comes to speaking to today’s financially struggling generation, I’d argue that there’s few British artists doing it better right now.
The lyrical content is intelligent and often thought provoking, with each MC delivering his own unique perspective with diverse skill and precision. The whole thing is tied together by some tight in-house production (with the exception of 4a.m, produced by the legendary 184), and largely perpetuates that raw essence of 90’s East-Coast boom-bap that the majority of us grew up with. While it’s often bleak, unforgiving depiction of modern-day Britain could prove off-putting to the overtly optimistic listener, Hot Water Music is an extremely solid release with a great deal of depth and even greater replay value.