A hip-hop record for a different time, Quakers is a collaboration between Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, his go-to engineer Stuart “7-Stu-7″ Matthews, Australian producer Ashley “Katalyst” Anderson and 30-some MCs who generally range from the “obscure” to the “unknown.” At this point in his career, Barrow has earned the right to cut what initially appears to be a vanity record. But Quakers is much more than that, an inspired triangulation of Portishead’s captivating textures, Dilla’s hectic Donuts and one of those cast-of-dozens Tony Touch Power Cypha mixtapes.
As expected, the Quakers production tends toward a sample-heavy, drum-break and bass-lurk dependent sound that has found no better descriptor than “blunted.” Quakers is 1990s to the core, but the braintrust is savvy about keeping things moving, with few ideas sticking around for longer than a couple minutes. Spooked loops or hammered cymbals rarely outstay their welcome, while the cramped quarters mean few of the rappers here have to worry about shoehorned hooks or belabored concepts. The melted strings and distant choir of Estee Nack’s “Lost and Found” lends it a feeling of weathered Wu-wisdom, while the charismatically hardcore Dave Dub enthuses all over the sparse, jaunty shuffle of “My Mantra.”
There are a few familiar names: Dead Prez pay tribute to “Soul Power,” Aloe Blacc juggles hats over the blues-funk of “Sign Language,” Organized Konfusion’s Prince Po treats himself to the majestic horns of “Rock My Soul” and the Pharcyde’s Booty Brown laments a civilization in decline on “TV Dreaming.” But part of what distinguishes Quakers is its sense of discovery — Barrow found many of these MCs while trawling the Internet, and names like Silverust, Lyric Jones and Coin Locker Kid, a playful name-dropper of Axelrod, Murakami and everyone in-between, make the most of their opportunities. It could have sounded like an endless string of interludes. Instead, each new, ambitious MC raises the stakes a bit, resulting in an unlikely hour of old-school brinksmanship.