To describe the anticipation that lead to the release of The Four Owls‘ latest album Natural Order is frankly beyond our grasp of the English language. However, the album shooting straight to number one of the iTunes hip hop chart within 24 hours of its release is testament to the fact that we were not the only boys and girls eager to get our hands on the super group’s latest offering. The quartet of Fliptrix, Verb T, Leaf Dog and BVA set a rather high bar with the release of their group debut Nature’s Greatest Mystery and anyone whose opinion is worth considering will tell you it’s a classic. That album dropped in late 2011 and when we bumped into the High Focus Records gang at Outlook Festival 2013 we asked Fliptrix when fans should expect a follow-up release; you can watch his answer here. It’s now 2015 and we’ve finally got our hands on an album for which expectation were very high; ultimately this review will establish if this project lived up to those expectations. If you want to skip the analysis it’s frankly incredible. We’re not sure what sort of steroid-infused laboratory mice they’ve feasting on at the owl sanctuary but it has given The Four Owls super-human rhyming abilities. Natural Order has variety in terms of instrumentals as well as subject matter and rhyming styles to keep you head nodding until you get whiplash, demonstrating that these boys are on top form and that the wait was well worth it.
High Focus Records has developed a knack for releasing a constant stream of high quality projects from its roster of talent with the latest coming from Onoe Caponoe and Jam Baxter. The label founded by Fliptrix has yet to drop a below par album in our very humble opinion. Natural Order is a sixteen-track project that has been in the pipeline for a while and is produced Leaf Dog with the exception of Think Twice, which is produced by DJ Premier. Leaf Dog’s beat-making abilities have always been great but recently he seems to have stepped it up a gear and is now producing for artists/groups across the pond such as Army Of The Pharoahs and Kool G Rap. We are huge Preemo fans and even from that biased perspective Leaf Dog’s production more than holds its own alongside the work of a living legend. The instrumentals on this album is one of the highlights of the whole project as it is of such high quality; evident for all to see when we got to see and hear the first single Silent Flight. Piano keys, brass instruments, lovely harmonising and four very-talented emcees is bound to be a recipe for success – you can judge for yourself above. Choosing it as their first single appears to be a very thought-out decision as it perfectly represents what you get with the rest of the songs: unadulterated high quality rap music. The four emcees are noticeably different in their rhyming styles which is one of the reasons that makes The Four Owls so interesting. All four bring together what we enjoy about their solo work into a cohesive package, they done it with Nature’s Greatest Mystery and they’ve done it once again with Natural Order.
The second track we were granted before the official released was that much more sombre Old Earth, a demonstration of their versatility. Old Earth even has the usually vocally forceful BVA on a much more mellow tip talking about people he’s lost. Soon after, High Focus released the eagerly awaited single produced by none other than DJ Premier. Think Twice is pretty much what one would expect from a Preemo production: chopped up vocal on the hook and perfectly placed drums on the loop. The Owls clearly aren’t intimidated by it however as all four deliver powerful verses with Fliptrix frankly blowing us away with his sixteen bars. With the ability of producers in the UK, The Four Owls have no need to look overseas for instrumentals but we like their power moves and also the fact that it brings their music to a whole new audience, hopefully an audience they can conquer. The Four Owls and infact the whole High Focus Records roster of artists have been touring heavily across the globe for the last few years and their quintessentially British rhyming style must be a selling point. Saying that, we’re pretty sure only Brits are going to get the “always lean going around corners like Robin Reliants” reference on Defiant. The track features a few comical bars layered over trumpets, horns and a subtle bassline. Feels Great as the title suggests does feel great, summertime listening at its finest.
Control is our favourite track on the album. It doesn’t immediately jump out as being different but it does however tick all the boxes of being a great rap song. The tempo is very much middle of the road but The Owls get introspective about how they sometimes lose their grip on reality and articulate these thoughts beautifully. The Leaf Dog beat has a string sample going throughout as well as harmonising vocals incorporated into the loop that compliment the subject matter perfectly in tone and execution.
Another notable mention on the album go to The Four Elements on which Fliptrix, BVA, Verb T and Leaf Dog take on the roles of wind, fire, water and the earth (the cut up samples on this track are crazy). Assassination is bound to be a moshpit starter at a festival near you soon but what do you expect with Dirty Dike on the track? Fliptrix’s flow on this requires listening to several times before you even comprehend the skill levels.
All factors considered Natural Order ticks all the boxes you would consider in judging a great rap album; it has the production, the flows and a variety in subject matter. Either The Four Owls are able to record a mind blowing album in one go or they recorded a lot of material and what we are left with is the creme de la creme of the recordings. Every track has a purpose and the verses in each song are cohesive, by that we mean each MC is not going off on a tangent from each other’s words but clearly a lot of thought has gone into giving each track a brief that they’ve stuck to. We’re definitely going to be giving this repeat listens until they drop their next collaborative project.
Natural Order is out now via all good digital platforms as well as the High Focus shop on CD and limited edition vinyl via the below link. Keep an eye on the High Focus Facebook page for live show details.