- Konflik, Head of a Snake, Thumbs of a Thief
(AfterLyfe Music, CD, digital)
Last year, after decades of performing, recording and touring, Burlington rapper Konflik dropped his debut LP, Back to Basics. A short but flawless set, it turned heads across New England and won Best Album at the first annual Vermont Hip Hop Awards. Despite that success, the rapper sounds hungrier than ever on his latest project, Head of a Snake, Thumbs of a Thief.
The formula hasn't changed: Konflik delivers a full-course meal with a few flagrant displays of sheer skill along the way. Introspective and aggressive, he's an artist with real range, taking maximum advantage of a genre he's mastered. The horizon of beats and rhymes is infinite, after all. While Konflik always pays tribute to the culture, he never falls back on clichés.
Album opener "Walk With Me" is a brilliant concept track, offering up a testimony of his life — but without any first-person narration. Instead, the song is a collage of visuals, phrases and memories, all delivered with some wild, off-center rhyme schemes. He truly puts the listener inside his head, and the audacity of his approach hits hard.
It's a smooth segue to the crushing boom bap of "Give It 2'em," a layered reminiscence of his early street life along the Charles River in Boston. Once again, his gift for cinematic storytelling is enough to give you secondhand synesthesia.
Konflik flips his approach on "Stomp," a jazzy banger (courtesy of underrated New Hampshire producer OldGold) with a club-friendly chorus. The verses, however, are densely packed tongue twisters full of double entendre gems.
Where Back to Basics was almost entirely a solo project, Konflik invited an impressive array of guest artists to contribute to Head of a Snake, Thumbs of a Thief, including East Coast underground legends such as New Jersey's own El Da Sensei and Boston MC Termanology. Not to be outshined, Harlem rapper Brando Forbes returns for two blistering feature verses on "Under Pressure" and "Pop Pop," channeling pure '90s lyrical fitness each time.
Son of Tony, a rising star from Buffalo, N.Y., brings a raspy, grimy approach that makes for a heady counterpoint on "No Peace," which also has one of the best hooks on the entire album. For my money, the combination is electric enough to warrant an entire album from these two.
Finally, "Higher" begins with Burlington expat SINNN dropping an absolute sermon over a soulful beat from another onetime local, Nastee. In fact, Nastee handled most of the album's production. That's only right, since he and Konflik are both brothers and lifelong hip-hop collaborators.
Once again, the duo has cooked up an urgent, polished album that's on par with anything the music industry had to offer the genre this year. So, even in a local scene packed with more talented contenders than ever, don't be surprised if Konflik takes Best Album again in January.
Head of a Snake, Thumbs of a Thief is available now at konflik1.bandcamp.com and debuts on all major streaming platforms on November 25.
Disclosure: The author compiles the Vermont Hip Hop Awards on his website, Vermont Hip Hop.