One of my least favorite potential criticisms towards music is how it can "fail" to innovate or break from the norm.
While there certainly have been extremely influential, game-changing albums throughout history, that isn't to say that their more traditional contemporaries weren't of equal quality at some points.
And that's where Des Moines-based hip-hop artist MarKaus' "Riot Gear" EP comes into play. Passing on this one because of it's lack of significant departure would mean passing on a seriously solid and satisfying collection of tracks.
When I sat down to check out "Riot Gear" for the first time, I had to call over one of our news editors, the office's known hip-hop fan, to hear MarKaus' raw sound. Upon first listen you may not think anything of the EP's offerings, but there are multiple small touches that go a long way.
The organic percussion used throughout the EP's four tracks lends to a subtle aggression, which is further accented by MarKaus' punchy, almost old-school delivery, best seen on "Bounce Rap (Don't Play With Us)," a highlight.
MarKaus moves quickly on "Riot Gear," moving from the harder-hitting first half into the more reflective, mid-tempo second. The droning, socially-conscience "Summoning" serves as an effective closer, with some of the only significant vocal effects providing some welcome variation.
The assertive, fuzzed out sections of "Sex, Weapons & Deception" compliment and feed well into "Memories," the EP's softest moment, with touches of 90s hip-hop.
An easily overlooked aspect of "Riot Gear" is just how seamless the transitions between it's four tracks is. At a compact 11 minutes, "Riot Gear" wastes no time, offering a variety of sounds and textures over it's limited runtime.
While many of "Riot Gear's" songwriting and production choices are engaging and sometimes charming, it doesn't keep certain moments from feeling a little played-out. A repeated hook on "Sex, Weapons & Destruction" can become slightly grating on repeated listens and the live protest sampled at the end of "Summoning" feels more like a track from 2015, rather than one from 2018.
That being said, I have been complimenting "Riot Gear's" ability to use some older hip-hop influences to give itself it's own identity, so I digress.
These are just knitpicks, as MarKaus' "Riot Gear" really is a solid piece of hip-hop with very subtle touches of artists from other eras to create something that stands out from some other generic offerings so often found in rap today.
I strongly recommend this for fans of the genre.
"Riot Gear" is available to stream on all major streaming platforms, as well as to purchase via Media Fresh Records.