“Please, you ain’t fucking with no amateurs, homie.”
The first tune I heard from Cheat Codes blew my mind. I remember the moment vividly; a summer morning walking to work in London. The electrifying No Gold Teeth hit me like a jackhammer to the back of the skull, ensnaring me instantaneously. At that moment I knew that the album to follow would be memorable and, ultimately, I was proved correct. That’s why we are here.
Danger Mouse and Black Thought. Old friends whose formal collaboration was long overdue. If ever a pairing was perfectly suited it is the super-producer, bringing his outstanding ear for a tune, and the veteran Philly hip-hop legend, who provides incendiary rap, spitting out words that pierce like an épée de combat. In case you are in any doubt, Black Thought helpfully lets us know the score on the aforementioned No Gold Teeth when he proclaims, “please, you ain’t fucking with no amateurs, homie”.
Cheat Codes is energising and life-affirming, from the first note to the last. Every single song scorches out of the speakers; this duo blend like pernod and blackcurrant. However, it’s not just about our two primary protagonists. A host of collaborators turn up to make significant contributions when required.
Neatly, the album opens with the quasi-misdirection of Sometimes. It sweeps in, all strings and sweet soul and Gwen McCrae’s sampled voice. The theme is a gaze at Black history. Then it takes off. Check out the abrasive, pulsating Strangers, featuring A$AP Rocky and Run The Jewels. It’s relentless in its approach, as our rappers pass the baton from verse to verse smoother than the Jamaican woman’s 100 metre relay squad. There’s even room for humour in those lyrics. Yet it’s not all frenetic. Michael Kiwanuka brings his soulful sensibility to Aquamarine, whilst the retro-sounding Because (featuring Joey Bada$$, Russ and Dylan Cartlidge) has something quite fragile about it.
That said, even accounting for those more subtle moments, Cheat Codes is mostly unrelenting and unflagging. Throughout its thirty-eight minutes, it never lets up. Those collaborators have been perfectly chosen to fit with the style of cadence of each tune. Unsurprisingly, it is expertly produced and the raps are in the hands of the doyen. It is an elite album. It is as good as hip-hop gets.