The Raider Klan are, if nothing else, extremely insular. Spaceghostpurrp may have released a polished debut on 4AD, but it was still sombre and subdued. Yung Simmie’s music is steadily improving but remains low-key and terse, while the elusive Grandmilly’s Bandanas and Black Magic was very compelling in part because it was so sticky and murky.
Up until now, fellow auxiliary member Key Nyata operated in the same bracket; his breakout lo-fi tape Two Phonkey was sporadically fascinating but sloppy and stubbornly difficult. With The Shadowed Diamond, though, Key Nyata has released a tape with a much clearer sense of ambition, and in the process produced perhaps the most outward looking project yet to come out of the mysterious Raider Klan, whose ring leader has already retreated back into his familiar insularity.
It still isn’t a remotely sunny record. Key Nyata remains a reactive, bullish lyrical presence, flitting between a resigned and misanthropic stoner and a threatening aggressor. He brags about how much weed he smokes with an over-it aura and implicit judgement of those who wouldn’t be able to keep up, knowingly tells you about the head he got off your girl, and affects a blank, deadpan tone when he informs you that trying anything could end up losing you some teeth. It’s all pretty blunt, there aren’t many high-minded metaphors to pick through, but it suits the overall downbeat mood pretty perfectly.
Though it generally stays dark, musically The Shadowed Diamond is immeasurably brighter than anything that preceded it. Key Nyata continues where he left off by producing all of the traks himself, but compared to what came before, there is a noticeable sheen all over each song. Tracks aren’t stopped and slowed down or reversed seemingly at random anymore, and there’s clarity and texture in the mix, rather than it being covered up by a bomb-shelter of low fidelity.
This means that his obvious production talent is no longer covered up or shrouded in murk. The opening title track is constructed from shuddering brass and bass with twinkling keys that are all equally discernible from one another, and the sonic leap is so apparent as to almost be jarring, while the penultimate Chris Travis and Ethelwulf team-up “Blvck Buddah” is a ramped up cloud rap tweak fitted with booming 808s. “Phone in the Backseat”, meanwhile, is the closest that anyone in the Raider Klan has come to a straight party track, and “Far” flips the light, winding bassline previously utilized by Mellowhype on “Right Here”, (as well as boasting a guest verse from Vince Staples that continues his current winning streak).
The Shadowed Diamond is at its best, though, when the newfound polish is used to more effectively channel the menace at the core of Key Nyata’s sound. “My Way (Sidewayz)”, featuring Nacho Picasso and Avatar Darko, is a huge, plodding monster of a beat that booms where before it would have more likely been a sinister, subdued head-nodder.
Things come to a head on single “Tha Garden”, a stoner anthem which deserves to be counted amongst alternative hip-hop’s best releases of the year. It’s utterly unique; dark, awkward and strange, both musically and lyrically, but also catchy and unimpeachably memorable.
This is where we really get to see Key Nyata for the precocious young talent that he is. The Shadowed Diamond is an extremely well-crafted hip-hop album, youthful yet fascinatingly resigned. And now that Nyata has dusted off his sound, the sonic risks he seems more than happy to take are working out even better, to the point that he can now sit comfortably sit at the Klan’s top table; at the moment, he’s making the best Raider music out.