Hyro The Hero’s debut Birth, School, Work, Death was released in 2011, but revisiting it now, it still holds up remarkably well. As a fusion of hip-hop, punk and post-hardcore, it remains an incisive, potent body of work that not a lot in the alternate world has matched up to since, the natural progression for an artist who began his career by freestyling over Deftones and At The Drive In tracks, and a with a great deal more talent and longevity than many would expect from someone who broke out after guesting on a track from The Blackout. And even if he’s evidently not the most prolific artist in the world, a lot has happened in the last seven years to fuel the biting social commentary that has so often coloured Hyro’s music, as well as the distaste for the rapper archetype that’s previously done so well to set him apart.
But among all that, in comparing Flagged Channel to Birth, School, Work, Death, there’s definitely a dip here. On that debut, the genre fusion felt so concise and equalised, playing to the best of modern rock and post-hardcore instrumentation and pairing them with the best of conscious rap flows that made for such a lithe, pliable listen. Here though, Hyro sticks to heavy, blunt rap-rock to hammer in the size of his point, only ever straying from that for brief periods of more traditional beat-work. The difference is stark, particularly when Flagged Channel on the whole has a good deal more bloat with the likes of the cavernous, thundering drums on Never Back Down that feel so locked in place, with none of the fluidity that Hyro previously excelled at riding. There’s definitely a hint of Body Count in the execution, particularly in how heavy it can be in times (which is definitely a nice surprise, all things considered), but it feels a bit more basic and straight-laced than it rightfully should, lacking some of the spice that could make it really fly.
That being said, Flagged Channel is far from being a bad album, and by the generous standards of rap-rock, Hyro can run circles around competition that succumbs to sounding dated or two cartoonish (or usually both). For one, you’re not likely to find many more intense vocal performances this year, as Hyro shoots out his volleys of bile directed at a corrupt establishment that continues to see African-Americans as second-class citizens. And while there’s not an abundance of wordplay or multi-syllabic rhymes that’s become the norm in conscious hip-hop (though a track like Do Or Die shows an artist that can still thrive when it comes to technical rapping abilities), the violence and blood-boiling acrimony of the delivery more than makes up for it, with the calls for action on Bullet and Locked Loaded Ready providing the initial hit, before weeding out the problem at its source of the highest office in the land on Let The Snake Show.
And as stated earlier, while the instrumentation feels a bit too blocky to work alongside convential hip-hop, viewing Flagged Channel as a rock album first and foremost gives a much better result. It’s a frequently explosive listen, both in the sharp production that gives a street-level, almost industrial grind to the guitars, and with how imposing and rage-filled the whole thing is; there’s not a single phoned-in moment on this entire album and you can really feel it. The fairly slow pace might be a bit of a turn-off for some, but it’s delivered with the necessary blunt force to avoid lingering or feeling overworked.
It’s a credit to Hyro as an artist that, even on a distinctly weaker follow-up, Flagged Channel still feels like an album with weight and firebrand emotion that avoids being a disappointment. Sure, it would’ve been nice for an album on the same level or higher as Birth, School, Work, Death, but this has clearly been honed and slaved over in his seven years in the wilderness, and for everything that it achieves, that’s hard to argue with. It’s the galvanising push that rap-rock needs right now, and Hyro delivers it exactly how it should be.
For fans of: Body Count, Rage Against The Machine, King 810
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Flagged Channel’ by Hyro The Hero is released on 29th June on Sony RED.