A friend once said that bands with animals in their name are automatically awesome, giving Minus The Bear, The Mountain Goats and Modest Mouse as examples. This led to thinking about whether it is a universal rule for music and if hip hop acts slot into this ideology.
Perusing artist names from far and wide, a number of animals were thrown up, the vast majority of them stellar acts. So let's settle in and look at some of the finer exponents of the Hip Hop Zoo:
Ugly Duckling - The West Coast trio are one of the most feel good hip hop acts out there. The back and forth delivery of Dizzy Dustin and Andy Cooper, coupled with the head-nod beats and brass of Young Einstein's production (don't forget his gold rope!) are the perfect way to make the dark nights seem like summertime on the beach.
Giant Panda - Similarly, the Giant Panda trio are adept at making happy tunes, leaning towards the stylings of the last decade. Their nods to that era on '90s' and 'Diggin' In The Tapes' are the perfect examples of what lazy Sundays should be spent listening to.
Cecil Otter - A member of the Minneapolis crew Doomtree, Cecil has just signed for Sage Francis' Strange Famous Records and his poetic lyrics and flawless production have tickled the attention of a great number of people in the last couple of years. The track below is a perfect example of how he can lace a track with pretty melodies whilst still keeping those drums hitting hard. Look out the appearance of his fellow crew member Paper Tiger, taking their animal count up to two.
Pigeon John - Another feel good act, the former member of L.A. Symphony never swears and stays on just the right side of cheesy. His last album 'Pigeon John And The Summertime Pool Party' had some bonafide pop songs on there but that shouldn't be seen as a bad thing. Make sure you check out his Pigeon Dance, you have to support a rapper that does that on stage!
Birdy Nam Nam - Another group flying in the rap aviary are the incredibly talented French DJ collective formed of Crazy-B, DJ Pone, DJ Need, and Lil Mike who have cleaned up at various competitions over the years. However, they're not a group to get stuck showing off their technical talents, they have released two albums full of huge tunes, including the track below 'Abbesses' which showcases their song arranging abilities both individually and as a team.
Kill The Vultures - Coming from the ashes of criminally under-rated Oddjobs, Kill The Vultures are the polar opposite of the likes of Ugly Duckling and Pigeon John, offering up abstract and challenging backdrops to rapper Crescent Moon's lyrics. The group are definitely one for those that lean towards the avant-garde jazz infused hip hop and those who appreciate percussion that moves beyond the usual boom-bap. Well worth digging around for.
Cannibal Ox - Vast Aire and Vordul Mega seemed to be on the crest of a wave when they released their 'Cold Vein' album back in 2001 on Def Jux, standing alongside the likes of labelmates El-P, Aesop Rock and RJD2. Though they've since split and continued the "will-they-won't-they" debate over their reformation beyond the point of exhaustion, the fact remains they were brilliant at what they did.
Kid Koala - You wouldn't expect someone named after a cute little bear with tufty ears to be a bit handy on the turntables, but Kid Koala certainly is. His rendition of 'Moon River' is known across the world, even by those who aren't into hip hop and it's this far reaching talent which sets him apart from some of the pretenders to his throne. His latest album 'The Slew' is about to get him even more acknowledgment as he cuts up old school Blues numbers. He can't really do any wrong.
This list could go on for a lot longer, but we'll stick to honourable mentions for the rest, though they are equally deserving of praise. So, the Hip Hop Zoo salutes Slug and Ant [Atmosphere], Peanut Butter Wolf, The Molemen, Danger Mouse and the Dogg pound - Snoop, Nate and their lesser known sibling Reh. Oh, and the name of the friend who started all this off? Moose, of course!