With names like GT Lovecraft, Èph, and Doctor Outer, the members of the global collective Clouds in a Headlock might raise eyebrows with their imaginative monikers, but they truly blast off into a groovy, psychedelic-yet-chill journey once their hip-hop hits the airwaves. From Hokkaido, Japan, to Olso, Norway, to “current residence unknown,” these dudes embrace the mystery and let their tunes do the talking. Their newest release, ASMATTIC Vol. 2 – an ethereal soundscape crafted by Dirty Art Club and Madwreck – allows the three MCs to spit snappy wordplay, craft nasty narratives, and expand minds with reckless abandon.

The new mixtape follows the earlier ASMATTIC Vol. 1 via Chinese Man Records, and continues Clouds’ recent tradition of explorative, enlightened boom-bap rap. As with all things so expertly crafted, it doesn’t just pop out of the ether; it’s an extension of the powerful art that many dedicated men and women have created before it. As a toast to those dedicated artists, Clouds in a Headlock join us for this Stereo Six to rundown the albums that allowed ASMATTIC Vol. 1 & Vol 2. to exist. Outer takes the format, Èph takes the lyrical approach, and Lovecraft takes the art direction. Explore the list and learn from these truly gifted MCs.

1. Madlib – Mind Fusion Vol 1-4 (2004-2007, Mind Fusion Records)

“The connection of non-stop spontaneous rhythms full of skits that suddenly come from nowhere, touching on topics that range from an infinite source of sample-based collections of various information including movie dialogue, old documentation of speeches, comedy, battle rap (a personal influence), past ‘70s records of jazz, and experimental sounds. Inspired by how Madlib never kept a dull moment for restless minds to be entertained by the technical placing of unexpected entry in interesting fields of sound motion. Child-mind fun.” (Doctor Outer)

2. Edan – Beauty and the Beat (2005, Lewis Recordings)

“An album birthed in an echo chamber. I was always impressed with how Edan utilised echos and delays on his voice and music, giving a timeless, spacey, interstellar feel of being sucked into and trapped in a black hole. An added touch of airy, razor-sharp phone effects to the backing vocals with pointed delays and echos placed on targeted words and sections of the beats and added samples. Edan’s Beauty and the Beat album also played a huge part in the beat section, as we were blessed by Madwreck and Dirty Art Club to use their beats that harness the masterful technique of sampling late ’60s fusion and psychedelic rock albums. Beauty and the Beat stands out as one of the rare combination of these sources applied to make a masterpiece hip hop album with styles hardly used again by other hip hop artists. This album plays a huge factor in how I construct music I’m involved in. Keep it off the planet, out beyond our normal dimension of music making. Limitless range of creation.” (Doctor Outer)

Artwork for the album’s Clouds in a Headlock list in this Stereo Six

3. Souls of Mischief – 93 ‘til Infinity (1993, Jive)

“A mid-‘90s classic as diverse as they come. Focusing solely on the lyrical contribution to this timeless masterpiece, what stands out is the carefree, happy-go-lucky approach of all four rhyming members. You can feel the youthfulness and fun that these guys had when writing, recording, and mixing the vocals together in the same room – a luxury we don’t always have nowadays. Their out-of-bar rhyming and unorthodox rhythmic styles complement each other and the beats extremely well. We’ve been listening to this album most of our life, and it’s still on heavy rotation now – twenty-seven years later. This obviously filters into how we approach writing, what rhythms to apply, and how to carry a hypnotic flow and rhyme pattern endlessly. We also challenge each other by finishing bars in unorthodox moments and seeing what the next MC will do with the baton. Dream Team.” (Èph)

4. MF DOOM – Mm.. Food (2004, Rhymesayers Entertainment)

“Probably the most prolific rapper alive. To be honest, any of his albums deserve to be mentioned, but this one feels the most Clouds. Besides the choppy style and interlude overdose, his way with words is to be admired over and over again. To be able to stick to one topic and carry that vision effortlessly throughout an entire album is genius and informs our dedication to concepts when creating anything. We pride ourselves in being super nerdy with our choice of words and rhymes, and who else but the VILLAIN completely owns and destroys that notion? The kind of record where you need to literally wheel up every track to fully understand every joke or reference being made by the speaker – a rhyme nerd’s wonderland of depth and appreciation. DOOM’s verses keep on giving no matter how often you’ve heard them, which is what every MC should strive for. Oh, and f**k choruses.” (Èph)

5. Captain Murphy – Duality (2012, Brainfeeder)

“A genius mixtape produced, written, and directed by Flying Lotus. When this dropped in 2012 there was widespread mystery and rife speculation around who this new artist, Captain Murphy, was. Sonically, texturally, and in terms of the cut-and-paste psychedelic visual aesthetic using retro sci-fi, vintage animation, and arthouse stock footage definitely inspired the art direction of the ASMATTIC mixtapes. In a day and age when social media and consumption patterns have evolved to where it’s almost more about an artist’s personality than the art they produce, with people talking at their phones and cultivating an image online, we wanted to go in the opposite direction – no faces, no gimmicks, strictly music and psyched-out visual accompaniment that takes you on a journey into our world.” (GT Lovecraft)

6. Dorothy Ashby – The Rubiyat of Dorothy Ashby (1970, Cadet Records)

“This is an incredible, genre-bending record. It fuses elements of spiritual jazz, psychedelia, funk, and eastern sonic textures into one mesmerising but always-coherent tapestry. There are off-kilter vocal skits, unexpected switch-ups and transitions, beautiful melodies on harp, droning sitars, and everything is anchored by deeply satisfying, primal rhythm-section grooves. Though its from a different era, live instrumentation and no raps, I feel a deep connection to this album and recognize the free-form, no-boundaries approach to creation that we strived for in the ASMATTIC tapes with Clouds in a Headlock. Sure-shot, classic, holy-grail record.” (GT Lovecraft)

Artwork for ‘ASMATTIC Vol. 1′ by Clouds in a Headlock