Hip Hop Got To Stop 9: Relighting The Flame
Why did UK Hip Hop suck or else hit shit harder than overcooked linguine?This should not have been.The UK shares a language with America, and more.There was a big Black diaspora with a deep sense of groove, funk and a killer record collection to sample. What could have gone wrong?Other American genres, notably Blues and R and B had found a more than lively new evolution here long after the old country had sunk into pop puffery, kaftans and assorted fucking nonsense.Yet the results from Hip Hop as strictly defined were and always are limp and limited. Even the very best efforts via Ninja Tune including Roots Manuva and Ty lacked impact. Kode 9 and The Spaceape are more vital. But try to sell that to the fucking Source.Why?The native accent lilts and limps over beats when it has no confidence. Rap had been picked up as a novelty by the most odious of pop producers and vomited over even Top of The Plops not long after the first major label efforts hit the stores stateside, draining the genre of credibility. Cleverer forces like Coldcut adapted the best of rap or whatever into native ideas.Brits that tried to Rap in the American sense bent over backwards and into their own arses to make something that would work on US radio stations and Crapital. Impossible. Blasphemy. Weak and obscene.Especially because the sources for Hip Hop in the USA, soul and funk records, which were denied radio play from the late 70s on, and the impulse for something harder to dig than Disco, had shallow roots in the UK.The British Empire had helped to create and then bring back to the rainy grey home island something very different and more interesting. For all its flaws the British way was and is more open, and eclectic. Tom Jones met Elvis, who is criminally underrated today, in the early 60s and asked why the Welsh pants magnet was so hip to musical ideas and directions far beyond anything the King had been exposed to. Tom credited the BBC that turned him on to everything from classical to rockabilly, jazz, doo wop and more. This is a rich seam of magic. But one part is spicier than others.The right record box to look into was one from Jamaica.The native Barrington Levy not the gorgeous but American James Brown. Or else the total eclectic electric thing that is made possible by an island trading nation with finger and ears in far more pies. Soundtracks, prog rock, baroque Soul, disco, electro, Morricone and more and more. The sort of records that might percolate around a strange port city like Bristol.You can't deny the blood in the soil, on the buses, trains and manufacturing assembly lines manned by the ignored and unloved children of Windrush. The sound, the basic DNA, comes from Kingston, not Motown or even Augusta Georgia. With garnish from the rest.So the real fire of making something credible from memories, and the impulse to fight the stink of mainstream cheese, appeared in another very different guise.Some say most everyone that saw the first Ramones shows in the UK, and even more of the fashion flash in the toilet pan that were the Sex Pistols, formed a "band."The 1987 tour of Public Enemy planted deeper seeds. It awakened the right and might in the very blood, the bass and the drum.People tired of the cod hippie cuddle novelty of rave and happy hardcore realised that just like Chuck D who made Hip Hop cause he never dug disco, there was another direction. And then even more directions beyond, above and through.Drum and Bass.The basic ingredients of Reggae in all its forms from Ska to Dub and even the better examples of Digital and Dancehall.By 1991 these punks within and against Rave had taken the Hip Hop impulse and created a whole new direction - and one that works to this day.Drum and Bass is too hard to like unless you're ready, too fluid to grab and pin down into a radio friendly form. It is small and safe in a way no other UK created direction of music is or ever was. Check out the vital pirate scene to feel why.When I heard Timeless and the first LTJ Bukem Logical Progression comps I was as changed as a crap pumice stone shoved into lava. Remade in a new form, forever.There was a short time when the mainstream urine foam tried to bring it on board. As it has done with so many other Hip Hop oriented directions like garbage Garage and more sacred Grime. Chewed up, weakened and spat out. But pure Drum and Bass can't be bitch slapped like that - its too hard in itself.The Sister Genre had a harder ride. Trip Hop.Long before Rat had any love for me, I laid obsolete CD comps with such a foul label on us. They gave me a fair, low price.Why?Because it was too, easy, and stupid. If you are Massive Attack when they were really Massive and not just a sub GSCE Marxist cartoon drawn by as single member, 3D, with added help from fucking Sinead O'Connor - more a collection of symptoms than an artist, you can trip hop. If you are Tricky at his Tackheaded best, getting Massive on your own, fine. If you are Coldcut making a beat orgy rather than a Bennite Statement, or Nightmares on Wax full of Killer Bees - I dig. But otherwise, is it just part of the death march to coffee table bought out by Apple for some reason nowhere.UK Hip Hop failed because the genius of this ancient nation took, bent and blended the best of it into new forms. Only Drum and Bass really, REALLY survived and thrived. Quiet and pirate. And the last take on this will imbibe and feel where we really really are now.