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From So Solid & Dizzee Rascal to UK Rap...

Three things this week showed me the decline in our (influenced but) individual London culture.

We know music is a good indication of what's going on in certain regions. Not always 100% correct, but an alright indicator.

First thing: So Solid concert

In the run-up to the concert, Twitter was awash with people reminiscing on those days, 12 years ago when the southwest London collective were the hottest property on underground and crossed over to the nation through #1 single "21 Seconds" and platinum-selling album, They Don't Know. The 35+ member crew won MOBO and a Brit Award for best video, performing at both. They weren't only trendsetters for music, the movement spearheaded fashion on the ends. We all wanted Avirex jackets and Audi TT's.

During the reminiscing sessions, we discuss clothing: Nike TNs to Reebok Workouts on our feet, clima fit hats, cloud Moschino jeans, Iceberg History shirts, Patrick Cox loafers... those were a few things we wore 12 years ago. It dawned on me that my American followers would have no idea about these things. None of those items were in American videos. They were still wearing baggy clothes then from what I remember.

Let's go to 21 Seconds (below)



American videos had the similar high quality gloss and budget, they didn't dress or sound like that though. Take the first few MC's, Megaman channels American hip hop blatantly even saying the n-word (wasn't frequent then at all), Asher D fuses a style closer to a Jamaican deejay in the way he has melody and rides the beat (Americans don't rap to the beat), Mac is straight up UK Garage rave MC. Kaish on the chorus is singjay (bit rap, bit sing style) while Lisa Maffia is r&b.

The beat consists of a hip hop/breakbeat style drum pattern with a reggae style bass line and pop melody at about 140bpm making it UKG/grime. Influences reflecting genres which were on pirate radio stations, black owned legal commercial station Choice FM and our clubs. All these different elements come together to make a uniquely British, or more to the point, London experience. Despite drawing American and Jamaican influences, fans of the original genres wouldn't and couldn't claim it and in most cases will hate it.

The album pretty much follows the template of dancehall, hip hop and r&b  influences at UKG tempos on bangers Deeper, They Don't Know, Skyla etc.

Second thing: 10 years since Dizzee Rascal's seminal grime album, Boy In Da Corner.

Anyone who's someone rates this album.  Fact mag revisited the Mercury music prize winning debut album to mark its 10th year since release. Yes, it came out a decade ago. Where did time go? Once again, many people identify its hip hop influences, but once again, it most definitely is a London experience. His timing is impeccable, most American rappers don't have that. That's a London thing which can be traced through UK Garage, Jungle and UK dancehall sounds like Saxon Sound who pioneered the fast chat style back in the '80s. Rhyme schemes are definitely hip hop influenced.

Instrumentals couldn't have been made anywhere apart from London (except Fix Up, Look Sharp, but his delivery is London). And the slang is London. Words like "Wokked" (sex), "Jezzy" (promiscuous (woman the bird in the bible Jezebel)), "Shines" (oral sex), "Live o" (good time), "Batteried" (girl having many sexual partners in a short space of time), "Get me" etc. are all London, UK-based Jamaican or Jamaican words.



The albums cover shows Dizzee wearing the popular combination of Air Max 90s and Nike cotton tracksuit. Yes, an American brand, but not American or hip-hop-influenced fashion. Dressing up to go raving or link gyal was a Evisu Jeans and Prada sports shoes. However, US endorsed things began creeping in. Timbalands, Air Forces, Akademiks/Ecko tracksuits, New Era fitted hats etc.

There were two points which stood out in the article; they compared the glitzy, American influence of So Solid becoming irrelevant as they went for a more UK rap style with the rise of more gritty London beats and inner city tales coming from grime. The second point was this album proved a turning point when the usually live (event or radio) and sometimes instrumental-driven experience became about album's and plethora or mix tapes.

"Boy In Da Corner was the greatest and worst thing that could happen to grime...  And yet paradoxically, it was also a problem in that it did present grime as a rapper-led, album genre because in the wake of Boy In Da Corner the world, and even grime itself, forgot that the style was deranged, subversive, mental, experimental electronic rave music as much as it was British rap," wrote Joe Muggs. And while it was experimental rave music, they chat on sound systems which

Then I saw G Frsh ft. Sincere & Fekky - "18k" music video.

Ten years later and we're in a space were UK making hip hop in its purest form is the sound of the black kids in London. Jungle, UKG, grime and reggae club nights are full of British and European kids. Once upon a time, all would've been full of African and Caribbean's. Now the perception is they all love hip hop.



Now, remember I mentioned the previous artists songs drew various influences, but were still presenting a uniquely London experience? Can the same be said for the above? They don't have to rep London, "make music the world will appreciate" as they seem to be doing, but I'm just asking a question. No disrespect to this tune, I can draw a number of examples of UK rap, chose this because I saw it this week.

In fact, watch this documentary on UK rap. This post actually started about it:



To put it in context, UK rap has been around since the '80s and every generation prior to this considered it a joke.

I don't knock anyone for going out there to live their dreams, push their talent and most importantly doing something productive. It's not easy. However, I think the general music industry is to blame for London being in this phase of championing imitation and feeling proud of being inferior to a nation that they have no connection to. It seems the whole premise of UK rap, the sounds of the streets, is to be accepted by America. I don't mind people doing UK rap, but come on. And when I say UK rap, I don't mean to insult the good stuff. I mean the knock off American stuff.

Disclaimer: Skinnyman and Klashnekoff released classic material. Council Estate of Mind is one of my all-time favourite albums. Few current man make some good non-rip-off Yank music.

What's changed?

Well my theory is, while mixed genre clubs black people with African and Caribbean background frequent play hip hop alongside house, bashment and afrobeats (in many cases, the latter three prove more popular sets on dance floors), mainstream media doesn't cover any of them. Black became "urban", Choice FM is now owned by the biggest corporation, Global, therefore run top 40 playlist format radio. Most pirate stations have been shut down by authorities and in many cases, like mainstream radio, the internet has replaced them.

UK urban blogs treat everything that isn't American or American imitation as sideline genres despite their popularity (grime, bashment & afrobeats don't receive coverage). Most people gravitate to the culture they have access to. Due to the lack of us controlling our culture and our outlets, even though people that may look like "we" control certain blogs, the culture has been manipulated so much that many forget the actual history in favour of the story we've been told. Everything comes from hip hop. Reggae and grime artists performances were shut down between 2004/5 to about 2008/9 thus closing down the other, truer history we learnt from.

As a result, many artists trying to make a career literally can't make other music as they don't believe there is a market. Radio/TV tend not to play or understand anything that isn't hip hop or r&b, hence why grime artists tend to make it when they get signed. This whole UK rap thing is a product of every other avenue being shut down. Grime's been around for over ten years, yet never had a Radio 1 show. UK rap has been popular for about three years and has a Radio 1 show. That's the levels.

Thing is, look at Tinie Tempah "Pass Out" and Wretch 32 "Traktor". Two credible songs from our scene to chart in recent years. They both obey the order of bit of hip hop, dancehall manipulated in a UK way mixed in a bowl made for the clubs. Wiley mixed soca, dancehall and dance in a UK fashion to produce chart-topper "Heatwave".

On a plus note, Tulisa realises this. In an interview with the Daily Star (quoted by MTV The Wrap Up), when talking about her failed album and plans for next she says:

"My first single 'Young' got to number one, and that's because it was a very UK-sounding track – and I realise now that's what the fans want."

She continued: "I've been offered the opportunity to go back to the US and work with massive producers, but I said no as I want to be more urban. I've been saying to ground-level UK writers: 'Send me beats'."

I remember tweeting that last year. Should I put my trumpet away? Anyway, hopefully others realise it's key to have a UK identity. We appreciate US music when it's from the US. UK artists usually fail when they go for a more American sound. Look at Craig David, Chipmunk, So Solid, Shola Ama...? All very good UK artists that went for a more American sounding follow-up that failed to match it's predecessor. In Shola Ama's, a UK garage remix of a song she made with Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins keeps her relevant. Amidst Chip(munk)'s American feature heavy sophomore Transition, the song that keeps him relevant is bashment song "Every Gal" featuring dancehall star Mavado.

Should there be a So Solid type impact now, 12 years on people will reminisce about Jordan's, Chino's, snapback's and UK imitating US hip hop. Definitely something to be proud of [insert sarcastic face].

As Skepta says "I've been keeping my ear to the streets/ The UK run out of ideas, everybody doing covers of American beats/ If it ain't the Ace Hood "Hustle Hard" flow it all sounds like Rick Ross to me"



Anyway, ending on a positive note, this was the highlight of the So Solid concert. Reminds me of a time when we were from London, did things that reflected all forms of culture we were exposed to, but spun in our own unique way. Pull ups, bussing gun finger and shouting "BOOOOO!!!" as a sound of appreciation.



(Plug real quick: Check my interview with Megaman here and here. We talk bringing the streets to UK Garage, money made, making their own lane and more)

(Actually, reggae song to end this

Mighty Diamonds - "We're did we lose our identity? We're running around like a lonely sheep. Whose lost his master and has gone astray. We have lost it."


)

Comments

  1. wow.. great piece of work.

    The good old days of UKG when it was real and not trying to be American.

    My BF says that most songs that play on radio over here sound American, however when Wiley 'Heatwave' came on he said how BRITISH he sounded and the song was a great sound.

    He says Tinie again sounds very BRITISH and even the way he speaks is very 'Londoner' and mainly the way he drops the 'T' and use 'F' in some words.

    Which how us Londoner's speak Thing is FING etc

    I wish people would stick to the UK sound and keep our roots true, because when they try and sound American they don't and its just a mocking!
    But then again people are chasing ££££££ so I guess they forget everything.

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