Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Institutions behind the addiction #1: Deal Real Records

Deal Real Flyer
The story goes like this... After getting turned onto hip hop by a mate at secondary school you go to HMV and buy a couple of cheap tapes at random from the tiny hip hop section. After a little more research you start listening to Westwood and buying HHC in a quest for information about this music that has inspired a deep sense of curiosity. You start learning about these legendary artists but you can't find their records in your local Virgin. Inspired by the adverts in HHC, once a month you bunk off school/college and jump on a train to London and ride the tube to Oxford Circus. With a walkman and a minimum wage paycheck in your pocket you head into Soho for your Hip Hop pilgrimage - the Deal Real-Mr Bongo run!

Deal Real Records one and only venture onto
vinyl - Mystro's "Kiss that Arse Goodnight"12
Back then stepping through the front door of Deal Real instantly gave you a feeling of being part of something special. The records and mixtapes you read about in Independents Day or Homestyle simply couldn't be bought in your home town but now you had access to all this music that you had been hearing about for months. The prospect of arriving back at college with the latest Disorda mixtape turning in your sony whilst the rest of your crew looked on with envy was too much to resist so the paycheck would disapear without a second thought for your Mum's fast approaching birthday. If you were lucky you would also return with a story about how you had bumped into Skinnyman or some other freestyling UK hip hop luminary whilst you were there to further amp up the feeling of privilage and belonging.

A depressing end - deal real is closed down
That was the thing about Deal Real in the late 90s! It wasn't just a record shop that carried product from the scene... it was the scene! Like all legendary record shops in hip hop history Deal Real served as a meeting point for the artists. It was one of the reasons that heads from all over the UK gravitated to London because for an all too brief time the shop was the centre of the UK hip hop community. If you were a US act passing through London on tour, you went to Deal Real in your time off. If you were a UK-based producer or a rapper - if you hung out at Deal Real long enough and struck up a relationship with Pete Real, MK or any of the other heads that worked behind the counter - you would soon find yourself networking with like-minded artists and opportunites would arise.  Just the list of those who worked in the shop is impressive - Estelle, Sarah Love, Tony Vegas, MK etc etc. Regular open mic contests also encouraged the discovery of talent with regional acts from all over the country given the opportunity to step up and kick some rhymes standing shoulder to shoulder with Chester P or Mystro or some other dude with a vinyl record to their name.

MK behind the counter at the Noel St Deal Real
The shop originally started out in D'Arblay Steet below the Dark N Cold clothes shop and then moved to Noel Street. Whilst the heyday for UK hip hop boffs like myself was undoubtedly in the period around 1997-99. A change of ownership in 1999 saw it take a less UK centric attitude to hip hop and embrace a more all encompassing attitude to urban music as a whole. From the perspective of the new owners this was probably a good business move as it allowed the shop to attract a wide range of international talent to do instore performances and maximised sales throughout a period in history in the early 00s where all forms of hip hop took over the charts. However, it also meant that you were less likely to be able to find the mixtapes and 12s you wanted, thus elevating the status of Mr Bongo and MKs postal service mixtape business for truly underground heads. In addition, the first few years of the new millenium brought with it a brief period of commercial acceptance for UK hip hop that saw artists like Mark B and Blade achieve top 40 chart success for the first time; and saw product previously only found in London become more readily available in regional independent record shops as well as the likes of HMV and Virgin.

Deal Real in its post 1999 Incarnation on Carnarby St
Despite maintaining through much of the 00s - and even briefly popping up with a sister store in a tiny basement underneath a shop called Jello in Brighton's Gardiner Street around 1999 - nowadays, like nearly all the good independent record shops, Deal Real is well and truly shut down leaving the likes of Suspect Packages and Rarekind Records to fill the void and carry the torch for the underground Brit rap collector - both of whom will be covered in "The Institutions" at a later date.

Below is an incredible video that I feel sums up the magic of this London based hip hop Mecca at a very special time. Just listen to Skinnyman ask "where's this from?" as the dude behind the counter drops the freshly imported Dead Prez "Hip Hop" intrumental for some Millenium bounce freestlye action from 1999. Take a look at the records on the wall where Chester P is chilling in the background. Wall to wall UK hip hop vinyl including three spanking original New Mic Order LPs stare back at you! Now that's what you want to see when you enter a record shop! Ahh, the good old days... where did you go?!!!

Enjoy, Postie

Skinnyman rapping over "Hip Hop" in the original Noel Street 
Deal Real Records back in 1999 (courtesy of DarkNCold)

For more archive footage like this including more Skinnyman
go to the DarkNCold Youtube Channel and show some love


  1. Great post!

    Have very fond memories of Deal Real dating back to the days when they were based below Dark N Cold in D'Arbley St. (where I was lucky enough to witness Lewis Parker first being introduced to Roots Manuva!).

    The shop in Brighton was run by UK graf legend Petro which was around the time just before Pete sold up the shop in Noel St.

  2. Great article. I'm also of an age where trips to London (before moving there) to get my Hip Hop fix, running round Soho record shops was a regular.

    Deal Real, Mr Bongo (where I ended up working for a while), Major Flavors, Wild Pitch, Selectadisk, Reckless, the Exchanges, Soul Jazz, Scenerio, Release The Groove. I miss those days.

    Great article.