Monday, 29 November 2010

Life MC Debut: "In Memory " (The Compressed Knowledge 12s)

Life - In Memory Original 1998 12"
I was in Oz, an 18 year old kid in love with hip hop, chilling and seeing new shit! My pride and joy - a slimline Sony Walkman not much bigger than a tape case and around 10 cassette mixtapes picked up from MK prior to departure. I had been away seven months by the time a good mate of mine came out to meet me in Sydney and by that time the tapes had been more than little bit rinsed. So it was a big occasion when my man popped open his rucksack to reveal 5 new mixtapes courtesy of the smoking night boys holding down the one-and-twos in the UK. One of these was the Wordlab Vol.1. compilation taped straight from CD but coming complete with a homemade cover and a message from my best mate to "check out track five".

Life MC - the "Life" part of "Phi-Life Cypher"
Sure enough "In Memory" blew me away. Sandwiched in between The En4cers - "Never Ending Beginning" and Ty and Nextmen's ill "Turn it Up a Little", the fact that this tune by some dude named "Life MC" was taking the honours is testament to its impact. The voice was familiar but at this point I hadn't quite made the connection between the rasta-raps honouring Stephen Lawrence and the verse I had heard a couple of years previously when Disorda's UK Hustlerz Vol 4 debuted Skitz' "Fingerprints of the Gods" through my headphones. 

Stephen Lawrence
The magic of "In Memory" came from the story it told. The sense of anger and injustice in Life's timeline of events relating to the infamous Stephen Lawrence murder case in many ways summed up the feelings of injustice felt by the majority of the nation towards an institutionally racist and corrupt police force and a gang of racist thugs who undoubtedly got away with murder.

To summarise a long and complex story for those unfamiliar with the case - 18-year-old sixth-form student Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death at a bus stop in Southeast London in April 1993. In the years following the murder the resulting metropolitan police investigation was lackadaisical at best and at worst corrupt. Despite no fewer than 39 tip-offs and a statement from a material witness, it took the interference of Nelson Mandela - putting the case on the international stage with a visit to Eltham to meet Stephen's family - before the police decided to make an arrest. Two of the five suspects named by witnesses were eventually charged but in July 1993 the Crown Prosecution Service decided to drop the charges against prime suspects Neil Acourt and Luke Knight due to insufficient evidence. 

Daily Mail 14th Feb 1997
Frustrated with the police ineptitude, the Lawrence Family brought a private prosecution against the two initial suspects as well as the three other suspects named by witnesses - David Norris, Jamie Acourt and Gary Dobson. By 1996 the prosecution had failed in its attempts for justice after the original two suspects had the charges dropped before the trial began and the remaining three were acquitted at trial after a judge ruled that evidence identifying them as the perpetrators - provided by Stephen Lawrence's friend Duwayne Brooks (present at the bus stop at the time of the killing) - was inadmissible. There was also a distinct lack of co-operation from the Police.

Such was the sense of injustice felt by the nation after the conclusion of the trial, the Daily Mail took the unprecedented step of branding the five suspects "Murderers" on the front page of their newspaper and challenged them to sue for libel if they were wrong. To further rub salt in the wounds, footage caught on police surveillance camera in David Norris' flat in 1994 was broadcast in a TV documentary which caught the suspects acting out their racist fantasies whilst "playing" with knives. Whilst brandishing a large knife Norris was heard saying: 'If I was going to kill myself do you know what I'd do? I'd go and kill every black, every Paki, every mug, every copper that I know. 'I'd go down to Catford and places like that with two submachine guns and I'm telling you I'd take one of them. Skin the black alive, mate. Torture him, set him alight. 'I'd blow their two legs and arms off and say "Go on, you can swim home now."

Stephen Lawrence Murder Suspects
If there were any doubts as to the character of those accused - the footage had cleared them up and the resulting public anger was palpable. The public outcry and media pressure led to a number of enquiries into the police handling of the case. Details began to emerge of alleged police corruption - more specifically the relationship between Clifford Norris (the father of prime suspect David Norris) and a lead detective on the case - Det. Sgt. John Davidson. It emerged that Clifford Norris - known to police for his connection to a South London firm implicated in a 1983 gold-bullion robbery, and with a rap-sheet the length of an epic novel - was a family friend of Davidson and had connections going back many years. Neil Putnam - a former 'bent copper' turned whistleblower close to Davidson, claimed Davidson had been receiving cash from Norris to protect his son and that the police had supressed information about their relationship in an effort to avoid an investigation into police corruption. Later on, Met Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who was tasked with ridding the force of corruption, admitted he thought Mr Davidson was corrupt, stating on record "From all the evidence I've seen, and the intelligence I've seen, I have no doubt he was corrupt." The Independent Police Complaints Commission investigated the claims and found insufficient evidence to prove the allegations.

Despite the general acceptance by anyone who followed the case that the five suspects were - without doubt guilty - to this day they have never been successfully prosecuted for the murder of Stephen Lawrence although there is hope that new DNA evidence may eventually provide Stephen's parents with the justice they crave. The legacy of the case lead to the Metropolitan Police force being labelled "institutionally racist" and resulted in double jeopardy laws (preventing UK citizens being tried for the same case twice) being repealed.

Life "In Memory" Label
So that is a very brief and simplified version of the Stephen Lawrence story - now down to the wax put out by Life on Compressed Knowledge in 1998. On my part, a flight home from Oz and the acquisition of Millennium Metaphors cleared up all the missing links and many years followed where I ignorantly assumed I knew of everything Si Phili, Life and Nappa had ever put down on wax. Then one day about 5 years ago whilst I was at the house of very same best mate who had made me the Word Lab vol. 1 tape, I took the liberty of perusing his crates. What the fuck is this? Some weird white label 12 with Life "In Memory" calligraphically scrawled under some dodgy looking marker-pen logo! The Vestax were duly dusted off and the wax spun - whoa, this isn't the same tune that graced my ears back in that crusty backpacker hostel on Sydney's George Street! Sure the lyrics are the same but what's this library jazz-style loop changing the whole vibe of Life's message? Nice!

The flip-side featuring "Blinded Reality"
Those opening bars, potent and angry as ever hit home again... "Was there justice Stephen Lawrence was killed? Cold-blooded murder! / A racist attack by five guys who hated blacks / They blatantly proved that, caught live on a camera in a flat / simulating violent attacks with sharp knives and bats." Just like that Life sets out the stall for the record - no fucking about - straight to the point - Life was the voice for anybody with any sense who had followed the case with even one iota of interest. The rest of the record continues in the same vein - basically using three tight verses of concise political rhymes to tell the story I have told above - but far more effectively and emotively.

In my opinion "In Memory" is a classic track purely because it does what hip hop should do - It provides a picture of the frustration felt by a disaffected community in the same way that "The Message" did when it was dropped all those years ago. As a historical document it reveals the feelings of persecution that to this day are still felt by minority communities towards elements of the police - this time as a result of their indifference to the Stephen Lawrence case. For this reason this record is to UK race politics what KRS One's "Sound of da Police" was to US politics in the wake of the Rodney King case. Trouble is, unlike the KRS effort -  as usual not enough people outside of the UK Hip Hop community heard it!

"Bring the education to teach
the youth about integration"
 As far as collectability goes - rumour has it that a large number of the Compressed knowledge vinyls suffered from a pressing fault - indeed my own copy has a discernable warp and a tendency for the needle to end up grinding over the label if left to rotate on the run-out groove - whether this limited the number that made it out to shops is unknown to me but none of the issues with the pressing spoils the impact of this UK hip hop beauty when placed on the turntable. It rarely comes up on Ebay and there isn't any release info for it on Discogs. The times I have seen it sell it is usually priced between £10.00-£20.00

Oh yeah, and for the record, there is also a b-side track called "Blinded Reality" that seems to be unavailable in any form anywhere else - not the highlight but tight nonetheless. And for those eagle-eyed individuals that noticed the CK002 catalogue number on the label, don't worry I haven't forgotten CK001 - the other Phi-Life venture on Compressed Knowledge - The Baddest Man EP and vinyl debut by the Phi-Life Cypher crew as a group will be covered in SP.O.T.S shortly. In the meantime check all of Life's debut offering below!

Life MC - "In Memory" (Original Compressed Knowledge 12" version)

Life MC: "Blinded Reality" (B-side of C.K. 12")

Life MC: "In Memory" Wordlab Vol.1 Version (also on the 2003 Solo LP "Everyday Life")

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1 comment:

  1. What a story... I like this version of "In Memory" better than the later one. Thank you very much.