Monday, 16 December 2013

Seven 7"s of UK Hip Hop (Volume 1)

Seven 7's of UK Hip Hop Vol.1  

Once again, it's been a while but what the hell, life gets in the way... nod to the ageing process, added life commitments, blah blah blah, whatever! Time to get back to business with the first of a few articles that take a look at a bunch of UK hip hop oddities, classics and rarities that have graced the 7inch vinyl format in recent years.

45 RPM gold on rotation!
The seven inch is something of a useful format in that it is the cheapest way for an artist to press their work onto the immortal wax form and as such provides a fantastic way of dropping one off tunes, white label bootlegs where the samples haven't been cleared or just plain speculative oddball efforts. In this first volume their is a loose Low Life Records theme in that the majority of artists mentioned spent their formative years releasing records on the now defunct and controversial, but nevertheless legendary, label...

1. Billy Brimstone (aka Jehst) - 'Keep it Live' (YNR Productions, 2005)

No skimping on the packaging
The first of several YNR adventures on the 7 inch format, 'Keep it Live' was probably the inspiration for Braintax when he put out 'D90 Rules' (covered later in this post). The liner notes on the back of the record even follow a similar line to the press release Joey Brains would go on to use describing the record as "straight up hip hop" on "some ol' beats, rhymes and life shit" and "stone age funk for the modern day cratedigger" . Stripped back beats, piano loop, sparse baseline and a tight not as dark as usual (for the time) sounding Jehst. 

Liner notes by Dr. Blunted S. Chongson 
Lyrically this is undoubtedly Jehst in high as a spaceship weed-addict mode. It is a subject matter all Jehst fans will be familiar with and is also one of my personal frustrations with his lyrical output around this time. As someone who first listened to and loved his work on Premonitions and his early High Plains Drifter era work on Low Life, by 2005 I was getting tired of hearing his lazy stoner-flow and tendency to endlessly reference smoking weed in pretty much every tune he made. Its not that the earlier work was without its references, it was just that in those days I felt there was more poetic wordplay and it was delivered with a faster, tighter flow and seemingly more hunger. In other words, it sounded like Billy Brimstone was smoking a much lower grade of herb when making 'High Plains Anthem' and the like! 

Limited but to how many?
Still, compared to say, the majority of tunes on Nuke Proof Suit, this a really good record, with no skimping on the artwork and packaging and well worth the pick up if you can find it for £10 or under. As YNRs first 7" of a slowly but surely increasing back catalogue of great records and Jehst's only official appearance to date under his stoner pseudonym Billy Brimstone, it is a nice little piece of UK Hip Hop history as well.

2. King Biscuit Time - 'C I AM 15' feat Rodney P and Braintax (No Style Records, 2005)

Sporting the latest in riot wear
A real oddity this one - I had never heard of it until it popped into my inbox on a "Braintax" ebay search update email (The trials of modern digging huh!). The story goes Ex-Beta Band member and "Folktronica" pioneer Steve Mason hooked up with Colin Emmanuel (aka C.Swing) around the turn of the new millennium and asked him to join the band and oversee the production process for the second Beta Band LP 'Hot Shots II'. Then somewhere around 2004 the Beta Band split and Mason continued releasing music under the name King Biscuit Time. In 2005 Emmanuel was called upon again for this remix of his track 'C I Am 15' which came back to him with fresh vocals from Emmanuel's old and future collaborating partners at Low Life Records. The End result was released on the B side of one of two different 7" pressings of the track. The other version of the 7" contained a remix by Junior Mason instead of the C-Swing effort.  To be honest it's not classic UK Hip Hop by any means. Rodney P does well over a pretty industrial beat but the Braintax is somewhat overwhelmed by the noisy production. That said, it is well worth a listen if just as because it probably passed you by when it was released.

C-Swing remix on the B-side
Too Much Time Following Links on the Net Fact #1: Steve Mason would later contribute vocals to 'Last One Out Turn Off The Lights' - The final tune on My Last and Best Album so by default Braintax's final contribution to the UK Hip Hop scene before he parted to sunnier shores down under.

Too Much Time Following Links on the Net Fact #2: The name "King Biscuit Time" is taken from the longest running daily radio show in American broadcasting in history - based in Arkansas it was the only radio show that would play African American music through the region during the 40s.

3. Braintax - 'D90 Rules' (Low Life Records, 2006)

Limited release but cheap pick up
This is the only 7" record ever put out on Low Life Records. It dropped just prior to the release of the second Braintax LP - Panorama. The wax came in a plain white sleeve with colour labels sporting imaging from the Panorama artwork and contained a little gem of a tune demonstrating Joe Christie's fondness of the good old days of old when life consisted of hunting for boxes behind Woolies, and top-rocking into the breakers circle sporting a brand new pair of Hi-Tec Silver Shadows. The 2006 press release from Low Life HQ says it all really...

Instrumental on the flip  
"Low Life drop a limited 7 inch single just to get heads prepared for the forthcoming Braintax album onslaught. ‘D90 Rules’ is perfectly placed on this format, one for the b-boys and funk collectors alike, a homage to the original rules of Hip Hop with dope Wild Style cuts and scratches courtesy of Kam over a block-rocking, previously-unused drum break. Catch the instrumental on the b-side for more beats, loud and heavy! "

For the completest there is also a nice Asaviour remix of this track that can be found on the DJ IQ CD only album DJ IQ Presents: Live! From the sofa 

4. Louis Slipperz and Rawdog feat Taskforce - 'JD On Ice' (Rawdog, 2006)

JD On Ice Original Version on the B-side
In my humble opinion this is a fucking awesome track and one that fully deserved the vinyl treatment. It first surfaced as an exclusive track on the third and final instalment of the incredible "£10 Bag" mixtape series put out by Taskforce and Louis Slipperz between 2002 and 2004. The instrumental only 'Rawdog Band Version' on the A side of this 7" was also present on Rawdog's 'Bareback Instrumentals' LP but the full original version with the Taskforce vocal is only available on this lovely piece of wax that eventually dropped a good 2 years after it originally graced '£10 Bag Vol.3'.    

The track is made up of a verse apiece from the Brothers McBain each taking a turn to tell the dark and twisted stories of the two protagonists of the story - Dillon and Jack. It is story telling rap in the vein of Slick Rick's 'Children's Story' or perhaps more 'Double Reds' by Dynamite MC from Skitz's 2001 'Countryman LP'.  Anyone familiar with Rawdog/Taskforce collabs will know what to expect from the beat.. heavy live drums and thick, bass heavy, strings on some Wild West, gypsy funk tip. 

Flyer for one of the illest UK Hip Hop Shows I ever caught
Personally I think Taskforce and the Rawdog Live Band are a match made in heaven. Anyone who caught one of their live shows around 2004-5 will testify to the magic that was all too briefly created when two such gifted MCs starting appearing on stage with this ridiculously funky band backing them - it felt like UK Hip Hop had finally moved away from the same old raps over deejay beats presentation and fully arrived on the live scene with a full stage of talented musicians! 

JD On Ice first appeared on £10 Bag vol.3
In addition, the "£10 Bag" releases that preceded this 7" (which will be covered on S.P.O.T.S. at a later date) are undoubtedly one of the best series of UK Hip Hop mixtapes put out by anyone involved in the scene to date. The combination of exclusive freestyles, live instrumentation and endless classic tracks from a real rich era of UK Hip Hop is incredible and Louis Slipperz absolutely smashed the mixing, cutting and scratching all the way through each release, resulting in three wonderfully crafted mix CDs that perfectly capture the fantastic array of talent around in the scene at the time.   

5. DJ IQ - '8 Bars of Fire (Allstars Part.2)' B/W '9 to 5' (Dented Records 2007)

Ltd to 500 clear vinyl copies
Taken from DJ IQ's CD-only album - 'DJ IQ Presents: Live! From the Sofa', this is a 7" containing two very nice but very different cuts. The first is the posse-cut '8 Bars of Fire' which features a who's who of UK talent each taking turns to spit their eight bars over a crackly Bob James loop. The original version on the CD was seven-minutes long and accommodated no fewer than nineteen MCs many of whom even the nerdiest of UK Hip Hop nerds will never previously have heard of. On the 7" Dented took the wise decision to reduce the track length to a more listener friendly four-minutes by cutting out the verses of every MC-you-have-never-heard-of and releasing a trimmed down 7" version with just the marquee names left standing. The line-up is essentially the coming together of the YNR Productions and Dented Records rosters of the time so the track features Dubbledge, Foreign Beggars, Stig of the Dump and Kyza, alongside regular YNR contributors  Jehst, Verb T,  Kashmere, Asaviour and Sir Smurf Lil.

Double A-side release 
'9 to 5' is the second cut on this AA side release and features Dubbledge delivering a dreamy take on one of UK hip hop's favourite topics - escaping the mundane and ultimately futile nature of nine-to-five life and permanently living in the red. As with most Dubbledge tracks the lyrics are intelligent, funny and delivered with his instantly recognisable twang. The beat is pretty soulful and uplifting - none of that dark heavy basement depression on display just a tuneful swinging beat that embraces the bassline rather than the drum break and leaves the listener feeling optimistic and positive despite the fact most can probably resonate with every mention of debt, boredom and frustration that comes out of Doubledge's mouth.

DJ IQ Presents: 'Live! From the Sofa' 
The not-so-corporately worded Dented press release for this gives a bit more info on the reasons behind the release and also the pressing details:

"Yo People, SERIOUS!! There’s only 500 of this transparent vinyl 7" in existence. We had to press this up as the tracks are far too ill, and with Live! from the Sofa not getting a full vinyl release, it hurt too much to see these shits get bypassed. first and second singles on the same wax blaad"

6. Kashmere - 'The Jazz' (Karamak Recordings, 2008)

By 2008 is was becoming far more common for 7" records to be released by the UK hip hop fraternity. Up until around 2006 labels had always preferred the larger format that allowed them to press their music into nice, loud, DJ friendly 12" singles. By 2008 the growth in popularity of Serrato and the ease at which music could be downloaded for free had pretty much wiped out the need for vinyl as a viable form of putting out product and turning a profit. The number of vinyl releases of any form began to significantly drop off with the majority of artists opting to go the cheaper and less long-winded route of download-only singles and a "limited" CD album with a much cheaper download option.  Those that could still see a reason to drop vinyl product started to opt for the 7" as a cost effective way of releasing a stand-out track or two from their CD-only album to satisfy the demand of a small but loyal fan-base of cratediggers. Well! That and the plain fact that there is a certain type of UK artist that knows and loves the music form's history and therefore understand the importance of vinyl to the culture. Hip Hop was born, bred and raised on a pair of Technics 1210s and some traditions need to be kept alive for the sake of maintaining hip hop music's identity! 

The Jazz was just such a 7". It was lifted off the 2008 Kashmere CD only LP on YNR Productions - Raiders of the Lost Archives and is a little gem of a track. The title gives away that it is a heavily Jazz-laced number with Kashmere delivering some of the best bars of tripped-out lyrics I have heard from him prior to him teaming up with Jehst for the excellent Kingdom of Fear LP. 

Limited to 500 hand-numbered copies
Interesting to record nerds is the fact that, although the back-cover does bare the YNR label, the track was actually licensed out to Karamak Recordings. It obviously didn't prove too lucrative for the short-lived label's cash reserves because it has proved to be the one and only release the label ever made. A quick internet search will find only a Facebook page with 13 likes and a Myspace page with just this solitary track listed which has got me wondering if it was a fan record... answers on a postcard...


7. Salvo feat. Kashmere & Chester P - 'The Info' (King Kong Holding Company, 2009)

Limited to 400 copies
Having first popped up in the scene smashing at the open mic nights and freestyle battles in Brighton around 2002/3, Salvo dropped his first EP on wax in 2004 with the 12" "Uncontained Rage". He was one of the first of number of MCs who's style was obviously massively influenced by the early Jehst releases on YNR and Lowlife and much of his lyrical style and delivery back then can be directly attributed to the YNR label heads now-bona-fide-classic releases. Even the title track of his debut EP takes its name from and heavily samples the lyrics from 'The Return of the Drifter'...  "Uncontained Rage takes hold 'til I'm numb again/ clear the air like summer rain/ just another day seen through the eye of a hurricane..."  

Co-mixed by Salvo and Jehst
As a solo artist Salvo went on to release just a couple more slabs of wax including his limited press 'Cooking the Books EP' in 2005 before going silent for four years until the release of  this 2009 effort featuring the legendary Taskforce veteran Chester P and Kashmere the Iguana Man (which was meant to be a precursor to an LP that as far as I am aware never got released).

If Jehst was his initial inspiration as an MC then it is fair to say that his inspiration at this point in time was probably Chester P given that his verse - although very decent - is definitely delivered in a style that will sound familiar to Taskforce fans. Kashmere goes second with more typical weird Iguana Man bars and Chester himself rounds things off nicely with a reasonable effort that never quite achieve the heights we know him capable of. The beat is a nice jabby boom-bap number produced by Salvo himself and Jehst is credited with some of the mixdown work which probably means Salvo achieved a few personal dreams in the making of this record by working with some of the hip hop heroes of his formative years. 

Refrigerator situated Youtube Videos uploaded by iJunior - for a whole bunch of UK and US Hip Hop tracks check his Youtube page here