Friday, 12 September 2014

A Want and A Find! - Some Early Numskullz Cassette Tapes

Find: Hands Of Doom 1994
Going to keep it short but sweet on this one just to shed a little light on an interesting little UK-made mixtape I stumbled across on the bay recently. It is a very rare little bedroom DJ mixtape from the Numskullz' Jay Le Surgeon and DJ Rummage released way back in 1994. The sound quality ain't great but given the digi-version I have posted was ripped off a tape, probably initially made bedroom style (ie. decks straight to tape recorder/Dat and then duplicated tape-to-tape) over 20 years ago, you can forgive a little hiss and muffle! It comes with a black and white photocopied sleeve that has been overlaid on the front with a laminate to give it a stiffer cover. The tape itself is a standard Sony jobbie with a handwritten sticky label on one side saying "Hands of Doom 4x4".

Want: Numskulls - Self-Titled EP 1993
Despite showing its age - it is fair to say that these two UK Hip Hop stalwarts definitely had the skills back then as the cuts and mixes are all pretty decent, if not quite flawless. And the tracklist?... An of its time selection of early 90s hip hop, breaks and New Jack Swing! I have to admit that when I copped, I was hoping for a little UK action - perhaps the odd freestyle or drop of their own early tunes! No such luck unfortunately, so for me the quest remains on for the self titled cassette-only EP released way back in '93 containing a number of little Numskullz gems - including the fabulous "I'm Storming" (that can no longer be found on youtube thanks to the demise of Huntkillbury's awesome Youtube channel for copyright infringement!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Suspect Packages Radio Show featuring Disorda and Jehst (Itch FM, 25/03/2001)

A Slice of Suspect Packages Gold from 2001

I guess you could say I've been on a bit of a tape binge recently. A discovery of unlimited uploads on Mixcloud has got me flipping the bird to divshare, digging deep in the tape rack and scouring e-bay for the UK mixtapes I missed back in the day.  But with that comes a nagging feeling I have been neglecting the vinyl racks and with so many sick-meaning-ill-meaning-good records to get through I thought I would set about trying to get the best from both worlds with this post so its time to press play on the widget above and get your read on!

Firstly, a little bit about the the tape itself which came into my possession courtesy of a loan from Rarekind.. It comes from way back in a golden time when Itch FM was an infant pirate radio station illegally hijacking the Capital's FM airwaves from various dodgy London flats. Alongside the likes of MK, DJ IQ, Mr Dex, Biggerman, Mr Penfold, TufKut and A-Gee, Disorda had a slot for his own Suspect Packages Radio Show.

The Full Cover
But it was different times back then and the problem was that with no internet-based social network-type platform to work off people simply couldn't tune in unless they happened to live in the parts of London the broadcast signal could reach. To try to reach a wider audience Itch would put out various bits of their content on tapes, VHS's, CDs and DVDs and advertise them in HHC and at the nights they sponsored. Then, just like now, Disorda was running the number one UK Hip Hop mail-order company in the UK so it was only really here and places like Deal Real records that you could pick up tapes of his and other's contributions to the station. (In other words there aren't many of them and they are pretty hard to track down in physical form these days). (If you are interested there are a couple more of his early shows as well as all the latest episodes on his own mixcloud page).

So the tape's a pretty nice item to own in itself, but it was the wax played by Disorda on this late March 2001 evening that will fill the ballbags of a "UK head" with a rapspunk backlog. The tracks he dropped that night represent a flight case of very collectable UK wax any self-respecting collector should be aspiring to slot into their racks. What follows is a vinyl-by-vinyl breakdown of the track list for what turned out to be a classic-filled episode of his long-running Suspect Packages Radio Show even if he didn't know it at the time.

Aspects: Psychoboogie 7"
After Disorda has welcomed all with his dubious singing skills, the first bit of wax to hit the plater is Psychoboogie - a 7" slice of super limited weirdness from West Country nerds Aspects. Released in 2001 in the cheapest way possible - a blank white label 7" in a plain white sleeve, smudged with a stamp of the group's logo - it is a pretty limited run (200  if you believe Disorda or 50 if you want to trust the discogs entry). The track also appeared on wax on their strong Correct English LP and in remixed form on the B-side of the My Genre 12" but the 7" is the only place to get hold of the ill instrumental.

Junior Disprol - Fight Club 7"
Next on 1210s was the super hard to find and usually pretty expensive Fight Club 7" by Junior Disprol. Limited to 300 copies with an Ill Premonitions era Jehst feature on the flip it has already has a SPOTS article written for it. Check it here. Limited discogs-based research on this suggests that this may be the only vinyl release to bear the MCs name as the lead solo artist, with all other output being attributed to various collectives he was part of such as Fat Club, Fleapit and Dead Residents. I will of course accept being corrected on that by more learned West Country heads!

Natty and Dwella - Industry Nerds
Industry Nerds goes third, a 12" track put out on the Kent-based label, Def Con Records by the less well-known duo Natty and Dwella featuring Manage and Dark Circle member, Anik. It's a pretty decent tune bemoaning that favourite of late '90s indie rap subjects - the lack of opportunities for those not willing to sell-out! It had just dropped at the time and is generally a super cheap pick-up these days that can probably be found floating in the bargain bin of your local UK Hip Hop friendly record store if you don't fancy paying the P and P for one of the many 99p discogs copies.

PGM - Y2Kaos
The fourth track is Y2Kaos by PGM, a group that I have to admit had passed me by until I listened to the tape for the first time a week or so ago. Also known as A Phu Good Men they apparently released two 12"s in 1999 on their own short lived label, Undisclosed Records. A bit of further research then revealed that one of the group members was Rising Son - that dude who won a competition to feature on the UK Version of Nas's Thiefs Theme on his Streets Disciple LP in 2004. So it turns out I actually caught him live when I hit up Brixton Academy for the '04 Nas gig that ended abruptly after 30 minutes when some twat fired a gun in the venue a few metres behind where I was standing and caused a mass stampede.

Villains - Welcome to Wolftown LP
The Villains didn't pass me by, I just didn't like them for some reason. I remember buying their Welcome to Wolftown LP when it dropped amid a fair bit of magazine hype and hating it. I don't really know why as listening back to it now it sounds pretty decent! I think it was a bit of a different vibe to the backpacker rap I was into back then and the Wolftown dudes came across a bit gangster with their gold chains and Master P-style LP covers. As a result my mind was closed and my eardrums weren't ready for it so it got kept but disregarded until many years later when I pulled it out on the recommendation of a mate and began to appreciate. It is a decent LP with some great beats and a couple of very listenable MCs. For the Man's Dem (the track dropped on this this show) backs that statement up nicely.

Skeme feat Rodney P - UK Bubblers
UK Bubblerz is a Titan Sound 12" by Skeme who only ever seems to do tracks with MCs of the Rowdy variety. By Hooking up with Skitz and Rodney P the trend continues on this slice of cheap and easy to pick up goodness that would have been a Carnival staple that year for sure. Rodney P does what Rodney P does and so does Skeme which means there is no real surprises with this one, just those ragga influenced flows over another sunny Jamaican hip hop vibe.

P Brothers - Heavy Bronx Experience vol.1
After the rowdiness the UK legend that is Cappo drops science over the clunking metallic production of the incredible P Brothers. The Illest is a banging track taken from the P Brothers debut wax outing The Heavy Bronx Experience Vol.1 - Bronx In A Box (Heavy Bronx Records, 2001). Its a proper tough one to track down at a reasonable price but copies can be found floating around in the usual on-line places for around £40. Shamefully I currently have to make do with an MP3 rip as I have yet to find a copy of it for a price I would be happy to pay. If I was to offer a lazy description I would say it is the UKs take on Company Flow's Funcrusher Plus in that both records sound like they were recorded in an iron works factory during the industrial revolution (in a good way!).

Krispy - Millennium Funk EP
Keeping it ill with the Ill Format, Krispy's Millenium Funk EP gets a spin next. These Manchester based MCs were always so consistent with their releases and this 2001 release on Bomb Hip Hop keeps up the quality control even if it won't go down as one of their classics like say... On Tempo. Having spent time on some of the more successful labels such as Bomb and Kold Sweat, most of their records are available in decent quantities so aren't too hard to track down on the cheap. This one is no exception and can be easily copped for under a fiver.

Karl Hinds - The Next 12"
Karl Hinds is The Next track to hit the decks. It is a 12" only release on Hind's own label - Ill Flava Records that was later updated on his 2002 Debut LP - Hindsight, with The Next 2002 - Progress Report. Hinds has definitely done better tracks in his time - The Straight up classic UK take on Big L's Ebonics, Don Gramma (featuring Blak Twang and Seani T on the remix) being the obvious example - but this is pretty decent too even if the Paganini/Andrew Lloyd Webber/South Bank Show theme violin sample is a little sweet for my tastes.

I suppose its fair to say that the above records were a fitting warm-up to the main event as it is at this point on the recording that we enter the YNR/Low Life Records/Jehst phase of the show. When the records start dropping one after another you can really begin to appreciate how healthy and creative a place the UK Hip Hop scene was at this time. It is incredible how many classic records Jehst was dropping/working on at a point when YNR and Low Life were right at the beginning of perhaps their most prolific and successful periods as labels.

Tommy Evans - 4Elements EP
With Jehst lurking in the background we're eased into proceedings with the Tommy Evans track Ophelia taken from his 2001 YNR EP - 4 Elements. Ophelia is a UK Hip Hop love song produced by Evil Ed and Jehst. In my eyes is not the best tune off the 12". That accolade goes to the EPs title track featuring Task Force - 4 Elements. It is the 5th release on YNR, following in the massive footprints left by Premonitions, Nmonic's slept on Voicemail EP, Tommy's own 4 Horsemen EP and Evil Ed's Tournament Round 1 which also gets a play later on in the show.

Task Force-Voice of the Great Outdoors EP
"I'm a spaceman type chewing meteoric porridge!" Next comes one of the all time UK Hip Hop tracks from this era - Taskforce's Cosmic Gypsies. Taken off the stonewall classic Voice of the Great Outdoors EP (Lowlife Records, 2000) featuring Braintax and Jehst. I reckon it's pretty likely that Chester and Farms were doing a little dabbling in certain forms of mind expanding substances at this time. Cosmic Gypsies is no doubt the result of one of these interplanetary journeys and what was created was a metaphor-filled galaxy cluster of a battle rap.

C.O.N Artists - Salsa Smurf 12"
The Salsa Smurf 12" also got a write-up on SPOTS recently in an article on Champions of Nature (aka C.O.N. Artists). C.O.N. were something of a "super group" made up of Lewis Parker, Jehst, Supa T, L.Dolo, Apollo, AM and Profound. In the end friction between them lead to an early break up so they only managed to put out three 12"s, one of which was Salsa Smurf. The one in the picture here is the Wordplay 12" pressing that came out in 2001 which was the lead single for the top notch Wordlab 2 compilation. The original, self released white label version actually came out a year earlier and includes the Jazzy Styles instrumental and an additional Scratch section on the flip that is absent on the full Wordplay release. It is a little harder to find but worth the search if you fancy scratching an acapella C-C-C-CON Ar-Ar-Ar-Artists into your next UK mix!

Evil Ed -  The Tournament Round One 
For me, Evil Ed was for Jehst, what Premo is for Nas - in that Ed is someone who seemed  to consistently get the best out of him. Alien is another classic Evil Ed and Jehst hook up taken from Ed's The Tournament Round 1 EP (YNR Records, 2000). The opening lines sums up its place in the YNR back catalogue nicely... "I exist in a state of consistent transition / plans shifting with insufficient ambition..." It was the last time Ed and Jehst would work together as a twosome for some time as Jehst moved towards producing more and more of his own stuff and teaming up with the likes of Harry Love and Cee Why when he didn't. This is perhaps the last track Jehst made that sounded like it would sit comfortably on Premonitions before his hook up with Low Life marked one of the transitions he references. I don't know what it is about the combination of Ed and Jehst in this era I love so much - perhaps its the slightly higher pitch of Jehst's voice and an accent that hadn't fully taken on the weeded-out London twang of recent years over those understated 90s style indie beats. Maybe its just that I was 19 at the time and these records were a massive part of my early record collecting years. I don't really know, but there is a certain something about Jehst at this time that I feel all but disappeared on later post-Falling Down records.

Jehst High Plains Drifter EP (£20-£35)
That said, in the interim between the Tournament and Falling Down - Jehst popped over to Low Life and made something seriously special. From the opening bars to the closing sample, in my opinion High Plains Anthem is his crowning achievement of an impressive back catalogue. The poetic imagery of the lyrics are incredible - perhaps even unsurpassed in the UK Hip Hop world (for me anyway). It is dark and light and uplifting and depressing all at the same time. As a country boy living in a city, for me it was one of those rare occasions that I was listening to music that resonated almost entirely with my teenage world-view - perfectly pitting youthful dreams and ambitions against the inner demons and personal inadequacies that hold us all back. On the tape it sounds like it is the first time Disorda has heard it himself - and it is no coincidence he gets a text asking for a rewind!  "The dirty rascal, or the king of the castle? I'm partial to both titles, the soldier's quoting the Bible / Holding my rifle to false idols / I love the crackle on the old vinyl / I rock break loops / And make moves from my HQ / I stay true to the ancient ways / The herbalist curb-surfer riding pavement waves..." That's the 19 year-old me right there!

Then we are treated to that age old hit or miss process that is the in-studio freestyle. I guess it's a part of some sort of ancient hip hop law that every MC that appears on the radio has to do a freestyle and this show is no different. I can't say that I have ever heard Jehst really smash a freestyle - I am not sure it has ever been one of his strong points but initially he does a decent enough job here - even if he is just spitting a mish-mash of lyrics from pre-written tracks with the odd "yo yo I go with the flow off the top of the dome"-type ad-lib thrown in here and there. Unfortunately with this one, just when Jehst seems to be riding the beat nicely and settling into a steady rhyme pattern, Disorda switches up the beat and the whole thing goes a bit tits up... so we move on...

The back of the Fight Club 7"
Fortunately Junq Waffle comes along and saves the day soon enough. As the flip to Fight Club, Junq Waffle also got some love in a previous SPOTS article. It is an ill posse cut featuring Junior Disprol, Alkaline (of Gunshott fame), Jehst, Skeleton (aka my favourite MC who did bugger all records), and again has production from Evil Ed. It is the second of two 33rpm tracks squeezed onto the B-side of this 7" so the playback isn't the best quality - but it is the only non-download place you can get this track in its entirety so its well worth the £20-£30 it will set you back.

Katch 22 - Diary of a Blackman LP
Once the Jehst showcase is over, the show closes out with a couple of tracks that take it back to the old school. First up is the epic - Diary of a Black Man Living In the Land of the Lost by Huntkillbury Finn and his Katch 22 outfit. Released on the legendary Kold Sweat label, the LP is considered to be a proper classic of the genre although I can't honestly say I have managed to get into it enough to hold it in that high esteem. A lazy description would suggest they are kind of the UK's answer to Public Enemy in the sense they embraced an aggressively political black power message throughout the early 90s at a time when it was just about still fashionable to do so. The trouble is, I came to it well after this time and it just didn't hit me in the same way old school records by the likes Demon Boys and Hijack did. I suppose it is one of those LPs that is of its time. There is a 12" of this record but the image I have added here is the cover of the LP of the same name.

Blade - Planned and Executed LP
Next up are a couple of tracks by the veteran MC, Blade - the guy who just kept doing for it as long as he possibly could! The first one is an earlyish number from 1995 called Planned and Executed. Again it is the title track from an album and is pretty typical Blade fare for this time. Hard edged, high bpm, aggressive Britcore rap in that instantly recognisable voice that has graced so many fine UK tracks.

Mark B and Blade - The Unknown LP
The second track is from his extremely successful collaboration with Mark B - The Unknown LP (Wordplay 2001) that saw him make an appearance on Top of the Pops to perform the shitty Grant Nicholas remix of Ya Don't See The Signs. Right Here, Right Now is an album cut that is probably one of the least well known tracks from the LP. As with the whole of this Album, Mark B's beats perfectly compliment Blade's rhyme-style so its a shame we only get a verse of it before the tape runs out!

Thursday, 6 February 2014

The Phatt Bwoy - Wide Load Mixtape

Who is the Phatt Bwoy?

This tape started out as a real mystery for me and, to be honest, despite scouring the net, chatting with some of those involved in it and even calling the number on the tape's label I am still none the wiser. I don't remember it at all from the time it was released - don't recall seeing it in any shops and have never seen it for sale since, despite keeping an eagle eye out for it. Hell, I don't even know anything about this Phatt Bwoy dude other than he was apparently 16 at the time he made it (and that's only a fact if you believe the things you read in YouTube comments boxes!)

A long list of exclusives
I got put onto the tapes existence around the time I was writing an article on The Making of Premonitions with Evil Ed back in 2010. I stumbled across a very small Ed-produced portion of it on the UK Producer's own YouTube Channel just sitting there incognito. The fact I am a completest and it had a nice little exclusive freestyle from my favourite era of YNR output meant it quickly moved to (near) the top of my UK hip hop mixtape wants list. Fast-forward four years and a bit of luck and some sorting out from a man with many connections and it has fallen into my hands long enough to tape-to-tape it and get a decent label scan before returning the OG to its rightful owner!

Dial for details?
When Wideload was released in 2000 the days of the cassette Walkman were numbered. Hours of pausing, retakes, and tape-tangle frustration were not far from being replaced by instant iTunes playlists and quick and easy CD burning. But back then making mixes on tape was a right of passage for any aspiring bedroom DJ. Indeed my personal tape collection
West Country Repped by JD
is filled with my own embarrassing efforts from around the same time. Countless TDKs stacked in the corner of my room take me back to a time of painfully pieced together pause-button mixes, self drawn covers and seriously dubious track listings!

Gunshott freestyled
On first listen I was certain that this was how the tape had been made - some dude with a bedroom set-up and an impressive knack at networking, calling in the favours from everyone he knew. Wideload is one of those mixes that perfectly sums up the Lo-Fi D.I.Y-style of so many at the time - ie the hiss is snake-pit loud. It is more than a little rough around the edges - a close listen through will reveal all kinds of poorly timed beat changes, skipping records and freestyle trip-ups. So I was pretty surprised when I found out it was actually a studio production!

Cappo Featured
But despite the sound quality the truly impressive aspect of the tape is the incredible list of exclusive contributions and freestyles this mysterious teenage turntablist managed to pull in. Alongside his own (pretty reasonable) freestyle contributions that drop in over a bunch of very recognisable major label US beats, he has also managed to gather together a bunch of exclusives and freestyles from the cream of the crop of UK Lyricists of the time. The likes of Gunshot, Jehst, Tommy Evans, Asaviour, Junior Disprol, Cappo, Probe Mantis, Sir Beanz, Koaste and Deftex all feature.

I caught up with one of those contributors (Brighton's own Koaste) and hooked him up with a rip of the tape via the wonders of the interweb. He had the following to say...

Koaste reminisces...
"Had a listen to that tape last night. I remember going up to London from Brighton to record it. I can't remember exactly where it was, some recording studio somewhere, but I remember Gunshot were there at the same time to record their bit. I'd met Mercs and Alkaline a year or so before I think, so that was cool. These guys were rappers I looked up to, so it was kind of a big thing for me to be in the studio with them, especially as I must have been eighteen or so I'd imagine.

"Can't really remember much about the recording session itself, but I remember getting the tape through the post, and being fucking gutted that Phatt Boy had managed to loop the first half of my verse, the pre-written bit completely off beat. I remember I had to record my vocals over just a metronome click, which I thought was pretty weird, but when I heard the result, I was fuming. As for the actual freestyle, shiiiit I sound retarded. I used to think I was okay at freestyling. If that was as good as I got, I'm going senile... Ha ha...Thanks for digging it up though man. Blast from the past."

Fill ya boots people - but expect more hiss, snap, crackle and pop than a rice crispies and coca-cola breakfast.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Kela and Mr Thing - Antistatic Mouthwash Mixtape (Jazz Fudge, 2000)

Vadim, Kela and Mr Thing in the house

What do get when you mix a Pervert, a bottle of Listerine, a mic, two turntables, a TDK and a dude who can imitate a drum with his tonsils? You get another really fucking sick mixtape put out on Jazz Fudge records is what!

UK Hip Hop Mixtape
Will cost you £20ish
Antistatic Mouthwash is the second tape Jazz Fudge released two years after the awesome Architects of the Great mix that DJ Vadim dropped alongside Mr Thing's fellow Scratch Pervert, DJ Primecuts. But whereas A.O.T.G. was the kind of triphoppy experimental kind of stuff you would expect from the loopy Russian label head at the time, Antistatic Mouthwash is straight up, old fashioned banging hip hop, breaks, scratch routines and vocal beats from beginning to end.  

UK Hip Hop Mixtapes
Jazz Fudge Cassette - JFRT002
And how did it all come together? Well the year was 2000 and at that time the DMC Championships still meant something! It was a time when Deejays still had to actually have skills and a vinyl record collection. Mr Thing was flying high off the back off the Scratch Perverts 1999 win of the DMC Team World Championships and solidified his position as the nations number one by taking the UK crown a year later. The Pervs were in heavy demand and were popping up just about everywhere. In an effort to make the most of their brand they decided to expand - briefly lending their name to some of the most promising young talent in the UK Hip Hop scene in the process.

Perverts - Harry Love and Mr Thing
Whereas the Perverts had been knocking around since '96, in the late '90s the man from the Fruit Pastels ad was only just starting to make moves on a grander scale. He was spending these his formative years knocking around with Koaste and the 360 Physicals crew performing at various nights all over the south of England in the late '90s. The crew was massive and would regularly have a presence at the open mics and dominate the centre of breaking circles and cyphers at the Brighton nights I went to as a fake id rocking under-ager. Initially performing as a rapper, Kela was just another one of them but then he started beatboxing Jeru's Come Clean pretty much to perfection, and people started to take notice. He spent the last years of the '90s hosting nights and making contacts and gaining a reputation as a supremely talented beatboxer.

Kela Comes Clean
Around the turn of the new Millennium this lead to him hooking up with the Scratch Perverts to become part of an extended crew that included Harry Love, Prime Cuts and Plus One - none of whom where original members of the collective. This was also to be the year that his recording career kicked off - linking with Vadim and dropping his first ever 12" record (Crop Circles on Jazz Fudge). But first came this little excursion onto tape on the same label alongside original Scratch Pervert, Mr Thing - the rest, as they say, is history! Kick back and enjoy the next 60 minutes of magic - it took me right back to my youth no doubt!

The Artwork by Kela and Rough...

UK Hip Hop Mixtapes
UK Hip Hop Mixtapes

Kela and Mr Thing Live in 2000 - Antistatic Mouthwash promo night...

Kela Breaks down his early years in a field - 360 Physicals, releases etc...

The Roundtrees Fruit Pastels Ad...

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Champions of Nature

L to R - A.M, Lewis Parker, Supa T, Jehst, Apollo (missing L.Dolo and Profound)
With the recent release of the remixes of Jehst's 'Dragon Of An Ordinary Family' on a limited run of cassette tapes and 'The Man with the Golden Sound' - Lewis Parker, dropping collectors item after collectors item from his home in the US, it felt like as good a time as any to write a little something about the short-lived "super-group" that they were both all too briefly a part of alongside Supa T, L Dolo, Profound, Apollo and AM at the turn of the millenium.

Finalisation 12" EP (2000) (£30ish)
 At the heart of it all was Lewis Parker who at the time was probably the best known member of the collective when they decided to give themselves the name Champions Of Nature in 2000. By this time Parker was already six years into his rap career and was busy making "It's All Happening Now" (Melankolic, 2002) which would feature many of the same artists involved in the group. Prior to taking on the name they had previously collaborated with one another for Low Life's '98 Series 12"s and on the Easter Island 12" before a fall-out with Braintax lead to Parker moving himself and his mates away from the label to continue their work.

The Fuck Off Song 12" EP (£20ish)
For Jehst, the other big-hitter in the line-up, this was also a particularly productive time. Having moved to London to be closer to the heart of the scene he maintained his relationship with Joey Brains and was busy dropping stonewall classics such as his 'High Plains Drifter' EP, working with MK on the 'It's All Live' 12"and featuring on a series of 12"s that came out on Low Life Records (including some era defining tracks by the likes of Braintax and Taskforce) and appearing alongside US rap legend J-Zone on the 'Staircase II Stage' 12". It was a particularly fruitful time for the tuned-in UK Hip Hop enthusiast with what seemed like classic after classic being dropped on a monthly basis and the Champions of Nature records were definitely solid additions to that back catalogue of heat.

Unfortunately the group's output was minimal. The peak, a one off 12" on Word Play with a promo video and a spot on the 'Word Lab vol.2' comp on Wordplay Records - a subsidiary of the French Label Source. Outside of that, two seriously cheap looking independently released white label 12"s with half-assed Marker Pen labels (that have at times sold for stupid money), a lost holy grail test press and a promo mix CD/album courtesy of DJ IQ (now Professor Green's official tour DJ!) made up the collective's complete back catalogue of work.

In a 2002 interview by Redeem for Lewis Parker laid down the history of things as follows...

The record that kick-started Low Life 
Lewis Parker in 2002: "I came up with the name Champions Of Nature. We was doing tunes, me and (Supa) T… (L.) Dolo was doing tunes with Profound and at that point we was still safe with Braintax and then Jehst came through from up north. So I met up proper with Braintax and then that all fired off. So that was a crew waiting to happen. The reason it madly happened was cause the way Braintax was running his label. Before he had signed Taskforce or anything, me (Supa) T and (Joe) Braintax had come with a plan for 'The '98 Series'. 

Before they were C.O.N Artists
"The first ‘98 Series had a tune ‘Life By Life’*, with me, Supa T, and Braintax (*Presumably he means Life and Breath, Ed.). It was a bad, bad tune. I hooked up the drums, Braintax looped it and shit, and that was all cool – we put it out. That was actually gonna be one of the tunes for 'Masquerades and Silhouettes'. But we put that on a B-side of one of (Supa) T’s tunes he had done with Braintax. He put that out, that was the first ‘98 Series, and it done fucking well. It was sort of a small independent release and it pretty much changed how his label was going. So we put out the second one, pretty much the same line up – we put out ‘Easter Island’. And that was the last tune that I done on Lowlife. 

Last Outing for LP on Low Life Records
"...We’re not with Lowlife no more, but we’re all here… we wanna put out some tunes. We’ve got some sick shit, let’s put it out. And I had the name C.O.N, which I just wanted to call the crew for a while. But on our first release we didn’t use that name – we just put out tunes… four solo joints, two produced by me, and two by Dolo. But by the second release we just put the name to it and it stuck.

The 3rd 12" on Source (£5ish)
We then put out 3 independent releases. Then the last independent release, ‘Salsa Smurf’, got signed for a Source compilation and was put out as a single. But they fucked it up – people had been playing it a year before it had been out… DJ’s were smashing it… but they released it mad late, which just lost the vibe of the tune. But we were gonna get signed to Source, they offered us a deal for 70 grand. We said, we should be getting more than that. Basically, we sorta slept on it a bit, but when we went back to them, they changed the whole story, and tried to come with 30 grand And we like, “What? What happened??” 

DJ IQ's 2004 mixtape comp of CON material
"At that point there were six people, we had already lost a member cause of politics. And us six were ready to sign. It never happened though, it just didn’t feel right. And we woulda ended up skint. But if we woulda went for it, right now, we’d be making more noise as a collective. But because it didn’t people sorta forgot about Champions Of Nature. But really C.O.N. are the sickest out here, with the most potential – because everyone of us makes beats, the B-Boy shit, we know what its about, and that’s the difference between us and a lot of other crews."

DJ IQ mix cd - still a cheap pickup
But alas, this is where it all ended... In 2004 Jehst and DJ IQ gathered together the majority of work by the group and put it out on an independently released mix CD, (the release of which only served to cause further fissures between the group members) but that proved to be the last we heard from the group as a collective.  In the end the politics of business proved too difficult to overcome and all the artists involved went off their separate ways - with Jehst and Lewis Parker going on to build bonafide rap careers and the rest drifting off into UK Rap obscurity rarely to be heard from again!

The Full DJ IQ - C.O.N Artists Mix CD 

Salsa Smurf - Official Video

... And that Holy Grail Test Press I mentioned...

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Aroe and the Soundmakers - The Sleeping Giants Recordings Back Catalogue

You snooze you lose big man!

Aroe at the day job
You know how the conversation goes - anyone with an unhealthy interest in rap music will have had one - those "Hip Hop Golden era" discussions. "It was all about '88" says your older cousin, "you can't fuck with a year that saw 3 Feet High, It Takes a Nation, Critical Beatdown, The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick, Strictly Business and By All Means Necessary drop, seriously, that was the peak of this shit."  "Nah man", says your grey-haired Uncle Dave - "it was all about 82', that's when hip hop was still pure and people really did it for the love son! We used to roll out out the lino and get down to pure breaks in them days!" "Bullshit", says 35 year-old Steve the window cleaner, earwigging through an open Velux  - "it was all about '94/95.. it don't get better than Illmatic, Ready to die, Stress, The Infamous, Liquid Swords, Only Built for Cuban Links.. do I need to go on? Straight up classic after classic hitting my decks weekly"

Crown Jewels vol.1 has sold for £30 recently
On the UK front the conversation's are the same but the eras are different! Have them with a 40 year-old and they go all gooey eyed whilst harping on about the Streetsound Electro LPs, breaking in Covent Garden, bum-rushing Fresh '86 and chilling with Simon Harris. They will frown a wrinkly forehead at you when you mention Jehst and Chester P and just shake their head, they will claim that Blak Twang and Roots Manuva were where it started to go wrong whilst dropping names like Hardnoise, Hijack, London Posse, Silver Bullet, Blade, Demon Boyz, Freshski and Mo Rock and MC Mell'o, (that is if they didn't fry their brains raving through a UK Hip-Hop dead spot in the early '90s of course). Have the same conversation with a guy in his early '30s and he will blather on about all the shit I go on about on this blog - Low Life Records, Phi Life Cypher, Skinnyman, Task Force and all that. These days its all High Focus I guess.

Crown Jewels CDs
About 7 years back I had just such a conversation when I bumped into a slightly intimidating, heavily tattooed dude whilst on a routine dig through Rarekind Records back when it occupied the top floor of its current location. I can't remember exactly how the conversation started but I think I had picked up one of the millions of Music Of Life 12"s that have always occupied the bargain bins there and got a comment about how shite the record was from him. For whatever reason, rather than play the old "I know exactly what I am doing and I picked it up for - insert bullshit blag here" card, I just admitted I knew pretty much nothing about '80s UK Hip Hop but was looking to learn and asked him what he would recommend. In the end it turned out to be a good day for me in RK as I spent the next hour being schooled on the Pre '95 UK scene by a bonafide Brit rap and graf legend - King Aroe.

 #17 in HHC's top 50 UK LPs of all time 
As well as being one of the top graffiti artists in the UK (many say the world), a member of the world famous MSK crew and Godfather-style overlord of the Brighton graf scene, Aroe was also a key member of the early '90s UK rap collective 'First Down' that at various times included DJ First Rate (of Scratch Perverts fame), DJ Format and Indian Ropeman alongside others. Over their four-year life span they released three 12"s and a very highly rated LP - 'World Service' (Blitz Vinyl 1994). 'Jaw Warfare' - their 1st 12" release, was dropped in 1990 and now sells for anything between £60-£100.

Crown Jewels vol.2
At the time I met him, Aroe happened to be particularly lively on the hip hop vinyl digging scene. As an active forum member on Diggers With Gratitude and the now defunct Heroes of UK Hip Hop forum he was posting daily, unearthing new discoveries, dropping deep knowledge and shedding light on some proper rare (and seriously expensive) Britcore and Philly random rap vinyl. Eventually this obsession lead to him putting together a series of three essential mix CDs released on his own(?) Sleeping Giants Recordings Imprint - Crown Jewels Vols 1&2 (two mixes featuring some of the best and hardest to find pre-1995 UK rap bangers) and Philly Wreckshop (a mix of equally rare Philly random rap treasures hosted by the legendary Tuff Crew's DJ Too Tuff and LA Kidd).  

Crown Jewels - the synopsis
That day I returned home clutching a copy of the now impossible to find Crown Jewels vol.1 CD and, as a bonus, a piece of paper with Aroe's email address on it (so I could get in touch for the track listing he had deliberately left off the mix to encourage fellow diggers to get researching!). It was an insight into the roots of hip hop in this country it would have taken me years of research and thousands of pounds spent on wax to gain. When I got his email response containing the track list there were plenty of names I recognised but many many more I had never heard of - as he promised it was a proper education that has helped guide me on many a dig ever since.  

Philly Wreckshop cover
Time passed and a couple of years later I picked up Crown Jewels vol.2 and The Wreckshop on another visit to RK in 2008. Both were ill but The Wreckshop took things to another level. Given it is pretty much top-to-bottom Philly rarities it sounds strange that the main thing I remember the mix for is that it was the first time I ever realised how class Will Smith was as a rapper back in the day. Like most kids my age I grew up on the Fresh Prince of Bell Air and although I loved it, I pretty much disregarded the guy as pop rap rubbish when I started becoming a little more discerning about music in my teens. A word of advice though - if on a dig you come across He's the DJ I'm the Rapper or Rock the House sitting unwanted in the racks - pick them bitches up pronto... Big Willy had flows.

Aroe and Mell'o - a rowdy combo
The final purchase to complete the Sleeping Giants Recordings back catalogue came a little later and this time as a result of a trip to the house of unpredictability that is Across the Tracks. If you have ever been digging in that place you will know you are as likely to spend a £20 on a £10 record as you are to spend £10 on a £20 record. When it comes to '60s pop not much gets past these guys but more modern genres either get overlooked or overpriced. Unfortunately I fell victim to the later in this case! When I saw Aroe's name and the Sleeping Giants logo on a promo slab of wax I hadn't seen before from 2005 I got a bit over excited and dropped £8 on something I later found I could have picked up in the RK bargain bins for next to nothing. Fortunately the record is an absolute banger of a tune so I have forgiven myself for my hastiness. With Aroe producing a loud and heavy beat and UK Rap legend that is MC Mell'o tearing it up with the rhymes, there is not much not to like. Just be careful not to head straight outside to beat the shit out of someone after listening - its definitely one of those blood-pressure-raising, boxing-work-out type tunes... check it below...

Aroe and MC Mell'o - Give Them What They Want

King Aroe in the Flesh
As for the what is the Golden era of UK Hip Hop - well, there was no doubt what camp Aroe was in, and to be fair, his credentials within the Hip Hop community weigh in heavier than Pete Rock's vinyl collection so who am I to argue? That said despite Aroe's strong evidence to the contrary, I am staying firmly in the later day camp. I came up on post '95 UK shit so despite the illness and the innocence of that early output, I ain't shifting even if I do now have a better appreciation of the roots.  I guess the reality of things is that  rappers have been making heavy music on these shores for many many years and the only thing that will dictate the goldenness of an era for you will be whether or not you happened to be listening to it in your mid to late teens - that personal "golden era" before we get jaded and cynical and before we decide we have heard it all before!

Beastie Hand Styles - Aroe MCA tribute in Brighton

Because it is near impossible to pick up on CD these days and it ain't easy to find on the net either I have dropped in an undivided MP3 copy of Crown Jewels vol.1 below for your enjoyment. If you want to get hold of Philly Wreckshop or Crown Jewels vol.2 I highly recomend yo get you arses down to RK for a purchase or hit up Discogs or Disorda. All these places are still carrying copies of the dopeness!

Free Download of First Down - Rude Boys Lose 2008 Mixtape - blagged from Brighton stallwart Koaste's excellent blog 

First Down - Ultimate Damage Video