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 www.altrap.com 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 The273.com 

First Down - Ultimate Damage Video