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

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