Is hip-hop dead? Are we reading the last rites over Auto-Tunes?
Do we need a saviour to reinvigorate the game? Has hip-hop simply now become so ubiquitous as to just be hip-pop? Well it depends who you ask and where you look. But if evidence were needed of hip-hop’s rude health check out the massive DJ Quik and Kurupt collabo “Blacqout”, simply a monster partnership project from two legends of the west coast game.
Great beats, great rhymes, no frills, straight-up classic rap. It really is all good in this particular hood.
I’ll admit it, i’ve got myself all confused. The Canadian connect recently drew my attention to a corking cover of the Bee Gees immense late disco stormer “Love You Inside Out”, by her countrywoman Feist. Renamed “Inside & Out” it is a splendid take on the original, jacking up the bass (if that were possible) and laying sweet vocals over the beat to make it her own. So I then re-visited the Bee Gees’ 1979 original, and was reminded of how good it is, an ideal example of the brothers Gibbs’ talent with a melody, a sexy bass-line and a falsetto that should grate but in fact always sounds great. In fact while we are on the subject, don’t ever hate on the Bee Gees. They may have taken the brunt of the disco backlash, but theirs’ is a career that astonishes with its consistency, and they are truly amongst the very finest of songwriters that pop music has produced.
But back to the confusion because the re-visit to the original reminded me of the top ways that the track has been sampled over the years. R’n’B group Total never really hit big, but their 1996 take “When Boy Meets Girl” is a corker, helped in no small part by the early Neptunes production smarts. And then there is Snoops’ “Ups and Downs” in 05 riding the vocal harmonies to pleasure avenue. But my favourite use, from sample, cover or original, has to be the mighty “Honey” from R Kelly/Jay-Z’s “Best of Both Worlds”. This track is an example of how well this collabo could work, Jigga killing it with his flow and R Kelly just doing what he does best. But its ingredients still rely on the strength of the original, so in fact let’s go back to that and end this argument once and for all. But hang on, that Feist take is pretty big after all…
London, like any city worth its salt, loves a “scene”. Whether or not we care to admit it, we all love capturing a faddish eruption of creativity, often driven by art or music or a combination of the two, that we can tap into and feel part of something bigger and, well, cooler than that which came before. Playing out in the shadows of the city at night, life on the cutting-edge is an admittedly shallow yet sometimes strangely fulfilling place to reside. New York is perhaps the king of the faddish scene, with hipsters seemingly always on the move to the latest bar/club/party/gathering, and the mainstream losers of the world, as the hipsters would have it, always just one step behind. Too often arriving at the place to be seen just as the party bandwagon rolls off to pastures new, that is the life-cycle of the scenester, forever to hear the timeless refrain that things were much better 3/6/9 months ago.
But London Town has its moments as well, those times when an area literally seems to buzz with the energy of the new. Hoxton, in London’s East End, is now a bustling haven for creatives, artists, media whores and pseudo-debaucherous annoyances with bad haircuts. But before it became this alcohol and narcotic-fuelled theme park for the “cool” crowd it was just a slightly grey and nondescript area on the outskirts of the financial district. And also momentarily the focus of a musical revolution which will forever be a key part of this writer’s musical schooling and heritage, home as it was to the legendary Metalheadz Sessions, Sunday evenings at the Blue Note.
There was a period in the mid-1990s when it appeared that drum’n'bass music would take over the British urban music scene, and perhaps the mainstream as well, and at the forefront of the movement was Goldie and the Metalheadz collective and record label. Goldie has often been cast as the leading light of the scene, and certainly his was the name that stamped itself on the collective mind of the mainstream, and for good reason. “Timeless”, his 1995 ground-breaking opus, has become the definitive statement of the music and is an absolutely epic piece of work, still sounding fresh and exciting today.
But there are other key figures also worthy of note, many from within the same crew and some without, as well as other key gatherings of note, from Space, to Speed, to AWOL, to any number of grimy jungle raves across the city and beyond. “Timeless” producer and head of the incredible Moving Shadow imprint Rob Playford is key, but 4 Hero, engineers on that album are also worthy of mention, making an important contribution to the album’s sound, as well as Goldie’s own musical schooling. Vocalist Diane Charlemagne should also be recognised for her role in the sonic reach of the music, as well as the brilliant female duo of Kemistry & Storm, the former tragically killed in a freak motor accident in 1999 having been a key element of the scene for years and arguably the driving force behind Metalheadz success through her own musical talent alongside Storm, network of associates and business acumen.
And then there are the scene’s other leading DJs and musicians, a list which it is impossible to do justice to in print, but which features absolute heroes of mine from Metalheadz co-founder Doc Scott, to the massive, oft-intertwined Fabio and Grooverider, Dillinja, LTJ Bukem, Roni Size, Alex Reece, Lemon D, DJ Hype, Photek, J Majik, Ed Rush…the list just goes on and on. Clearly this posting does nothing more than begin to just scratch the surface of a musical heritage with its own fascinating roots, intermingled histories and key figures, not to mention musical masterpieces. And “Timeless” is just one of those.
But it was the one which truly popped its head above the parapet of the underground and pierced a hole in the mainstream, and showed that this often frenetic and exciting mixture of breakbeats, jungle, rave and hip-hop sensibilities was not a passing fad, not a joke music, not just the sound of the fringes of society, not the sound of violent youth culture, but an honest and relevant expression of true musical creativity. Absolutely timeless.