Roots Manuva

Slime And Reason

Big Dada

In the hip hop Olympics Roots Manuva has always been Team GB's only hope - and since his remarkable debut Brand New Second Hand in 1999 he has continued to produce brutally honest work that - while encompassing hip hop, dub, ragga and funk-  manages to sound essentially British, but at the same time different from all other sounds that trickle from the UK hip hop scene. His 2001 follow-up Run Come Save Me saw Rodney Smith gain wider acclaim being nominated for a Mercury Music Prize and took the dark subtleties of BNSH and mixed them with a new found penchant for the 'pop hit'. Lead single Witness was voted greatest UK hip hop tune of all time by the readers of Hip Hop Connection. In 2005 came the the introspective Awfully Deep which, while receiving its dues in musical acclaim, was largely misunderstood by Smith's gathering throng of fans.

Thankfully Slime And Reason is unlikely to suffer the same injustice and is a dazzling return to form for our reluctant hero. Trying to narrow down this emcee's strengths is something of a challenge. He's done more than most for UK hip hop and yet his beats need only the slightest nudge to stray from their hip hop root. He can hit us with a crowd pleaser like Witness then retreat into the introspective shadows for the rest of the record. Despite his success his rhymes are laced with the insecurities of the common man and so as a result he's able to counteract his critical acclaim with the kitchen sink wit of a hip hop Morrissey. Slime And Reason incorporates all these contradictions and is a marvelous summation of his career so far. It plunges into the textured depths of Run Come Save Me while tapping the money-making hit machine of Witness to a fuller effect. The beats crunch with electro futurism and yet this album more than most draws on a sound of old.

The record seems to be divided into 2 halves and each half draws on a different source. The Jamaican record label Studio One provides the sonic source material with a grass roots dancehall flavor running through much of the first half of the record. This is where the carnival atmosphere is created and by track 7 we've been given more hands-in-the-air but shakers than on all his albums combined. Opener Again & Again is a ramshackle celebration of Smith's inspirational roots with its looped brass section sample bobbing to the swagger of the rhythm. Do Nah Bodda Mi is a stand out moment here and is almost certainly set for dance floor greatness this summer. Produced by dancehall maverick Toddla T, it's a no holds barred romp featuring lightning guest vocals and contrasted monotone Smith rhyming. Buff Nuff assumes a similar tempo and is as shameless as things are ever likely to get. Sadly this song suffers greatly under the shadow of the recent Flight Of The Conchords song Boom - and together with Smith's attempts to entice a female by offering her a lift on the handlebars of his push bike, this song is virtually impossible to take seriously.

The second half draws on his hip hop influences and is a lot less fun and with songs like It's Me Oh Lord it does tend to get bogged down in its seriousness. However, this contrast is what we love about this emcee. He really has a lot to say which, in this genre, can sometimes be a rare thing. We see his bare boned insecurities about success and money in 2 Much 2 Soon and the trials of a family man reduced to a "long streak of piss" nursing a "lethal concoction" in a local pub. Well Alright with its examination of Manuva's place in the music business and The Metronomy produced Let The Spirit are two of the best and most worthwhile tracks on here and will be the songs that take this record back to the greatness of the debut.

The album begins with Again & Again's line "A lot of people don't know about Smith, how I came to the scene and came to uplift" and ends with the subdued The Struggle. With bookends like this its easy and yet curious to see Smith's sense of vulnerability in this life and this business. He's been a household name in hip hop circles across the world for some time now and this fourth installment can only project him more into people's consciousness. But his charm and lasting appeal may well reside in the fact that no matter how big this album gets it will always be a case of "The struggle continues on".


27th Aug 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Various Artists

You Don't Know

Ninja Tune

Throughout Ninja Tunes 18 year history the Ninja Cuts compilation has been a landmark event in itself. The label has always prided itself on its varied array of artists working in more styles than is healthy which inevitably made a compilation that was both challenging and riveting. But where other Ninja Cuts have served to showcase the labels past releases this, the 5th in the series, has a far greater agenda. Aptly titled You Don't Know it aims to alter your preconceptions of what you think you know about this label, and it does this with ease. The main reason for this is that they now have 2 other labels operating under the Ninja umbrella and all are featured on this 3 CD compilation. Big Dada and the newest addition to the family, Counter, both radically side step the Ninja norm and when put together for the first time on one compilation the result is baffling. Long term Ninja institutions like Mr. Scruff, Bonobo and Coldcut sit alongside their Big Dada counterparts like Roots Manuva and Mike Ladd. Then if you chuck in new label Counter's poster-boy Pop Levi you really do start to question just what exactly is the Ninja sound.

But it's not just this amalgamation of labels that mixes things up here. This is not just any old best-of compilation, it showcases artists and releases from the past but rarely in their original form. Most songs are rare or unreleased or feature special edition remixes by artists such as Modeselektor, Tiga and Susumu Yakota. There are some live recordings from Cimematic Orchestra and inter-Ninja collaborations between Mr. Scruff and Quantic. If you're a dedicated follower of this label then this approach gives this compilation more importance and relevance but it can, at times, make for difficult listening. Not only has the tracklist been treated to a brutal visit to the blender but within each song there is radical alterations and mix ups.

There is so much going on here that it's hard to know where to start. There's a definite agenda running through each CD but it's so expertly disguised it reveals itself as more of a feeling than any coherent theme. CD 1 features what you would vaguely call the core components of the original label. Mr Scruff, Amon Tobin and The Herbaliser all feature but the highlight has to be The Cinematic Orchestra's To Build A Home. It's a treat on their new album and it's epic grandure really lifts this first CD. It's beauty is highlighted when taken out of the context of a concept album and put amongst the strange folk that surround it here.

CD 2 keeps things pretty regular with smooth cuts from Blockhead, Bonobo and RJD2. Kid Koala puts in an awesome guitar cut and paste extravaganza while Homelife's Seedpod makes a well earned return. We also get a remix of Coldcut's classic Atomic Moog. CD 3 really takes things up a notch and it's here where the 'You Don't Know' title really explains itself. Kicking off with Manuvadelics manic version of Roots Manuva's Chin High we're soon into nose bleed territory with The Qemist's drum and bass belter Drop Audio. We get guided through the more avant-guard vision of Big Dada with cLOUDDEAD and Mike Ladd and DJ Shadow puts in a rare and exceptional performance with the fantastic sample heavy Bring Madlib Up. The CD ends with a curios change up of beats with the house infused remix of Coldcut's Walk A Mile In My Shoes courtesy of Tiga and Switch's remix of Pest's Pat Pong.

Though all this really does convince the listener that we don't know it sometimes makes for an incoherent listen. Showing us that there is so much about this label that we don't know can also show us that there's a whole side to it that we don't want to know. Putting up old favorites then remixing the shit out of them can be a bit of a turn off but overall screams of bravery and the willingness to progress that has kept this label on top for so long. It's artists like John Mathias and Pop Levi that make this compilation interesting. They successfully remove it from the Ninja sound we have known for years and stop this sound from becoming a cliché of itself. They sometimes make the old sound, from the likes of Mr.Scruff, sound really dated and show that had this label not moved on with its own ethos and expanded its view with Big Dada and Counter then there really would be no need for it today. In the run of Ninja Cuts compilations this one is by far the most forward thinking and far reaching. It may not be as comfortable a listen as the previous ones but that's clearly not their intention. We may hit the skip button occasionally but we must eventually salute the direction of this label.


12th Mar 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Cadence Weapon

Afterparty Babies

Big Dada

Recently I was having Quite an animated conversation with a Quality journalist friend of mine who writes for a Quintessential music magasine, the name of which I shall not Quote. When I asked him what he was listening to at the moment he sighed and told me of his disillusionment with the current music scene and said he only listens to old stuff now. His point was that no one makes complete albums anymore, they just make collections of singles. "Quite the opposite" I replied but then struggled to think of any examples to back me up. Well now I have one and if you're reading my friend, you may Quote me on that.

"My Dad said I was an afterparty baby; this goes out to all the accidents out there; keep on making mistakes." And so goes the dedication featured on Do I Miss My Friends, the opening track on this followup to Cadence Weapon's critically acclaimed debut Breaking Kayfabe. " I wanted to make music that afterparty babies were created to," explains Cadence Weapon aka Rollie Pemberton. Acting as a testament to Rollie's first influence, his father, Teddy Pemberton, creator of the Black Sound Experience Radio show and introducer of hip-hop to Rollie's hometown of Edmonton, Alberta, Afterparty Babies is a hectic journey through the world of club nights and house parties. This theme is explored through stories of friends, crews, nightmare DJ nights, hometowns, heroes, media and fashion.

Musically this is quite different from its predecessor. Where Breaking Kayfabe led with swirling, back-breaking electronic hip hop this one opts for a more electro/techno pace that serves to remove this artist from the hip hop roots that he may have once planted. Having seen him slot in a Joy Division cover at his London warm-up show last year, it's no surprise this album has moved on considerably from the debut and is the product of an artist open to a healthy array of musical influences. Pemberton presents an interesting juxtaposition between this thoughtful 'Wonder Years' style reminiscing and the harsh electro sound clash that carries it.

In my review of Breaking Kayfabe I was compelled to compare Cadence Weapon to a rampaging Terminator hell bent on destruction. It was a tenuous link I admit and made partly out of boredom of review-writing and also because 30 Seconds had a chorus that sounded a bit like The Terminator chase music. So I can't help feeling a sense of irony when mid-way through Afterparty Babies the song Messages Matter features a sample from Kindergarten Cop. " Who is your Daddy and what does he do?" comes the line and with it some interesting questions. Is Afterparty Babies the Kindergarten Cop to Breaking Kayfabe's Terminator? Are we seeing the human side of the cyborg? In a sense yes. It's not as hard hitting or relentless as the debut, it definitely has a lighter feel to it, it's more enjoyable and while you're jumping along to the uncharacteristically housey beats you know he's undercover and at the start of the movie you saw him kick someone's ass.

This may differ from the debut in all the ways mentioned earlier, it may be more melodic, spacious and palatable but let it run its course and you'll see it's just as tough as Breaking Kayfabe. It plays out like a night out clubbing but in reverse. It starts off strangely downtempo with Do I Miss My Friends? and by the end it's full on techno. There's no wind down, no gentle walk home with a kebab, it leaves you at top tempo to find your own way out. At the live show songs like In Search Of The Youth Crew and Real Estate were instant crowd pleasers and they don't disappoint here but instead become repetitive anthemic chants to Pemberton's Afterparty generation. True Story and Getting Dumb are electro master-classes, chucking in vintage house techniques with cuts and scratches and all topped by the most intricately crafted rhymes. It's certainly an album of 2 halves with the final few tracks providing the weight to this extraordinary record. Pemberton exited the stage at the Amersham Arms to House Music. It had the crowd jumping like a bunch of idiots and it has the same effect here. It's a dirty, crazy five and a half minutes. It swirls and bleeps to clapping beats and air-raid style sirens and it rules. By the time we get to the album closer We Move Away the techno conversion is complete. The club is in full swing and after a while the music even overtakes the creator and rises to a life of its own ending the album in almost 2 minutes of banging beats and grinding synths that threaten to go on until first light.

This has the feel of an album released by a well established hip-hop name that suddenly breaks from tradition and goes out on a limb, thus alienating hardened fans. It's exciting to see an artist do this so early and I can't imagine Cadence Weapon ever settling into a style. With this album he joins the ranks of MC's like Aesop Rock and Buck 65 as creators of their own style of hip-hop, constantly evolving and gathering up every influence and experience in their path. I am already eager to hear what this guy's got up his sleeve next and I bet I can find a Schwarzenegger link in it somewhere.


10th Feb 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Well Deep - Ten Years Of Big Dada Recordings

Various Artists

Big Dada

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of this truly unique label they choose to shower us in gifts, I wish every birthday was like this - except mine of course. As a mark of this grand occasion those kind people at Big Dada have released an awesome double CD, a DVD and a special anniversary party.

I don't think there exists a label that is so trustworthy that you could buy any record it released in the safe knowledge that you'll love it, but for years I've been buying Big Dada releases knowing that I may not like it but it won't be anything to do with quality. The label has proved itself time and time again for an undying commitment to challenging and innovative music and the hip hop genre has been draped loosely around its neck but has never weighed down its steady upward progression. Label boss Will Ashton wanted to form a label that ran alongside yet independent of the mothership Ninja Tune label and would provide a home to hip hop misfits and pioneers.

Never describing themselves as a UK hip hop label, Will Ashton prefers to see it as simply "a hip hop label based in London" and with artists from the US and France on their books Big Dada must be one of the most international hip hop labels around today, and in this fact lies Ashton's most significant achievement. He has certainly championed some of the most successful UK artists like Roots Manuva, Willy, TY etc. but he has stripped them of their laborious 'UK' title and brought everything down to Hip Hop.

The CD is less of a 'best of' and more of an overview of the labels history and philosophy and it's only when this back catalogue is put together in this context that you start to get a clear picture of just how special Big Dada is. It is truly innovative but certain artists carry this flag more than others and any label boasting releases from cLOUDDEAD, New Flesh, Mike Ladd and TTC can't help to be slightly left of centre. Even from the title it's clear that Roots Manuva is the jewel in the crown of Big Dada and rightly so. I have always considered his debut Brand New Secondhand to be his finest work, but when you put them all together and drop in the flagship song Witness (1 Hope) he really is quite impressive. Mike Ladd's many incarnations keep things interesting and if things were getting a little too hip hop there's plenty of curve balls from TTC, Busdriver and newest signing Spank Rock to mix things up. What other label would put together the smooth storytelling of TY with the low down Grime of Willy? Though not particularly well represented here cLOUDDEAD really stand out from anyone and before their demise they single handedly took this label to places no other artist could go. Wherever they resided this band acted as a simmering cluster bomb blowing apart any preconceptions of genre that a label may have possessed and it took real vision to include them in the early days of this label.

Which leads me on to the DVD. Apart from the Big Dada documentary, this DVD is really about the videos. It has something like 35 videos here which must be everything that's been made. There's an impressive megamix option or you can play each video through one by one or you can set it to random so if your tv's got good enough sound this would make an awesome video juke box. Just stick it on and go about your business but you'd get snarled up on the lengthy cLOUDDEAD tour footage which is so compelling it demands your full attention. Videos from New Flesh and the crazy world of TTC are a treat, but as usual Roots Manuva steels the show with his return to his former primary school for sports day in the Witness video.

All in all this is a wonderful package indeed, and I'm not talking about Roots Manuva in his leotard. It's a great celebration of ten years of forward thinking - and for any fledgling hip hop mavericks with wild ambitions, while Big Dada is around the world must seem like a much more welcoming place.


12th Oct 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

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10 Big Dadas

Underground hip hop label Big Dada is 10 years old would you believe? So to celebrate they're releasing the awesome 2 CD compilation Well Deep plus a DVD. And as if that wasn't enough there's going to be a special one off live show. Featuring the likes of Roots Manuva, Cadence Weapon, Wiley and New Flesh to name but a few it sounds like a party not to be missed. It all happens at Electrowerkz on Friday 16th November 9pm - 6am.

Get your tickets here. £13.


25th Sep 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

DJ Food & DK

Now, Listen Again

Ninja Tune

Every generation boasts that music was better "in their day," that it meant more, had more depth - but of course this can't possibly be the case. It's not the music that changes, but the listeners. We go through certain stages in our life where music means more to us and changes us. Unfortunately if my theory is correct then there is a multitude of people out there of an impressionable age that are being profoundly changed by the Kaiser Chiefs - but that's fine, they'll grow out of it.

I can count a few periods in my life when this has happened. Most of these happened when I was a teenager and blissfully unaware of any larger musical implications that were occurring, I was just listening to the music and relating to it. But the most recent example of this occurred during 1994 - 1997 and centered round a few record labels and one club in particular - The Blue Note in Hoxton Square. Drum & Bass was a mere child then, as too was the genre formerly known as "Trip Hop" (thank christ). During Goldie's Metalheadz Sunday night sessions and the Ninja Tune Stealth parties I really felt part of something important, that the music that was being played was particular to this time, to this club and to these people. You felt like you were present at the birth of a genre. The excitement in that club at that time was truly memorable and though all artists and labels concerned are still making great music today that feeling for me has never been replicated or matched and nor should it.

Until that is, I heard Solid Steel's latest mix tape by the legendary DJ Food & DK. In 2001 Solid Steel's front-men DJ Food (Strictly Kev, PC) and DK (Darren Knot) kicked off this compilation series with the awesome Now, Listen and it's been going strong ever since with mixes from Amon Tobin, Mr. Scruff and The Herbaliser. Now, Listen recaptured the electrifying creativity of Coldcut's now legendary Journeys By DJ mix from 1995 and this follow up strives to do the same. I'm not sure how anyone can get close to the brilliance of Coldcut's mix, but with this compilation the feeling has been renewed and updated. The important thing about these and all great mix-tapes is their eclecticism and the inability to plot their course.

Now, Listen Again is a mash-up masterclass. Things kick off with the sample "Listen, that's the sound of ground being broken, it will sound familiar" and though this may not be groundbreaking music it's the familiar sound of the ground they broke a decade ago and it still sounds fantastic. Early on we get a brilliant fusion of Eric B & Rakim and The Human League's Being Boiled and move through Ram Jam's Black Betty, Primal Scream, Aphex Twin via a masterful megamix of DJ Shadow's back catalogue that blends effortlessly into the original Organ Donor sample of Giorgio Moroder's Tears. The obvious high point on this mix is the introduction of New Order's dub mix of Blue Monday, The Beach, out of The Irresistible Force and into the dirty 2 step beat of Big Dada's Part 2 featuring Fallacy.

Now, Listen Again doesn't have the dizzy peaks of it's predecessor but is a much more even mix and over-all is a more satisfying listen. The refreshing thing about this compilation is it's willingness to take the cheesy route. As we are guided through old-school hip hop, Drum & Bass and sun-soaked soul we see tones of well disguised rarities, but also glorious amounts of well trodden crowd pleasers. Enough water has flowed under the bridge for these mash-up veterans to simply enjoy their art and this is the sound of them doing just that. Since the demise of The Blue Note, Solid Steel's exit from BBC Radio and the suffocating fad of mash-up mania the mix tape has never sounded so good as it does here. It has re-ignited the spirit of the mid 90's with a wonderful blend of honest nostalgia and forward thinking optimism and was indeed "Food For My Soul."


2nd Apr 2007 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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The problem with being the hip hop reviewer for a white, middle class indie rock website is that you don't tend to get much work. Sure, I get paid the same as the other chimps, but you can often find me in the canteen here at Chimp Towers sippin' on a 40' with my feet up - waiting for a beep on my pager from CSF to tell me he's got something for me. Long days amble by and the odd thugged-out dick rap record comes and goes but in the words of Ice T " I don't play that shit." I took this job for the cause. Hip Hop has the potential to be the most exciting and creatively diverse genres of them all - it doesn't have the boundaries that others suffer from, it goes where it pleases or at least it should.

So one lazy afternoon after finishing my fourth brewski, I was thinking of popping out for some more cigar papers to escape the accusing glares of the dinner ladies (I had just been crunking furiously while shouting " Errr' body in the club gettin' tipsy,")  when my pager goes buck-wild. "Busdriver, WTF?" was all it said. At first I thought it was my editor wanting me to drive the Chimpmobile on another day trip - but then remembered the new album RoadKillOvercoat by the LA tongue twisting lyricist. Finally a real job. Busdriver's previous albums for Big Dada were like no other. He's the gatling gun of the hip hop world, delivering intricately constructed raps with rapid-fire dexterity. This was gonna be good - something proper to get my teeth into, but damn, I was hella' drunk.

From the outset the signs were all there that this was going to be a treat. Casting Agents And Cowgirls sees Busdriver fit his rhymes expertly round a a tight beat which prepares us well for the machine gun onslaught of Less Yes's, More No's. Rhyming "Soccer Moms" with " Carpet Bombs," this track is about lyrical muscle flexing, as is the next installment where we're told, "Recreational paranoia is the sport of now so kill your employer." You can almost imagine the speed of the little ball bouncing over these words at the bottom of a Karaoke screen.

And so it continues, but once you reach mid point you are thrilled but starting to map out the rest of the record. This is where this album becomes a great hip hop record. With Sun Shower, Busdriver plays his hip hop ace card - he reaches into his inside pocket and pulls out a fully credible license to do what the fuck he wants. All hip hop cats have this license, but few know it. After dazzling us with lyrical acrobatics the dude starts singing. Yes singing. His floaty vocals drift effortlessly over a minimal, deep techno beat and if you thought this was just an interlude, the next track sees Busdriver duet with Coco Rosie's Bianca Cassidy. My editors pager words echoed in my head "Busdriver, What The Fuck?" indeed. The Troglodyte Wins restores the hip hop factory settings but they sound fresher now. The beats are gloriously tight, the rhymes even more thrilling and they see us through to the end where we get yet more of that singing stuff, and there's even an acoustic guitar on blissful closer Dream Catcher's Mitt.

This kind of thing makes my days in the canteen gettin' tipsy worthwhile. It's clever, but not anally so and Busdriver has cultivated a refreshing blend of fiercely intelligent poetry with the playful humour of his earlier work. Since the demise of Blackalicious the cause needs rhymes of this agility - and Busdriver carries the torch to new heights, skillfully avoiding the pitfall of cliche with a style such as his. RoadKillOvercoat is an album that delights the same way anything by Buck 65 or Dose One would and it does what hip hop set out to do. What ever the fuck it wants.


1st Mar 2007 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Spank Rock


I am all about Baltimore at the moment. Granted I am three seasons late, but The Wire is rocking my world and so is this album. Baltimore’s Spank Rock are the new signing to Big Dada and they have gone and made the most exciting hip hop I have heard since the last Anticon offering. Unlike the Anticon posse it doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It sounds like a cross between Tag Team’s ‘Woop there it is’ Antipop Consortium and a fair dose of 2 Live Crew. It’s low down and it’s dirty.

MC Spank Rock’s chief concerns here range from the contents of a woman’s biker shorts to his less than admirable intentions as to what to do with said contents once he has acquired them. Song titles like 'Back Yard Betty','Coke & Wet' and 'Screwville, USA' tell the whole story yet despite this it is a very intelligent piece of work with amazing production. It is very tongue-in-cheek (which cheek? I hear you ask, and you would be right to) but not in a gimmicky Darkness way, more in a Licence to Ill kind of way.

To put it bluntly it’s just really good fun and the beats alone will get you stripper dancing in no time. So lets all repeat after me “Tap dat ass, c’mon Tap dat ass.”


24th Apr 2006 - Add Comment - Tweet

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