Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Hip-hop's global reach was achieved well over two decades ago now, and because "the word" is the most important medium for a message in any culture it's no surprise that just about anywhere on the planet where there are words, so too there are rappers.
In a decade -- from the early Eighties -- rap went from an inner-city movement by the disenfranchised (party music a lot of it) to aggressively violent gangsta styles with lyrics full of powerful political rhetoric and calls to arms . . . which made the likes of predecessors such as Gil Scott-Heron and the Last Poets seem like mere commentators.
Eminem not only could, but was given a further mandate by working class white kids who felt equally disenfranchised.
And then, a sign of the maturity of any art form and musical idiom, came those who poked fun at it hip-hop's stylistic cliches. Dry humour by the likes of the Streets (Mike Skinner) out of the UK was as exciting in its own way as Grandmaster Flash's The Message of two decades previous. You just needed to have sense of humour gland.
And it's a measure of how absurd, global and amusing rap can be that on You Tube some middle-class American kids from what seems like expensive homes mime to the Street's It Was Supposed to be So Easy (here), his mundane gripe from the grim tenament blocks of the UK.
Did they get it?
Was this ironic?
Do we see the irony they don't?
Out of the UK also comes dan le sac Vs Scroobius Pip, a duo with tinder-dry humour and a social agenda wrapped up in the codes of rap and hip-hop.
Their break-through single/video was Thou Shalt Always Kill (video here) in which the heavily bearded Scroobius Pip -- looking like he'd be at home at the Wailing Wall or in academia -- delivers a message of principles to adopt in contemporary culture ("thou shalt not question Steven Fry", "thou shalt not read NME") then fires off a fine litany of Important Groups (the Beatles, the Class, Crass, Minor Threat, the Smiths, Radiohead etc) and dismissively says/pronounces "just a band" after each one.
In the video -- one of the best of the past decade -- he throws away their album covers at the same time.
This satirical rap-poem/spoken word piece was/is as pointed as it was/is funny.
And made more so by the serious way in which it was delivered. Right away you knew these were people who has some real smarts going on.
The album Angles is full of such astute and cleverly constructed material: The dark title track is like one of those contemporary films where characters' lives intersect (Grand Canyon, Crash, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and we hear the story from different perspectives; Waiting For The Beat To Kick In is Scroobius talking about the frustration of being creative and how most of his songs start with him waking up from dreams ("this implies a certain level of abstraction in my work, you might say I'm keeping it surreal . . . the fact is I sleep a lot"); and Tommy C is about the British comedian Tommy Cooper dying on stage and the audience thinking it was part of the act . . .
There is tenderness here (Reading My Dreams), sympathy for those who feel suicidal but pointing out how their death would affect others (Magician's Assistant), as well as satire (Rapper's Battle) -- and it all comes atop dan le sac's simple but memorable beats and samples.
Dan le sac and Scroobius Pip have a clear morality and an agenda (think for yourself, but more importantly just think), and in the wash of sexist noise and nonsense coming out of most hip-hop and r'n'b they delivered an album which made you sit up and listen, laugh and . . . .
. . . think.
These Essential Elsewhere pages deliberately point to albums which you might not have thought of, or have even heard . . .
But they might just open a door into a new kind of music, or an artist you didn't know of.
Or someone you may have thought was just plain boring.
But here is the way into a new/interesting/different music . . .
The deep end won't be out of your depth . . .