Wednesday, November 19, 2008

And Now For the Whole Reason I Started This Blog... Some Obscure Music: Across the Pond & Down Under

Scott Burns, 'Day 1' / Skreintax, 'Scene Stealers' / Riko, 'The Truth, Vol. 1' / Temptastic, 'First Blood'

With a new Guy Ritchie movie out (RocknRolla, which no doubt is funny, violent and yet exactly like Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch), it seems only appropriate to peep a few obscure British (and even an Aussie!) hip-hop records.

Where fellow London native The Streets has been taking hip-hop in new and different directions with his most recent work, Skrein and Dr. Syntax (hence the collaborative name, Skreintax) go for a straightforward rap record, with pretty enjoyable results.

The title track opens things with a driving xylophone melody; pleading strings power “Express Train” and a low-buzzing synth gives a mean edge to “Mine for the Taking.”

And yeah, it’s a little weird hearing hip-hop rhymes with a “Norf Lundun” accent, but there’s no denying that both MCs can pen a verse; additionally, the production, courtesy of Nutty P, Kelakovski, Chemo, DJ Snips, Dag Nabbit, Tom Caruana and others, rarely misses.

Aside from the skittery faux-bounce drums of “Reach,” most of Scene Stealers works well by way of well-placed orchestral samples, rough-edged beats, a few jazzy flourishes and the Cockney cleverness of its two MCs.

Temptastic's First Blood is what the black gangsters in Guy Ritchie films would probably be bumping in the ride (not trying to be a racist dick... it's just to differentiate, since EVERYONE in Guy Ritchie films is a gangster. ... Cousin Avi and Doug the Head would NOT enjoy First Blood). Taking a page from fellow grime artist Dizzee Rascal, Temptastic brings a gangsta edge to both his lyrics and his beats, which mainly come courtesy of Shady Beats.

It’s not bad, but generic gangsterism is generic gangsterism, even in a Britxon Cockney accent. 

“Wots the Club,” however, is not only a hard-hitting track, but it also features an MC who goes by the name of Squiller the Gorilla, and how can you hate on that?

Australian rap? Why not? As a matter of fact, Scott Burns' Day 1 is a bouncy, refreshing shot of independent-minded hip-hop.

The opener, “Safety,” hums and bucks with a clavinet melody, “Still Time” is an up-tempo head-nodder that works a vocal swoon and a live horn section, and “Different Things” is a hilarious relationship song set to a track that would sound right at home with Nas or Snoop Dogg ripping it.

Burns’ lyrics are witty and confident, if not groundbreaking; but he can pen a good verse, and his Aussie accent makes for a unique rap record. 

Riko's The Truth Vol. 1 is a hit-and-miss half-dancehall/half-grime/hip-hop double-disc that could use a lot of trimming. It's notable mainly as a target of my hatred for nabbing one of the samples that originally got me thinking about beatmaking way back in the day. It's the one GREAT (up-to-now)-unused sample from the Rocky soundtrack, and on "Running You Down," Riko destroys it with ruff gangsta patois. Damn him for finding that sample, but I can't hate on the execution.

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