I spent the better part of the weekend listening, studying, & enjoying 4 GB of late 80s/early 90s UK Hip Hop that I downloaded recently. That makes up about 400 of the 1500+ songs in my UK Hip Hop collection. Although, I have a lot of stuff, I keep discovering new things that catch me completely off guard. It’s sort of bitter-sweet. On one hand, it’s frustrating that I wasn’t able to enjoy these when they first came out, due to their scarce availablilty in the U.S. On the other hand, I appreciate that I can find and appreciate them now.
Every since the late 80s I’ve been a fan of UK Hip Hop. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it on the FE Blog before, but I’ve certainly voiced my opinion several times to anyone who will listen that I’m disappointed in a majority of American Hip Hop fans for being so close-minded and unresponsive of Hip Hop taking place on a more global scale. I admit, I’m no international expert, but I’m aware of some great Hip Hop from Canada, South Africa, Korea, Japan, Australia, Sweden, France, Denmark, Germany, UK, etc… The new generation is a bit more open, but in the 80s/90s asking someone in America about Rap artists outside of the Country would be met with a blank face or maybe even confusion, like, “They got Rap there!?!?” I suppose it’s not a surprise, this Culture was nearly 20 years old before New York started to “sort of” accept Hip Hop from outside of the East Coast as “listenable”…ha.
I’ve actually been working for a couple years on a huge dedication to UK Hip Hop to help expose some of the key pioneers and underground champions of the UK Scene*. I plan to finally unveil that in 2012.
However, in 2011 there was something very exciting that served as an additional motivational factor, the label Original Dope. They specialize in reissuing key UK Hip Hop albums and include extensive liner notes, group history, photos, and all sorts of great information.
Truthfully, I could write a lengthy review of nearly all these CDs, because they are so well produced & written, plus have great stories behind them. I’ve been playing them non-stop since I got them for the most part. Additionally, I have been previewing different tracks from the Original Dope series on Redefinition Radio for the past month, so if you listen you may have heard a few things already. However, in the interest of maximizing my approach and your attention span, I’m just going to give you a brief sampling of each of these and hope that inspires you to check them out. As previously stated, the liner notes to each CD gives great in-depth background stories. Plus not only did I procure copies of these CDs for me, I picked up a few of each for Fifth Element, so you don’t need to worry about those hefty import prices, if you are here in the U.S…
This was the CD that I was actually most excited to get because I had never heard the full album, but could already consider myself a fan. Back in the day my local college station in Chicago, WNUR 89.3, used to play a couple Silver Bullet tracks and they were always so ferocious! There is no doubt that if I saw this album in stores back in the day I would have bought it based on the song titles alone****; “20 Seconds To Comply”, “Undercover Anarchist”, “Bring Forth The Guillotine”, “Guns Of Mind Alone”, “Legions Of The Damned”, “Ruff Karnage” and “Never Authorise Apocalypse”…wow!
Listening to this album makes me want to time travel back to the early 90s UK scene, so I can see him rock a live show. I bet it was intense. The album cleverly combines dialog and sound collages from movies, particularly horror films.
UK Hip Hop was famous, in general, for kicking the tempo up quite a bit, but Silver Bullet goes to the extreme at times. It’s as if the faster the pace, the more brutal the approach. He throws at this challenge, “The way I say my lyrics you think it’s a race/Nuff respect UK, U.S.A, pick up the pace”. Honestly, the speed, combined with his accent and blistering delivery makes it hard to often decipher the lyric. However, his raw explosiveness keeps you engaged. His voice is like an angry medieval warrior, with battle-axe in hand, that just rips thru the drums. This guy sounds really serious. As in, he might harm you, if you are in his path…
All that is what makes this next part so interesting. I had no idea that these hardcore tunes were also ripping up the UK Pop Charts! Plus getting heavy club play and prime time TV Show offers.
Silver Bullet was certainly kicking down doors.
One group that he impressed was Public Enemy, who requested Silver Bullet to open for them on their UK Tour and even remixed two of his tracks, both included as bonus cuts on this CD. In the liner notes Silver Bullet talks about his meetings with Lyor Cohen and Russel Simmons, who were interested in introducing him to the U.S. market. However, before all that could take place, issues with his current label, EMI, and problems in his personal life lead to him getting locked up for several “petty offenses”, which threw his career off trajectory. After finally hearing this I’m definitely interested in tracking down more of his music…
Silver Bullet-20 Seconds To Comply:
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/01-20-Seconds-To-Comply.mp3|titles=01 20 Seconds To Comply]
SIlver Bullet-Bring Forth The Guillotine:
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/06-Bring-Forth-The-Guillotine.mp3|titles=06 Bring Forth The Guillotine]
Of all these Original Dope titles, this is the one album that I actually was able to get when it was originally released. All the others I never saw in US shops. However, MC Duke was on the Music Of Life label, which was pretty much the only or at least the main UK Label to break into the US Distribution market. It was actually thru Music Of Life’s partnership with pioneering US Label Profile Records (home of Run DMC, Special Ed, etc…) that really introduced me to domestic UK Hip Hop**. Music Of Life compiled the Hard As Hell Compilations, distributed in the US by Profile Records, which exposed America to a range of UK artists, or at least attempted to, one of which was MC Duke. Just a year after his appearance on the Hard As Hell series, he released “Organised Rhyme”, with the bulk of the production done by Simon Harris & Double H.
MC Duke’s style is bit less abrasive than a lot of the UK Underground of the time, but it’s not as clean-cut as the popular Pop/Dance Rap thriving out there either. MC Duke sits somewhere comfortably in-between, able to balance a polished sound and look while still maintaining some edginess and heavy topics with his content.
“Free” tackles the issue of South African Apartheid. I think I had heard things here and there about was happening over there, but I’m pretty sure it was this track that really alerted me to some of the history and understanding of what was going on. He doesn’t only speak on what’s happening in South Africa, but puts the world on blast for not getting involved, “The world sits back to max and relax/While South African Whites shoots down African Blacks/Thatcher tries to say she’s against Racism/Botha’s in England, she’s hanging out with him.”
Probably the song that best captures his ability to make danceable tracks balanced with B-boy Lyricism and Consciousness is “Gotta Get Your Own”. I’m actually surprised this wasn’t released as a single. It’s got a great vibe, excellently produced, and I can easily picture a music video with dancers throwing down alongside MC Duke in dropping the lyrics in a classroom, library or something to nail the concept…ha. Perfect late 80s Hip Hop vibe.
MC Duke-Gotta Get Your Own:
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/06-Gotta-Get-Your-Own.mp3|titles=06 Gotta Get Your Own]
However, my favorite album track has always been “I’m Riffin”***. MC Duke’s style, content, and confidence are all on full blast here. He’s dropping science, punchlines, and whatever else he pleases. Completely in line with the song title he drops, “I can hold a grudge for at least five years/Because getting even is my career!”
Beyond the original ten album tracks, this CD re-issue features seven bonus tracks; 2 early pre-album singles, 1 live show freestyle from ’89 and 4 brand new tracks! The new tracks have MC Duke sounding nearly exactly the same as he did in ’89, only the production style, the profanity and some of the actual content, reveals it’s a different era. It seems he still has the skills in tact.
Part 2 launching soon with a preview of Blade, Ruthless Rap Assassins, and MC Mell "0"!!
Written By Kevin Beacham (who was actually born in Frankfurt, Germany if you didn't know...)
*I have done some International Hip Hop dedications before. I did a special on Redefinition Radio HERE. I also try to and play stuff that impresses me as I am exposed to it.
**Previously to the Music Of Life/Profile “Hard As Hell” Compilations I had heard UK artist such as Iyoni J (via Davy DMX in ’85) and Slick Rick, but even though I was aware they were from the UK, I didn’t really get a sense of the UK Scene from there, as they were a part of the US scene. Although, Iyoni J did speak on the UK scene a bit in her verse. Her one appearance on "DMX Will Rock", alongside Sweet T, is the only appearance I know of hers. Any info on her would be appreciated!!!
***I just realized I'm more accustomed to the I'm Riffin' Remix version of this track that is more raw and stripped down:
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Im-Riffin-C.mp3|titles=I'm Riffin' (C)]
****Actually creative and powerful song titles are one of the great things about this era of UK Hip Hop. That combined with their amazing production, high paced lyrics, and anti-industry attitude, made for a lethal underground scene.
Silver Bullet-Bring Forth The Guillotine (Slightly different version with "hi-tech" 80s special effects! ha):