Thursday, January 22, 2015

garage rap, grimestalgia, etc



Bunch of things came to mind when I saw this great little snapshot, mentioned en passant in a Clive Martin piece on "The Cutester"

1/ Only two more years to go now and it will be the 20th Anniversary of speed garage. Think on that a moment.

2/ Always meant to do a round-up of the promo videos for UKG and 2step, because nearly all of them I never saw - never knew even existed, in fact - on account of living in America.  Turns out there were a lot - because 2step virtually was chartpop, annexed that whole terrain, in the U.K.for a year or two. Most of them appear to have been comically poor, yet still oddly vibey.  (Same applies to ardkore - had no idea so many rave hit-hopefuls had been promo'd).

3/ As chance would have it, I was listening to "It's A London Thing" only the other day, after getting ambushed by a sudden fit of grimestalgia.  "London Thing" features on a mix-cdr I did ages ago called "The History of Garage Rap, Volume One". Remember that little period of about eighteen months or so, before the scene settled on "grime" as its name? The great Nominalist Vacillation, a.k/a Wot-U-Call-It. "Garage rap" was actually a term with a little bit of currency for a while - there was at least one compilation called that. And it does strikes me as still quite a useful term for the build-up to grime proper: that prequel period when MCs gradually became more prominent in UK garage tracks (if still just "featuring", a definite second fiddle to the DJs and producers). They began to drop verses, not just catchphrases and chorus licks.   NRG featuring Creed, M Dubs featuring Emperor Richie Dan, DJ Luck and MC Neat...  Then the crews took over (Heartless, Genius, K2 Family, et al) and soon after that, came the single artists.

(Somewhere in there, Da Click. Which I left off "The History of Garage Rap" cd-rs, because it was so lame, but then again, it was Important and Epochal - MCs flexing their new power).

By the end of 2005,  grime had pooped out as potential pop take-over (after the unfollowed-up chart invasion of "Pow").  And in the ensuing years I've only rarely gone back to classic-era grime. The disappointment of its failure to bust through in uncompromised raw form (instead it sidled through in pop disguise) made it painful to revisit a sound with such heavy personal investments. If I have dug out the old comps and tracks, it's been for writing purposes - the update to Energy Flash, sleevenotes for Terror Danjah, or writing the nuum-series essay "Masculine Pressure".

But time heals all wounds and suddenly I'm feeling like hearing the stuff again.

Nostalgia - it's 13 years since "I Love U" smashed up the pirate radio waves, almost 15 since "Bound 4 Da Reload".  And grime was probably the last true fanaticism for me, the last spasm of unnaturally extended adolescence (I turned forty the year of Boy in the Corner!). By fanaticism, I mean belief in something to the point where it takes precedence over all the other deserving excellences competing for one's attention at any given point. And belief that others could and should feel the same way: that this music deserves to take over, that it's the music of its time. I've loved quite a few things since, regarded them as timely and resonant to varying degrees. But I never believed that e.g. hauntology could or would or even should "take over". The very thought is ridiculous. But it wasn't with grime.

Another reason to listen again to the prime-era grime: the zombie-like after-life of the genre as an art-i-fied sound. Makes it all the more piquant to hear specimens of the genre when it had actually carried weight and packed heat.  

So tempting to post 38 YouTubes clips at this point...

I still  regard this one of the great grime performances, and lyrics - not least because it's about the nature of performance. Also Bruza is one of those "do you really get this genre?" tests. Durrty Goodz, to take one of many examples, would make it as a great rapper by international benchmarks; Bruza is pure grime, to the point perhaps of being un-exportable. The meter or scansion or whatever's the right word ("flow" is too vague) for what Bruza is doing in his verses and in the chorus is literally staggering. The missing link between Bob Hoskins and Beefheart.  Other MCs are great too.



Another classic, which I don't think ever came out in the original form aired here, but made it to vinyl with a much-reduced battalion of talent.



Favorite bit: DRILL SERGEANT "who you repping?" Shizzle (languidly, almost feyly): "my self" (where the other MCs all say a crew, or an area)

More to come in the days and conceivably weeks ahead (and in a way, you could say it's continuation or offshoot of the Mouth Music series)

Weird synchrony / "something in the air" corner  - as I'm writing this, Legendary Luka pulls together a 1001 YouTube Playlist dedicated to the UK MC tradition + things that have fed into it