With more and more new British hip hop acts emerging, it is becoming harder for groups to make a substantial impact when they first hit the scene. All newcomers dream of their tunes getting airplay on the radio and good reviews in the press;
With more and more new British hip hop acts emerging, it is becoming harder for groups to make a substantial impact when they first hit the scene. All newcomers dream of their tunes getting airplay on the radio and good reviews in the press; and for the North London outfit Universal Soldiers, both of these wishes came true with their debut release, the ‘Street Veterans’ EP. Still relatively unknown in the UK rap scene, Uni-Sols realise that they still have a real battle on their hands when it comes to reaching the pinnacle of home-grown hip hop.
Universal Soldiers comprises of emcees Ricochet and Ultra, plus their producer A H Fly, who is concise in his description of each member’s role. “Ricochet runs it all. He’s the organised one, the technical one,” he says. “Ultra is like the wild side of it, and I build the soundscape for us.”
Ricochet and Fly are old school mates, while Ultra and Ricochet were first introduced in 1998 at a music workshop the latter was running in Edmonton, North London for local emcees and DJs. By the end of 1999, the three of them formed the group Universal Soldiers. “I just met Ric by chance,” Ultra recalls. “Yeah, we bounced off each other well and we gelled,” Ricochet adds. “We were solo artists and we wanted to use Uni-Sols as a platform for us, a springboard.”
Both emcees have been rhyming for the best part of a decade and also they both count Big Daddy Kane, Ghostface, Raekwon, MOP, Kool G Rap and early Nas and major influences. Inspired by Marley Marl, Fly has been making beats since the early 90’s, and now admires the work of beatminers like the Alchemist, Lewis Parker and L Dolo.
From the very beginning of his group’s existence, Fly was determined for Universal Soldiers to be successful. However, he also admits that he was surprised at how quickly the three of them were able to put the project together. “Ricochet and Ultra originally had the idea of Universal Soldiers. It was like an abstract idea. But now, over a year down the line, we have actually turned into them!”
Ricochet is quick to put forward his theory for explaining the group’s speedy transformation: “I think we can attribute some of that to the first fucked-up recording session that we had! We spent a lot of time in the studio together just vibing off each other, so we are tightly knit now,” he says. Ultra agrees with him. “Yeah, we’ve learned each others’ traits. I know what to expect from a Fly beat and he knows what to expect from my rhymes and Ricochet’s rhymes”.
This mutual understanding was clearly evident in their debut release, the ‘Street Veterans’ EP, which was a fine collection of appealing beats, punchy vocals and energetic charisma. This 12” was tremendously well received, gaining airplay on the rap shows of Kiss FM and Choice FM, plus generating excellent reviews in HHC, Touch and DJ magazines. “We did well,” Ricochet states proudly. “The reviews were very supportive. We got a lot of props from them.” In contrast, Fly is less concerned about the views of the press. “It’s nice if people like the record, but I can deal with a bad review,” he states. “As long as I know that there are people that the music means a lot to – that’s what it’s all about really.”
It is clear, however, that ‘Street Veterans’ was made specifically to attract attention. “With the first EP, we were brand new – nobody knew who the fuck we were. It was about trying to cover all bases and at least getting people to hear us,” Ricochet explains. “There is something on that EP that everybody should like.” What’s more, Ricochet hopes that their follow-up EP will help to build further their reputation. “With the second EP, we’re coming now with how UniSols really are. We are showing you our dark side, the dingy side.” Ultra is also certain about the intent behind their new release, “We re trying to mould our market slowly.” “Yeah, we are bringing people with us,” Ricochet adds. “It’s like we are taking them on a journey and the first step was a very simple step, but the second step is a bit closer to where we wanna be.”
Whatever response Part 2 of the ‘Street Veterans’ EP brings, Ricochet believes that UniSols combines each member’s individual strengths and that as an outfit they have something substantial to offer hip hop headz in the UK. “We’re all about bringing that upfront English flava to your face. We’re British youths. We were born here and raised here. There are nuff things we’ve seen and gone through on a daily basis – so we’ve got plenty to talk about,” he declares.
Despite the considerable confidence they have in their own abilities, the Universal Soldiers also recognise the difficulties UK acts often face in making a sizeable dent in the domestic hip hop market.
“It’s challenging,” Ultra admits. “In the American game, you can put out any bollocks and make a mill! But with us in the UK now, you’re putting out some classics and you’re selling 1,000 records!”
“But we like being underdogs,” Ricochet adds enthusiastically. “It makes us hungry. I can’t wait for the second EP to come out.”
Part 2 of the ‘Street Veterans’ EP is due to be released by Tongue Tied Records in March 2001.