UK artists tend to miss out on this career-crucial crossover audience, appealing to a more limited market which is further fractured by a ridiculous and artificial divide between "UK Hip-Hop" and "Grime".
One of the reasons I still check for some mainstream American rap - despite the often vapid lyrical content - is that historically many producers over there still consider themselves "Hip-Hop" even if they do preference electronic sounds over dusty samples and experiment with different BPMs. Thankfully, there are UK producers and acts who are following suit, innovating and blending genres without trying to ape acts on either side of the Atlantic.
Nemesis and Arrogance are two such artists and they have just produced one of the best albums I've heard all year.
One of the greatest tricks the late, great J Dilla pulled was flipping a sample of "Extra Dry" by Thomas Bangalter (of Daft Punk) and creating the off-beat gem that was "Raise It Up". More recently, Kanye West (always a great populariser of other people's ideas rather than a true innovator) has gone down the same route with "Stronger". The frustrating thing is that throughout the Nineties, the UK and Europe had a far better grip on rave culture and music than the States (witness Missy Elliot calling out all of her "Ecstasy People" ten years or so too late). So when British Hip-Hop heads finally open their eyes and embrace the musical history of their own country, it is a million times deeper and more evocative.
Grime was a great first step down this road and Nemesis is one producer who seems to be confidently taking the next step. Samples from and references to electronic music both old and new infuse this album throughout but this is still fully, wonderfully, an album of Hip-Hop tunes. His approach to sampling is both refreshingly open-minded and seriously thorough. Any stoner with the right technology and a bit of practice can loop up and re-chop a semi-obscure jazz loop and make it sound all boom-bap... it takes something approaching genius to do the same with the sort of pitched-up rave vocals that I more normally hear from teenagers' mobile phones at the back of the bus on my way back from work.
As if to prove that he can do it all, there are some classic-sounding musical loops on here - check "North London" - but there's also samples and sounds that reach far beyond this. Throughout, vocals by Nem, MC partner Arrogance and guests such as Supar Novar, Mr Ti2bs, Skinnyman and Twink Blu Tac are well up-to-speed and often deliver food for thought as well as patterning flows over the audio underlay.
My personal favourite tune on here has to be "Rudeboys" and it effectively sums up what's so great about the album as a whole. The floating, pitch perfect backing track is broken up sporadically by a vocal sample that wouldn't have sounded out of place in an early Jungle tune, while the lyrics apply intelligence and wit to the issue of young men chasing wealth and status through nefarious means and the women who are drawn to the thug image. It's a tragic tale and this is an album that doesn't shy away from the darker side of life on road, but this is neither a nihilistic Gangster Rap album nor a hopeless lament.
Rather this is a piece of work full of hope and potential. It sounds great and works well as a whole album, rather than a fractured set of individual tunes. I can't think of anything else I could ask for from an album of any genre in 2007.
- More info and links to purchase at http://www.myspace.com/nemandaggs
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