This review has been a while coming, not least because Lowlife / Riddim Killa were hella slow with the vinyl release and I was damned if I was going to pick it up on CD if I had a choice. However, it’s here now and I finally have a bit of time to sit down and express some thoughts on what must be one of the most important UK hip-hop albums of all time.
Klashnekoff is a superb MC, bringing both technical skill and heartfelt emotion every time he steps up to the mic. Producer Joe Buhdha (who is responsible for every beat on here) has long been a name that true UK heads (and any US fans who picked up L-Fudge’s superb "Chronic Irresponsiblity" LP) know as one of the best. So this album has rightly been anticipated with a lot of excitement.
02. Revolution (Will Not Be Televised On Channel U)
03. My Rights Like My Life
04. My Life
05. Terrorise The City – Klashnekoff & Kool G Rap/Kyza
06. Refuse To Die
08. Sayonara – Klashnekoff & Skriblah/Kyza
09. Music Is His…
10. Bit By Bit
11. Rest Of Our Lives
12. Lord Help Me
13. Can’t You See
14. Two Guns Blazing – Klashnekoff & 45
15. Bun Dem – Klashnekoff & Capleton
16. Make Ps – Klashnekoff & Skriblah
We open with a sample-based interlude, with Jamaican-accented vocals layered over a beat, simultaneous mournful and triumphant, which reappears throughout the album. The effect of the introduction is similar to the skit which proceeds the Terra Firma posse track "Parrowdice" on K-Lash’s classic "Murda In Parrowdice" 12" and throughout the album carefully chosen samples help the interludes reinforce the socially conscious message of the lyrics.
As the interlude fades out, the bassline to the next track "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (On Channel U)" slowly segues in. K-Lash skillfully re-interprets Gil Scott-Heron’s highly-charged protest track and updates it for the 21st Century, with one new verse added to the "Revolution" verse which was always one of my favourite pieces from his "Focus Mode" mixtape.
The next track is the single "My Life", which stands as both a highlight of the album and a good summary of its overall strengths. The first thing I noticed about this when it came on 1Xtra (and I noticed it immediately) was the beat. It is thorougly modern in a way that much UK hip-hop fears to be, fast-paced, uplifting and soulful but also meticulously constructed. K-Lash’s instantly recognisable flow somehow managed to make despair and agression sit side by side with a feeling of hope and pride… for me that’s what defines his incredible talent as an MC.
By Klashnekoff’s own admission, the guest verse Kool G Rap dropped for "Terrorise The City" is generic and at the end of the day nothing but a disappointment. The rest of the track, with a guest spot by Kyza and cuts by Skully, is anything but mediocre but not a stand-out on this album – shame then that a genuinely amazing guest spot by an MC with some hunger left might have lifted it above.
"Refuse To Die" is a reggae beat which Klashnekoff has compared to "Jamrock Takeover" but personally I think it sounds a lot better than that slightly sub-par Damian-Marley-lacing white label… it’s certainly more professionally put together. "Question" meanwhile is even more downbeat, with a low-key, jazzy musical backdrop… unfortunately I found myself skipping through it most times but that’s in part due to the strength of the next track.
"Sayonara" then is superb… I heard this trailed on MySpace even before the album hit shops and it’s probably my favourite track on the album. The beat is slightly a la Kanye… sped-up soul vocals and a energetic piano loop… but with an energy and sonic signature that is solely Joe Buhdha. Miltant verses by Kyza and Skriblah demonstrate just how strongly Terra Firma function as a unit – a shame then that Kyza has left the crew…
Side B opens with another interlude before we are treated to "Bit By Bit", where a familiar shuffling drum loop is laced with live piano and guitar parts and Klashnekoff spits about … well, to be honest the subject matter doesn’t change much (the daily struggle…) but it remains meaningful and his flow is never anything less than interesting.
"Rest Of Our Lives", however, moves into storytelling mode. Subtitled "Black Rose Part 2", it tells of Klashnekoff’s relationship with his mother. Deep, complex and genuine, the tale he tells shows both a strength and a vulnerability that most MCs would be scared to present on record.
"Can’t You See" suffers on several counts. Firstly, I think all the lyrics used previously appeared on "Focus Mode", the beat is not one of the more engaging efforts on the album and the Nas sample on the chorus sounds slightly out of place. However, to mark this as one of the weaker tracks on the album still makes it better than a vast amount of hip-hop, UK or US, that I’ve heard recently.
Likewise, "Two Guns Blazing" is pretty decent but I’m not a huge fan of guest MC 45… I guess he appears on a lot of Joe Buhdah’s stuff to represent the Notts contingent but his flow isn’t on K-Lash’s level.
"Bun Dem", featuring chorus vocals by dancehall champ Capleton, is a welcome change of pace after the serious demeanour of the rest of the album. The beat sounds almost throwaway (although I’d imagine a lot of care went into making it), with steel drums layered over a more traditional hip-hop break. Still though, make sure you check the lyrics cos they’re deep as ever – matter of fact I’m going to transcribe K’s take on the current state of the hip-hop scene:
"That’s why I spit with a passion
Cos I’m sick of blacks clashing
Blacks flashing gats
Dying in an action-packed fashion
Rap is now strap, crack and cash-mashing
And abstract chaps who make tracks about Saturn
They use the biggest of words
They always got stack figures and quotes
Forever dissing what Jigga just wrote
You always seem them on the internet but never on the roads…"
I know he isn’t talking about Byron Crawford but hey, if the shoe fits…
Then the BPMs drop off and we are left with the final track "Make Ps". The beat is pure perfection, slow and loping with a beautiful, sporadic guitar loop complementing Klashnekoff’s reflective lines. Skriblah‘s verse is less exceptional but still very soild and the interplay of the the two MCs on the chorus is an absolute joy to hear.
The outro ties up any loose ends neatly as more sampled voices clearly declaim the album’s message…
"This is about more than drugs and crime… it’s about a deep sense of alienation felt by many black men."
This, then, is quite possibly the most politically coherent album I’ve heard since classic Public Enemy (or maybe Dead Prez if that’s your thing). It’s certainly a major piece of work and a landmark in UK hip-hop. Musically, it succeeds exceptionally well in most cases, with only a few comparatively dull moments and the odd underweight guest spot. However, the sheer ability and self-belief of the two main players means that I would have to consider this album an essential purchase for any fan of UK hip-hop or indeed anyone with an open mind to good music.