For those who don’t already know, the TPS Fam – formerly The Poetic Skitzafreniks – are a three man, Croyden based, hip-hop outfit comprising of rappers C-Sparks, Jack Diggs and The Strange Neighbour. The trio have been making music together since early 2007, releasing a number of notable free projects, not to mention their highly regarded 2010 debut LP Freshly Dug.
The Big Q.P is their forthcoming follow-up album, due out this Spring on independent record label Swanky Tramp. The album’s name comes in dedication to a close friend of the group, a graffiti artist known by the alias the Quality Punter, who sadly passed away back in June of last year. With an advanced access to the release it’s time to take a look at some of the key tracks to discover what – if anything – will have you wanting to get your hands on it.
From the moment the mellow, yet upbeat, scratch-laden, opening of titular track The Big Q.P kicks off, there is a definitive sense of growth felt throughout this release. Following on, the album’s first single release Not My Style serves as a personal critique and disdain for certain industry types that flood today’s hip-hop industry. The video was produced using phone camera footage from their recent trip to New York, where they worked with current rising talents on the underground circuit out there.
Kick Back is the crew’s mantra on surviving the monotony of the daily nine to five grind, and seeking relaxation and escapism through music. It’s here where you start to hear a true affinity with the modern working class that has become a notable stylistic quality of the group so far. You hear this in lines like, “6.30 I wake to reality, slave for a salary to pay for my happiness. I see more of my manager than family, and they try make us work more hours gradually”. The lyrics are supported by production from The Strange Neighbour, who supply’s a smooth beat laced with seductive piano, and beautiful Saxophone sampling.
After a relatively tranquil opening TPS step it up with a tag-team of rowdier numbers, produced by Strange Neighbour and Jack Diggs respectively. The first, Bring The Rawkus, is a “does exactly what it says on the tin” type affair, with an upbeat bass / string bounce to its beat. The closing sentiment of the hook, “You won’t hear no R’n’B on our album”, is one that most hardcore hip-hop fans will eagerly be able to get behind.The latter track, What We Stand For, presents a more militant feeling in its style and performance, with a fast-paced, relentless approach overall. Over the Jack Diggs beat, C-Sparks and Strange Neighbour hold a tight back and forth delivery that flawlessly matches the tone of the instrumental.
One Love is the group’s heartfelt dedication to their lost friend Mark “Difa” Grover, the graffiti whose alias inspired the album name. The track deals with the pain of losing him, with fond memories of their friendship, and their reflection on what he would think of their growth since his departure. The content of this one comes with a raw emotion, and an openness that is far too often lacking in some artist’s releases today. It’s a beautiful tune and shines as providing the true heart and soul of the album.
Crate Diggin’ Music is the second single of the album. In this tune the content perfectly matches that of the music video, which features a close look at the artist’s journey as they go about searching for hidden vinyl gems to sample. The track concerns a process that many producers will fondly relate to, and supplies a personal insight into the group’s favoured old-school production methods, and their overall passion for making music.
With We So Fly TPS Fam provide the album with the modern day drug culture anthem, a style which was more characteristic of their previous works. Still, in comparison to similar previous outings, this tune ranks highly amongst the best of them. The beat is a certified head-nodding classic, while the lyrics are relatively tongue-in-cheek, and come with a hook so catchy that even the most sober of citizens may find themselves singing along too.
Deja Vu concerns the lack of recognition that most current, talented, yet underground, hip-hop artists face in today’s industry. The track features the albums only collaboration, with up-and-coming, underground US affiliate Mista Melo, contributing a fine verse courtesy of Blunt Boogie Records, and production from fellow Swanky Tramp artist Hermit the Slob. Speaking on a personal level, I find a mark of a truly great album being when it doesn’t rely on the commercial draw of numerous big-name collaborations. By keeping the featuring artist’s exclusive to this track TPS prove they have the substance to own a release, whilst also showcasing new transatlantic, as well as in-house Swanky Tramp talent.
Crime Pays takes a narrative approach to its lyricism, with a focus on highlighting common reasons for modern inner-city youth’s descent into street crime. Through the situations portrayed, the group manage to document problems that most political figureheads often fail to understand. The tune is is set to a mysterious and ever so slightly ominous tone set by the Jack Diggs produced beat.
Before the tranquil, saxophone laced instrumental track It’s Everything plays the album out, its true finale comes in Wonderful Place. The tune focuses on a love / hate relationship with your hometown. It contrasts the highs and lows of inner-city life, and offers insightful criticisms and fond observations of British culture that will prove easy for its audience to relate to.
With this upcoming release TPS Fam have truly honed their artistic voice and style. Over the course of the album you really get a great sense of who these MC’s are, their likes and dislikes, their disdain for current trends in the industry, and the love and attention they apply to their own music. They are critical, reflective, and admirably honest throughout, which amounts to what feels like a really personal, well rounded and extremely solid album.
With the exception of Deja Vu production is handled entirely by Jack Diggs and Strange Neighbour. The album is a largely boom-bap affair, characterised by its delightfully soulful loop selections, and crunchy drum patterns, that are present over a wide range of tones throughout. With this and past release under their belt the duo establish themselves as exciting rising heavyweights in the UK production game.
After hearing the album I can confidently say that this release is definitely something you’ll want to be keeping an eye out for. I was also lucky enough to catch an early glimpse at a couple tracks from an upcoming C-Sparks project with rapper Omerta recently, which were sounding particularly tasty. Add that to this album, and other projects on the horizon, then Swanky Tramp are definitely a record label to watch in 2012. The Big Q.P is due for release over the next couple months; stay tuned to the label website for forthcoming details.
By: Calvin Hussey