Lusty doesn’t look much like a rapper. And he doesn’t sound much like a rapper. At least, he doesn’t if you’re used to the radio rap dialectic of today, which rarely hears accents from anywhere outside America or London. But Hip Hop isn’t about image or voice, nor credentials or race. Certainly, if success as a Hip Hop artist were related to voice we could have expected Dizzee Rascal’s career to be short lived and unfortunately that’s not the case. In short, Public Mental Breakdown isn’t your run of the mill Hip Hop album. It might be a good time, at this point, to quote Lusty himself and say the album is for ‘…the middle aged B-boy’. In a way that sums everything up neatly but there’s more to be said.
There are plenty of rappers who have challenged the tenants of Hip Hop tradition and in doing so expanded and advanced Hip Hop culture. Equally there are plenty of rappers who followed the culture as if it afforded all the scope and originality of an Ikea flat pack. The trick is to embrace the culture as an individual, rather than to let the culture define you as an individual. If an emcee fails to manage his art in this way, so that he helps to define the culture rather than vice versa, then he edges ever closer to the cliché and the stereotype. Lusty certainly avoids this. Who Lusty is isn’t hidden or ill defined but it never sidetracks to stereotype. If Lusty does draw on a cliché, it’s usually in self parody, like when he describes the album as for the middle aged B-boy. The statement is more than a reflection on himself – whether he meant for this to be the case or not – it is also a reflection on age in Hip Hop; where youth is king and things don’t have to be very old to be ‘old’.
Still, Lusty stays true to the culture with celebratory references to the Hip Hop of his youth. Musically speaking, most of the production is a modernised and British take on old school boom bap production from the US. This style makes a welcome change from the Lo-Fi and grimy beats that have been popularised in the past few years. This album takes its place alongside those of crews like Triple Darkness who have championed old school Hip Hop in the UK. That’s not to say that Lusty is similar to Triple Darkness; he isn’t. Instead it suggests that these two disparate artists share at least something of a musical philosophy and appreciation for an older aesthetic.
Being older than his contemporaries gives Public Mental Breakdown another of its quirks. Witnessing the 80s and 90s first hand, being able to feel the atmosphere at each gig, to taste the sweat haze crowding the ceiling, has influenced the album. There was a huge British music scene in the 80s and 90s that saw, among other things, Ska and 2-tone become mainstay. Later the jangling, arpeggio chords of the Smiths carved open a new aural landscape. These influences still have a presence on the album, though only a soft presence. This in itself makes for an interesting addition to the overall Hip Hop canon. Public Mental Breakdown follows the blueprint of Hip Hop but on top of that blueprint are folk and (loosely categorised) Brit-pop influences. The video for Self Medication – a bouncy, offbeat track and the first single from the album – shows Lusty somewhere between your typical emcee and a member of Madness.
His personality and quintessentially British work ethic is consistent throughout; in many ways this is a major draw of the album. The lyrical style is direct, irreverent and often comical (‘The nation wet its pants over Fifty Shades of Grey, you want explicit? Check my internet history for a day’) and it is this which grabs you on a first listen. The album is full of distinctly British pop culture references, observations and language. In one line of Mistaken Identity you get two British colloquialisms and an X Factor reference thrown in. Country Bumpkin couldn’t be anything besides the work of an English emcee, could it? Who else would write, ‘I’ll spread you all over the walls just like I was a plasterer, then back up and run you over in my combined harvester’?
Public Mental Breakdown doesn’t shy away from bigger issues, however. It isn’t made up purely wit-tinged lyricism, though that is a key element of the style, nor is it a piece of social commentary. It is a product of its time and place which, really, is the beauty of this album. It is completely unpretentious and this quality is particularly disarming. Lusty does have plenty of self-congratulatory bars – as is the Hip Hop tradition – but not without an aftertaste of irony.
The best examples of the album as a product of its time are Hip Hop Time Machine, a walk through Lusty’s Hip Hop upbringing, and The Jeremy Vile Show, an ominous sounding track that opens, ‘Hello, good morning and welcome to the show. On today’s show we intend to humiliate as many people as possible on national TV. Welcome to the circus’. Near the start of the album Mistaken Identity is an anti-idolatry riddle of references to pop culture from the royal family to Russell Brand to the banking industry. The Jeremy Vile Show also displays some of Lusty’s most progressive lyrics. He drops his more conventional rap style in favour of one reminiscent of Gil Scott Heron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, rapping, ‘You’re welcome on my show if you can’t finish a sentence without adding the word innit, you’re welcome on my show if you get £71 a week on Job Seekers Allowance but still spend £90 a week on weed’.
Public Mental Breakdown is a strong album as long as you can look past it being aimed at middle aged B-Boys and as I discussed, that’s no reason to judge an album. The production style won’t suit everyone, but it does suit Lusty and changes to accommodate him where needed, like on the Jeremy Vile Show. It might be said that the album lacks something of a cohesive atmosphere, and in some cases the tracks feel slightly bare, but what it lacks in atmosphere it makes up for in momentum which it has in abundance. At a base level though, what’s special about this album is that it has no market, no demographic in mind (even if Lusty does mention middle aged B Boys) and that alone makes it a beautiful and rare thing.
By: Andy Fletcher
01. Midlife Crisis
02. Country Bumpkin
03. Pickin Pockets
04. Self Medication
05. Bad Places
06. Heaven Or Hell
07. Mistaken Identity
08. Hip Hop Time Machine
09. The Jeremy Vile Show
11. Dead Man Chat
12. Losing The Plot
13. Suicide Watch