Homegrown Vol. 1
eing a supporter of UK hip-hop can occasionally give you great empathy with East End doyen Dot Cotton. You spend your entire life trying to convince the unbelievers that your Nick’s a good boy now, and then, all of a sudden… “Awight mah?”, and Jehst releases a new single.
Anyway, UK hip-hop is now apparently BIG BUSINESS because Estelle’s had a couple of hits, and the broadsheets compared Skinnyman to Dizzee Rascal, possibly for no other reason than that they both have elongated skulls. And the catalyst for all of this was Skitz’s 2001 producer album Countryman. It’s the album where Estelle killed it to a moderate degree (wounded it, perhaps) with Tempa and Wildflower on “Domestic Science”, where Skinnyman shone on the “Twilight of the Gods” posse cut, where Roots Manuva fired off warning shots for Run Come Save Me and Rodney P reminded us that he wasn’t dead. If British hip-hop is the Brat Pack, this was its Breakfast Club.
So after letting all of his nestlings free into the wild, the Countryman forwent the Ecko sponsorships and chances to work with Feeder that befall the more successful members of the UK urban music scene, and instead turned up on the fledgling 1Xtra, where, with Rodney P, he hosted “Original Fever”, the one-stop shop for British rap music on the airwaves. He started this thing, he nurtured this thing…and now he’s mixtaping this thing.
Although it may be called Homegrown, like big-boned penalty debated Sam Allardyce, Sktiz knows the value of imported talent. Thus, in a move guaranteed to infuriate UKIP, we get Canadian Kardinal Offishall (the “Ebonics”-gone-Canuck-electro of “Bakardi Slang” should be enough to remove all traces of that awful Texas single from your mind), and mammary-manipulation aficionado Pharoahe Monch, who may be addressing the Iraq War on “Agent Orange”, but may well have been overdosing on Apocalypse Now before sampling some ZX81 loading music. But in a good way.
With the rest of the album consisting of solely British rap music, there’s obviously some really bad political discussion. Thus The Extremist’s “Revolution” argues for a lower tax rate, whilst maintaining that the UK entered Iraq under false pretenses and that the current political establishment is untrustworthy (you may recall these as the three main points of the Conservative Party Conference), whilst “What’s Goin’ On?” by Sterling Collat and about fifty other people delivers conspiracy theories so cuckoo as to have Jadakiss tapping the side of his head on a “C’est son fou c’est Romans” tip, the high-water mark of which is the claim that Floetry didn’t win the 2003 Mercury prize because they were black. Dizzee Rascal couldn’t be reached for comment.
So leave the political debate to Abbott and Portillo, and instead enjoy the many prime cuts on display here. Stuff like the criminally overlooked “Dogz N Sledgez” by Million Dan, which could have been a top 40 single but, ummm, wasn’t. Danny Boy shouts in largely indecipherable patois about the high quality prevalent in Selfrides’ pasta over ear-bleed dancehall. Or Phi Life Cypher’s “Soldiers”. Yes, Phi Life can’t rap, but then neither could Edith Piaf, and she made some pretty great songs as well.
Roots Manuva returns after far too long away with “Check It”, rhyming over a distorted merry-go-round backing about fishing in the Peak District, his grandmother’s veranda, comparing himself to Janis Joplin and how we should call him a “conscious rapper”. You don’t feel like arguing.
Mr. Ti2bs may have ruined what would have been the best MC name in history with an unnecessary numeral, and the creeping sense of inevitability that his debut album will be entitled They Call Me Mr Ti2bs, but as far as introductions go, “Introducing Mr Tibbs” is up there with “In the beginning was the word”. Street savvy, lazy mouthed rhyming from “the black Del Boy”. Custhy.
And, of course, we end with the man of the last moment Skinnyman, with “What’s My Life Like”. Whilst there may be the worry that Council Estate of Mind was aimed more at the sort of people who can read Observer Music Monthly without crying that actual hip-hop fans, in limited doses, as a vet storyteller, Skinnyman is unsurpassable.
Effectively, Countryman and Homegrown: Vol 1 bookend the 2001-2004 era of British rap, from its first tentative steps into the top 40 to its first tentative steps into the top 20. And there watching each tumble, each stumble, each single Ty releases, is Skitz, the proudest father of the scene around. Someone buy this man a “World’s Greatest Dad” mug.
Reviewed by: Dom Passantino
Reviewed on: 2004-10-22