Tuesday, February 10, 2015

garage rap # 6

Reading Popular in the last few years of its output, I've often had cause to reflect that it's quite fortunate I ended up living in America for most of the Nineties.

I was reminded of this most recently by Tom Ewing's (very interesting) entry on Manic Street Preachers's "The Masses Against the Classes". Not only was I unaware that this song got to Number One, I was unaware that this song even existed.

Overall, it's worked out very well for me, being an expatriate. For instance, I have never knowingly heard Westlife. I think I've only heard one song by Travis and Catatonia each, and then only once.

But there are downsides.

Obviously American pop culture generates its own unique shite. I could have done without the nu-metal.

But mostly I regret missing out on the whole 2step takeover of UK pop moment. The years when the garage nation went nationwide.

I knew it was going on, of course. Bought most of the cash-in comps that came out. Caught glimpses on visits back to the motherland. Wrote a couple of reported features on it for US music magazines.  But as a week by week experience, I missed it: Top of The Pops appearances and kids TV music shows on Saturday morning, Artful Dodger on Radio One, hearing Architechs or "Flowers" in clothes shops or coming out of passing cars.  The mundane-ification of an underground sound as it goes overground.

I mentioned a while back that I was unaware just how many UKG and garage rap acts had dodgy, now-dated-yet-vibey promo videos made.

However I did manage to catch two great UKG-on-TV moments. Possibly I was in the country at the right time. There was also a short period when  BBC America was showing episodes of Top of the Pops.

One such UKG-on-TV moment was Truesteppers featuring Victoria Beckham doing "Out of Your Mind". Jonny L and Posh Spice on Top of the Pops together!

And the other was More Fire Crew and "Oi!". That one I did catch on BBC America.

At the time I felt that it was possibly the most jarringly avant intrusion into the UK pop mainstream since PiL doing "Death Disco" and "Flowers of Romance" on TOTP. The most aggressive sound-assault since Killing Joke's "Empire Song" on the same programme. The rawest roar since Angelic Upstarts playing "Teenage Warning" live in the TOTP studio.

There's a tiny slice of that More Fire appearance  at around 2.20 in this digest that somebloke's made out of  that particular TOTP episode - pirate radio glory sandwiched between revolting wedges of Britshit.

The proper credit is Platinum 45 featuring More Fire Crew, and credit is most definitely due to the Platinum man for the beat, which pummels like jump-up jungle at its toughest.

But the harsh jabber of the Lethal B, Ozzie and Neko is just as abrasive.

It's not really "garage rap", because the music isn't UK garage -- but then  by 2002 UKG  didn't sound like garage.  With tunes like So Solid's "Dilemma" and Deekline's "I Don't Smoke", house and R&B were getting displaced by electro and breakbeat as the engine of the music.

"Oi!" is arguably the first grime tune.


Here's what I said about "Oi!" in The Grime Primer

Platinum 45 featuring More Fire
Go Beat 2002
Pirate radio culture evolves in small increments, month by month. The onset of one genre or sub-flava overlaps with the twilight of its predecessor. There are rarely clean breaks. Still, every so often a track comes along that yells "IT'S THE NEW STYLE!!!!" in your face. "Oi!" was one of them. Drawing on the most anti-pop, street vanguard elements in black music history - ragga's twitch 'n' lurch, electro's (f)rigidity, jump-up Jungle's bruising bass-blows -producer Platinum 45 created a most unlikely #7 hit. Factor in the barely-decipherable jabber of More Fire's Lethal B, Ozzie B, and Neeko, and the result was one of the most abrasively alien Top Of The Pops appearances ever. The tune's pogo-like hard-bounce bass and uncouth Cockney-goes-ragga chants mean that "Oi!" has more in common with Cockney Rejects-style punk than you'd imagine. "Oi!", then - Grime's biggest hit to date, before the genre even had a name.

Incredible as it may now seem, "Oi!" got to Number 7.

More Fire couldn't repeat that success and the album was, commercially at least. a bust. (Here's what I said about it at the time).

Amazingly, Lethal B(izzle) would do a Lazarus and in 2005 score grime's other biggest hit (meaning grime as in raw uncut grime rather than pop-dilute form) with "Pow". Followed by a solo debut LP that like the More Fire LP fizzled.

And it seems - I hadn't noticed, living on the wrong side of the Atlantic - that in the last two or three years he's bumrushed the UK Top 40 a bunch more times. Amazing never-say-die stamina, that man.