So Long, Lewis Haldane
We always liked Lewis, too, and we shall miss him. His performance at the Millennium in our gallant loss against Doncaster was typical of Lewis on his game - on the one hand he was a pacy winger who was capable of running at people and even sometimes jinking past them, on the other hand he was six foot tall and well built and there was many a lower division full-back, used to being run at by 5' 7" sprinter types, who would suddenly find a hulking mass of tattoos bearing down on them like an out-of-control truck. Superannuated enough as we are to remember the days at Twerton when the admittedly legendary Worrell Sterling could hold down a first team place in right midfield for about 3 years despite *never* taking his full back on in that time, we feel Lewis has been a little unlucky. Whoever gets Lewis - and at the moment, it seems likely to be the Darling Buds' own Newport County - we think you've done well.
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Now when the much-missed hard-copy HHC put the Recordkingz' long-player "Heavyweight" on a par with the P Brothers' "The Gas" they were stretching credulity a little too far - despite the parallels (homestyle beatmakers seduce US rhymers into guesting over lovingly created riddims), the latter is a work of art, one of those albums you only get every five years or so. "Heavyweight", despite several top numbers, is decidedly more patchy. But "Heat", a taster download single and Juliano Creator's tete-a-tete with none other than Mobb Deep, is terrific ("imperious... a sweet summation of the artistry of Queensbridge's most revered veterans"), not least as it's so long since the Mobb gave us a single this good on their own (listen to "Shook Ones" even now and *weep* at its brilliance, fellow mere mortals). Bearing no resemblance at all the other Mobb Deep track called "Heat" (the one that starts MD's recent, typically patchy "The Safe Is Cracked" collection), this is a sticky, sultry, scratch-filled banger that manages to sound modern (there are some in-vogue Eastern stylings) but yet not as *plastic* as the new school so often does. Juliano has taken the time to sculpt something that suits Prodigy and Havoc, and they oblige by rocking up some simple QB phrases and spitting them across the piece. It's not quite as powerful as what Imam THUG or Boss Money were doing for Ed209 or the P Brothers last year, but we'll certainly take it for now.
Funnily enough, Brooklyn's Problemz turns up on "Heavyweight" too, and again his track ("Pay Your Respects") is one of the better ones, although that ain't hard when you're probably one of the topline, if slept-on, rap artists around. On the excellent "The Big Payback", one of three download singles trailing his LP with DJ Honda, he slaps rhymes against a nicely loose backing track without ever sounding that he's having to try too hard. It's confident, poetic and knowing.
Newham Generals' "Generally Speaking" album is rough, edgy & brilliant, despite being from Dizzee's proteges and on Dizzee's label (Dirtee Stank). "Violence" and "Pepper" hit hard like grime should (the former even shows that there's no need always to be afraid of the phrase "featuring Dizzee Rascal"), and the spacier, bizarre single "Head Get Mangled" ("interpolating sidewinder rhymes with washes of d&b and experimental instrumental, like a grime "Levitate", it makes having your head mangled a true pleasure") similarly takes no prisoners. "Mind Is A Gun" is another corker, distilling trilling experimental dub n' d&b noises alongside more crackled, lo-fi MCing. Line these unforgiving, non-conforming songs up against the dreck coming from Tinchy, Chip and a few others at the moment and there is no competition. The woeful "Bell Dem Slags" is, however, a major mis-step (it is to "Generally Speaking" what "Teenager In Love" is to the TPOBPAH album).
Last year's Rap 2 Rue comp kinda confirmed that French hip-hop has lost its way as much as le rap Americain (and, unless someone pulls something out of the fire sharpish, possibly even the British variety), so instead of bigging up the rougher stuff we used to like - Menelik, Arsenik, Assassin etc - we find ourselves lording it for Oxmo Puccino's almost-impossibly laid back "365 Jours" single, which casually but brilliantly unfurls over lizard lounge backing until the man is close to comatose, merely whispering sweet nothings into the mix while Hood-like violins collide with jazz vibes to fade. Suggested new word for the OED: "oxmosis" = the process of languidly rapping until horizontal. (Also, unless we're mistaken, he manages to rhyme "soixante" with "croissant" at one point). Blissed-out Francophile headz should note that "Soleil du Nord", issued later in the year, drips with similar Gallic charm: both singles on his "L'Arme de Paix" album.
Tippa Irie is, without doubt, a don, and his "Bad Boy" single is Tippa's timely warning to the Jade Braithwaites of this world, the dispossessed who skulk in the errant belief that if they play-act as bad boy, treating their entitlement to respect as sacred, they won't fuck up their entire life, as well as that of their victims, in the process. Riding a surprisingly old-fashioned roots rhythm, TI obviously hasn't forgotten how powerful reggae can be as a means of channelling a powerful political message (after all, the roots of "Bad Boy"'s sentiment can be heard more than thirty years ago in "Stop The Fussing And Fighting"). He also manages to mention de Niro and Pacino in the chorus without going the whole hog and rhyming them, for which we're grateful.
Another ilwttisott favourite, Salvo, seemed to go underground after the excellent "Cooking The Books" 12", whereas his brother 184 has been doing production duties for all sorts of peeps as well as niceties like the "Blondes" single. So it's good to see some new vinyl in the shape of "The Info", a 7" on King Kong Holding Company, especially as Sal is joined by the instantly-recognisable voices of relative heavyweights Kashmere and our local heroes Taskforce's own Chester P. Jehst has a hand in the production, which is still likeably rough, this really being a record (as was Dap-C's "Ma Money", on a different scale) about showing off the respective verses of the rappers on board. Nice.
When Pocketbooks reminded us of NWA earlier in the year, we took a dip back into the latter's back catalogue, just to relive those halcyon days and NWA's winning formula, viz: first verse by Cube (normally brilliant, witty, aware, genre- if not era-defining); second verse by MC Ren (normally not as good or as clever as Cube's, but hard-hitting enough); third verse by Eazy-E (normally pretty terrible, but entertaining for all that). And while Cube's star kept rising, and we caught up with him here, and Eazy sadly passed away, although he still executive-produces NWA reissues from on high, our Lorenzo has merely splashed around in L.A. backwaters as far as we can tell, only appearing in our record collection since on a solitary team with Cypress Hill (our sworn enemies, now that we're in Westside Connection). But he does have this new single, "Reincarnated", and while there's little (ok, nothing) about it that's new or original, we're rather fond of it. Being a bit out of practice, it takes a minute before he gets round to joining in with the mid-school West Coast beat (perhaps he's just used to waiting for Cube to finish), but we're left in no doubt by the end of the song that Ren is indeed still around, still gangsta, still the same guy who dropped all those memorable second verses, and that as he "started this gangsta shit", he's gonna finish it too. Obv, the list of people who started gangsta is as long as the list of bands who were the new Smiths, the truth in this case being three letters (not REN, but P.S.K.)
But let's finish once more with the best of the bunch: and it's DJ Honda again, this time with none other than Mos Def in tow, and their single "Magnetic Arts". I mean, damn. This is peaches and cream - and really really much better than the "Quiet Dog" single taster for Mos Def's own new solo LP, which there's been some raving about - but even after some weeks of enjoying it we can't really explain why it floats our boat so, although we are prepared to say that this is what we mean by a thriving Brooklyn scene, even if others talk of the Vivian Girls and Crystal Stilts. DJH, following his long-player with fellow local Problemz, is here limbering up for his next showcase album ("IV"), and the multifaceted, too-often inconsistent yet still underrated Mos Def (we would say hip-hop's Matt Le Tissier, but actually that's probably Nas) deigns to join him for some horn-happy, full-on, no flagging old-of-skool dextro-freestyling that is over waaay too quickly (not even three minutes on the clock). (For some reason, like last year's EPMD album, it seems that Honda's newie won't be getting a UK release, but we're just going to have to find a way). Unreviewably good.
Stop press: Rather brilliantly, Lewis has not actually left yet (having unaccountably turned down a move to Newport) and is still moochiing about the Mem like Banquo's ghost. Hang on in there, my son.
Stop press again: just hours since posting this, it now appears Lewis has been loaned to Port Vale... may our Stoke-based friends make him welcome.