Many producers had yet to develop their skills and a large proportion of releases were poorly produced when compared to those from America. This would become a contentious point and when linked to industry incomprehension and limited promotional opportunities, indigenous Hip Hop was unable to break the strangle hold the major labels and pop music had on the charts.
The hit singles from Derek B, the Cookie Crew and the Wee Papa Girl rappers were drops in the ocean, and although independent singles from inspired crews could become underground hits they would disappear without trace in the charts.
Into this unpromising landscape, the London Posse released their 1990 debut album, a more Reggae and New York Hip Hop influenced offering rather than the fast Hardcore style that was prevalent. They also brought the more professional production values of New York and stepping up the UK's game made one of British Hip Hop's most inspiring, enduring and memorable moments.
Ahead of its time but totally representative of it, 'Gangster Chronicle' became an instant classic among the country's Hip Hop fans. And finally after its long period of unavailability, coupled with the media resurgence of interest in homegrown rap over the past couple of years, a major label has decided to back the re release of the London Posse back catalogue.
"The public demanded this reissue!" laughs Rodney P, who, with partner Bionic, was one half of the band when the record was made. "It's non-existent history – if you weren't there you don't know."
Rodney and Bionic's path to 'Gangster Chronicle' began in 1986, when a mutual friend, Sipho, asked them to join him on tour with Big Audio Dynamite, the experimental rock-rap fusioneers helmed by former Clash guitarist Mick Jones.
"We didn't have a name when we went on the road," Rodney remembers. "But we went to New York with Big Audio Dynamite, and we got called 'The London Posse' because we were the only group of English black kids in New York. And it stuck."
The visit to New York proved instructive for other reasons, too. "Like everyone else, I started out rapping with a big, broad American accent," Rodney smiles, "but being in New York so early in our careers, we saw that it don't make no sense.
“What the Americans like about you most is your English accent and when you talk Cockney. Our selling point was the way we talk."
While in New York the newcomers received another lesson, watching KRS-ONE and his BDP crew making one of the first Hip Hop videos. "We were actually at the 'Bridge Is Over' video shoot," Rodney recalls.
"That's one of our claims to a place in Hip Hop history! I don't remember seeing no other English people there...!"
While Hip Hop was their music of choice – "when I was 13 and heard 'Rapper's Delight', I knew that was me, my generation, my music," says Rodney – the London Posse were also heavily influenced by reggae.
Not just musically, as heard in Bionic's ragga-tinged flows in particular, but also by the attitudes evident in the British reggae scene. "The Saxon Sound DJs always stressed the difference between England and Jamaica," Rodney explains.
"The reggae thing was, 'We're English Jamaicans, our flex is different'. Men like Tippa Irie had already represented that, so we had their lead to take. And we just brought the same argument to Hip Hop."
Established as a group with a definably British sound, style and slang, the band continued the roadwork, and following UK dates with B.A.D. they attracted the interest of Jaz Summers, owner of the Big Life independent label.
Then the home to cut'n'paste DJ group Coldcut, Big Life was starting down the pop path, with the likes of Yazz and Lisa Stansfield waiting in the wings. It was for Big Life that London Posse cut their eponymous debut single, and shot the cover photo in Leicester Square tube station.
"We got a bit of a touch there, 'cos Yazz's dad was the manager of the tube station and he let us run riot on the escalators an' shit," Rodney laughs.
More touring followed, and while all were happy with the single – which had been produced by UK rap radio DJ Tim Westwood and his accomplice, Jive Records in-house engineer Bryan "Chuck" New – cracks began to show.
Sipho jumped ship, taking up a job offer from Derek B, and the Big Life deal stalled, leaving Rodney and Bionic to their own devices. "In a way it was a good thing," the rapper recalls, "because it got me and Bionic to focus back on the music.
“We were hungrier than ever. So we linked with Westwood again and made 'Money Mad', because that was the mentality at the time."
Regarded by many as the finest UK rap single ever, 'Money Mad', the product of London Posse's experience, influences and desire, was released on Westwood's Justice imprint in 1988.
"At the time I would say that was the most honest British rap record," Rodney now accepts. "It caught people's imagination in the same way as the American tunes of the time did, because they could hear themselves in it. It hadn't been done before. 'Money Mad' was when we broke the mould."
Recorded in New's home studio and compiled by the engineer from samples and song fragments brought to him by Bionic and Rodney, the single became the band's calling card, and led indirectly to their link-up with Island subsidiary Mango and to the making of 'Gangster Chronicle'.
"Really," Rodney confesses, "We went in to do the album without knowing what the fuck we were doing. We had an idea of what we wanted, but we just got as close to it as we knew how, which wasn't really that close!
“ When we left the studio every night we were happy with what we did, but it was never quite right. We recorded it in little bursts but over a quite concentrated period of time – maybe a month, month and a half.
“It didn't take very long. A lot of it was written long before we got the chance to record it. We had a million lyrics, literally. Lots and lots and lots of lyrics!"
A remix of 'Money Mad' was released as a single, but failed to chart. The London Posse helped bring a raft of their contemporaries to Mango – including Black Radical Mk II and Demon Boyz – only for the label to be scuppered by its parent company.
But 'Gangster Chronicle', recorded cheaply by a band who hadn't demanded an astronomical advance, turned a significant profit. As a gesture of good feeling, Mango gave the masters back to the group when the imprint was finally closed down.
A second album was recorded but never released; a selection of singles – How's Life In London, Supermodel, Here Comes The Rugged One, Style – came out on Bullit, an independent run by the group and manager Errol Bull.
"We were independent, we were out there doing it for ourselves, and it felt good," Rodney remembers. "But it's hard to maintain it without support. We were seeing minimal success, but the times were changing, and the focus was shifting from Hip Hop.
“We got money from a publishing deal, but we didn't get to use any of it ourselves! It was all straight back in to the label. We'd got an album but we couldn't afford to put it out. Everything was strained: the relationship was strained, money was tight, times were hard.
"We never actually said that it was over," he concludes. "We just kind of diversified. Bionic got into the drum & bass 'ting and I started working with Dobie, did some solo stuff for his label, Pussyfoot, and rapped on his remix of Bjork's 'I Miss You'."
One final attempt at a London Posse recording session, under the auspices of Tricky's Durban Poison imprint, was attempted in '97, but the magic had gone. "We thought, let's try it one more time to see how it would run, but it didn't run. Things fall apart, and that was kind of the end."
And of the album that remains the group's last will and recorded testament, Rodney is understandably proud. "I recognise the times in that record. Even though it was bravado and braggy and boasty, we were honest.
“I see it as a landmark. We didn't get the idea from anyone else, that was what we brought to the table, and since then a lot of people have maybe used what we did kinda like a map.
“Although it's only ten years later you can look back and say that. We always believed that people have to be inspired by what's here. What's the point of looking a million miles away when you can find the inspiration by looking in the mirror?"
Well, some people wouldn’t recognise their own parents if they hadn't seen them for ten years. And the London Posse can lay justifiable claim to being among the founding fathers of one aspect of British Hip Hop.
'Gangster Chronicle' has stood the test of time, and this Wordplay reissue,
which includes those post-album singles, will allow a new generation to hear
one of the foundation stones on which the UK rap of the 21st century is being
If you missed out the first time round make sure you don't this time. Respect, as they say, is most definitely (over)due.