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UK Hip Hop: International
Mark B & Blade - The Unknown
Bark B & Blade - The Unknown Single CoverHaving worked together on several projects for Vadim's Jazz Fudge label, such as the 'Nobody Relates' EP Mark B and the original Hardest Working - S.E. London's Blade have laid down the groundwork required to step to a label with major backing and release a full length album 'The Unknown' which dropped on 2nd October 2000. Much anticipated this Wordplay / Source release was very much what people had expected. Severe beats from Mark B and totally competent rapping from an MC who has been around for over 15 years, but those factors could be the Achilles heel of this crew. There are several superb neck snapping tracks, and the record is hard to fault, but overall there is a feeling that they have just done what they are most comfortable with and not really experimented anywhere. To be fair to them maybe they didn't have to and maybe there was pressure to produce saleable material. Not to forget the DJs there are superb cuts throughout from Plus One, Mr Thing and Prime Cuts.

Mark B a 29-year-old native and resident of what he calls K-Boro Kingston, apparently likes to have himself marketed as 'the king of hunting covetous breaks' and has conducted 'unprecedented beat digging that has earned him universal kudos' according to his press releases. A touch overstated especially as some of the samples are recognisable and from old funk compilations to boot. He has worked with many of the biggest names in UK Hip Hop, including Lewis Parker through to Task Force. A DJ and one time promoter, Mark was studying technical drawing and hoping to become an architect in 1983 when he discovered graf. His fascination became an obsession and Hip Hop began to consume him. By the time he was in his late teens he had given up thoughts of building houses in favour of dreams of building beats.

Mark B'When I was about 19 or 20 and living on my own, I had so many breaks that I'd discovered already I just wanted to use them, so I got a basic sampler and it just took off from there really.' He remembers.

Since then his breaks collection has just grown and grown, along with his production skills. 'Yeah, I'm very secretive about buying breaks' laughing at the cloak and dagger nature of it all, 'and where I get them from. Damn I've been to some interesting places to get my records: Poland, Czech Republic, Germany and the States.'

It was at about this time that Mark met Blade for the first time. 'We were organising a lot of parties in Kingston,' he recalls. 'I was buying records off Blade by mail order, and I asked him to come down to do a show.

'We'd been having trouble with the landlord all night, he wanted us to turn the music down, so when Blade came on he pulled the plugs. 'The sound went off, the lights, everything. It was well funny. He just got on stage and said, 'Anybody know who I am?' There was this massive roar, 'Yeah! Blade!'. And then, nothing.'

The pair kept in touch: the aspirant beat-maker and the hard-headed, single-minded rapper and DIY record label, with the former hoping that the latter would allow him to do what no-one else had done at that time, and make music with him. 'I always used to play him my stuff but at that time it was always slower, around that 80, 85 beats per minute mark,' Mark remembers. 'He wants the fast shit. I said, 'Blade, I can't make beats like that'. But he said, 'When you've got something more energetic, come back to me'.

Mark B and BladeWhile Blade took some steps out of the limelight, Mark went about building his reputation. In 1995, after doing some tracks for Vadim, the first Mark B 12" - with vocals from Big Ted and MCM (ex. Caveman) was released.

However the idea of working with Blade never gone out of Mark's mind. Eventually Mark convinced him to work on a track for Vadim's label, Jazz Fudge. The Hitmen For Hire EP was duly released in 1998. It was the first time Blade had let someone else produce his music, and it established a sound and a style that both men feel comfortable with.

An album was talked about but neither felt that the time was right. But needs musts: 'I think, to be honest, we needed to do an album,' Mark admits. 'We did some demos and when he heard them, David [Laub] jumped at the chance to sign us to Wordplay, the Hip Hop label that Virgin offshoot Source launched last year.'

Mark is modest about his work, maintaining: 'I don't look into it too deeply, I don't have a philosophy behind it, I just want to make good records.' But he will admit to one reason why his sound works so well. 'At the end of the day what I'm doing is trying to create songs rather than tracks. Some people just bung any old lyrics in there and scratching that doesn't fit the record, but I want to have a whole package. And I think that's what British hip hop has lacked for so long: there's too many people just rapping over a beat, doing nothing new.'

BladeAnd of his motivation towards his hero-turned-collaborator, Mark sums up: 'I'm not doing it for any reason other than to put out records, make some money, and get Blade to make some money. He deserves it. He's a bad rapper and he never really got his props.'

Blade is one of the UK's longest established and most respected MCs. He is hard-headed and has been dedicated to hip hop culture for as long as he can remember. Now, after a period for himself, Blade has returned with renewed energy.

Yet again certain parts of the media see British Hip Hop as fashionable and Mark and Blade are part of this along with the likes of the Creators, Roots Manuva and the Nextmen. But UK Hip Hop has been with us for over 20 years and isn't something to be played with and exploited just because a couple of larger labels have decided that this year they'll try and make a few bucks off the scene. It will survive this and would flourish with fair exposure to the mainstream press, but as we are experiencing, this can only happen when you become selected for the limelight by the powers that be. Lets hope that this exposure is good for Mark B and Blade and that they can remain true to themselves. Already we see this LP being milked for all it is worth with the release of a fourth single, the title track - 'Unknown'. Don't get me wrong I love this track, but the 12" isn't the best value with only the one track on it.

Written in collaboration with www.waytoblue.com. Go to: www.peoplesound.com/eflyers/markbandblade.exe to download the Eflyer or check out  www.peoplesound.com/artist/markbandblade to download tracks and the exclusive 3 part mix of the LP.
SourceWordplay

Visit Mark B & Blade on the web: www.markbandblade.com :: Email: info@markbandblade.com

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