Part 2 was born Keith Hopewell in York. In retrospect, he says, "Hip Hop saved me. The culture saved me - I was just a local nutter, a hooligan - just getting into fights the whole time and making bombs, nicking from the science lab - bunsen burners, the works. We were so into the illegal side of the grafitti - it helped with the boredom thing. But then I found out I had a talent for it." As a graffiti artist, Part 2 innovated a hyper-real figurative style that won him admirers around the world and led to his work being exhibited alongside the likes of Futura 2000, Req and Goldie. But gradually his interest in music won over his attention. His production skills have been refined over the years and now many would count him as one of the finest beatmakers in the country. He has remixed and produced for the likes of Roots Manuva and Saul Williams and is currently negotiating with a label about the possibility of a solo album. 7 magazine described a recent production of his as "the kind of electro-bogling beat some US producers would hawk their prized sample collection for". Believe it, "Understanding" witnesses the flowering of a rare talent.
When Part 2 came up with the idea for a loose musical collective known as New Flesh For Old, one of his first recruits was Toastie Tailor. Toastie was born and brought up in Grenada. His father is a renowned strong man who used to pull aeroplanes by his teeth and who was also Kevin Keegan's personal trainer for a while (he still trains his wife!). When Toastie was nine his dad relocated the family to the UK. Toastie began rhyming after meeting Part 2 at a warehouse studio he ran for a while. Toastie had come down from Middlesbrough for one reason only: "I thought I was going to meet girls!" But the mates he was with made him 'audition'. Part loved Toastie's voice and told him to go away and write some rhymes. "Then he came back to me with some crazy shit!" He quickly found himself drawing heavily on a dancehall style, his ragged, booming delivery becoming as much a feature of the New Flesh sound as Part 2's innovative production. On "Understanding," though, he has expanded his range yet again. "I brought forth more of my background and also more expressive writing, particularly in the story telling - stuff I'd never experimented with before". While he shows he can still do the righteous dancehall boom on the likes of "More Fire" there's the thoughtful tale "Real Child Soldier" and also his incredibly sweet singing on both "Communicate" and "Do You Understand?" …which show that he hasn't forgotten those childhood sounds of soca. The man is a sensation - listen to him and hear it.
A true original, Juice Aleem grew up in Birmingham, first in the inner city and then out in the suburbs. "Moved out of the inner city supposedly for a better life but it was worse. You move out of a low grade poverty area into another low grade poverty area but you're in a minority so you get into even more fights. My main memory is of things like chasing white boys across the park after they've chased my brother across the park then getting chased back across the park by even more white boys." At school he was "always the guy rapping and singing at the back of the class before I even knew what it was - changing up the lyrics to pop songs". While he got into Hip Hop in about 1982 and started joining breaking crews, his home life provided a broader musical environment: "Reggae, pop, rap, West Indian background - calypso, soca, Studio One, Blue Beat. Dennis Brown as well as James Brown." Of his work on the new LP he comments that he has relied on "more rhythmic-based patterns and styles this time" - he has also allowed his humour to shine through a little more clearly: "See me now/ chopping a Holy Cow for art's sake/ insensate they hung me in the Tate/ hooks through the back of my neck/ 'He's not realistic - a good likeness but there's better in another district'/ cannibalistic animal show down/ higher than firepower/ mowing them all down/ defiant giant doing drive-bys in a Robin Reliant".
New Flesh have come a long way since 1999's debut album 'Equilbrium' - that record was a dark, brooding, almost violent affair, but times have changed. While 'Understanding' is every bit as innovative as their first outing, New Flesh have rediscovered their love of soul and reggae and dancehall and soca to create a leftfield almost R&B classic, where the bap is booming and the lyrics flow so hard it leaves you breathless.
Not this time. New Flesh's "Understanding" is just that - a plea for understanding and an acknowledgement of their own new attitude. "Understanding" is that rare thing - a thrillingly innovative, original record which is also as accessible as anything coming out of mainstream US hip hip or R&B. And yet it could only have been made in the UK - a fantastic amalgam of Hip Hop, dancehall, UK garage, soul and funk, a blend straight out of soundsystem culture. Throw in lyrics that range from ranting about bling to an examination of the war in Sierra Leone to a dancing Queen and her corgies to space shit to... well, whatever, you just know it's going to be a killer. Imagine if P-Funk had been made up of people from unfashionable parts of the UK and had formed in the 90s. You're only half way there…
In addition to all this, the group arranged a stellar cast of guests to appear - Beans of New York's Anti-Pop Consortium (now signed to Warp), label-mate Roots Manuva (playing Cecil Pimpernel to Juice's Norbert Psych), Gift of Gab of Blackalicious and old skool graf legend Ramm:Ell:Zee (who appeared in both 'Wildstyle' and 'Style Wars', was a friend of Jean-Michel Basquiaat's and who MCed on one of the all-time great Hip Hop records, 'Beat Bop'), Gwen Esty, Robotic E.B.U. (Gamma) and Ty. This is a record of many moods and moments. It is all held together, however, by state of the art beat making from Part 2 and the vocal and lyrical flexibility of Toastie Tailor and Juice Aleem.
A genuinely special, "mood changing, vibrant" (Toastie) record that's set to make its mark over the coming year, "Understanding" is, according to Part 2, "just another side - the last album was the hardcore album I wanted to make when I was 18. Now we're bringing in the other elements of our lives - the soul, for one. Hip Hop don't exist anymore! It's about life now…"
The buzz around this record has been building since the start of the summer, sparked off by the low key release of 'Communicate' and bolstered by a series of live shows that have driven crowds wild. With the album to be immediately followed by the release of the incendiary true-steppa "Stick & Move," 2002 is set to be their best year yet.
01. Move Slow ft. Beans (Anti Pop)
02. Zero Gravity
03. More Fire
04. Norbert & Cecil ft. Cecil P.Y.L.M. Pim Pimpernel
05. Stick & Move ft. Robotic E.B.U.
06. Real Child Soldier
07. Communicate ft. Gift Of Gab (Blackalicious)
09. Transition ft. Gwen Esty
10. His Stories Crockery ft. Ramm:Ell:Zee
11. Aspirations pt. 1
13. Do You Understand