Whilst UK DJs were breaking through the other elements were only bubbling under and would take longer to manifest themselves properly. Graffiti, Body Popping and Break dancing were most overtly popular, with 'Robotics' performed for the tourists in Covent Garden by blokes in white gloves and other crews got busy in the Electric Ballroom. Back in Leeds, crews gathered every Saturday morning in the Merrion Center when the likes of Enforce, the Panasonic 6, Sola-sonic and the Break Master Crew would battle each other on the lino to the sounds of Grandmaster Flash, Man Parrish and the ubiquitous breaking track 'Apache'. Each Crew had its own uniform/track suit complete with 'iron on' letters with their names on. Everyone also had fat laces, some were even woven. But, at the same time the musicians were getting busy also. In the long tradition of DJ and MC partnerships CJ Mackintosh had MC Einstein with whom he released 'Tables are Turning' and Pogo had the No Parking MCs and MC Mell'O'.
An original old skool British MC, Mello'O' has been down with graffiti and breaking since the mid 80's and has had his equal share of tribulations. Inspired by Grandmaster Melle Mel and time spent running with sound systems like First Class and Young Lion, Mell'O', staying true to Hip Hop's fundamentals soon started freestyling, but it would take several years before he would come out on wax.
Jump from Birmingham released two records in 1985: 'We Come To Jam' and 'Feel It'. One of their vocalists Sure Shot who had rapped on a morning breakfast show as early as 1980 teamed up with Willie B to form the Audio Kings who recorded 'Feel The Force' in 1986. The same pair went on to form the Black Prophetz who would have to wait until 1992 to drop 'Chapter One' on Kold Sweat.
Although the music was evolving and taking a foothold in the underground, the lack of support from the mainstream media caused pirate radio shows to get these sounds out to the people. In Leeds stations came and went, but two of the longest surviving were ABC 105 featuring DJs like Mixmaster Alister and MCR 90.3 (Music City Radio) for whom Nightmares on Wax (Kevin and George), ran a Hip Hop show. Another Crew from Leeds who were on pirate radio and made demos were X in Effect who would later become Breaking the Illusion. The competition between these two crews ensured that the scene never stood still and was always on top of the latest releases and styles. Occasionally John Peel would play a Hip Hop tune on his nightly Radio 1 show, but they were so infrequent it was hardly worth listening. The first professional legal all Hip Hop show that I remember was Mike Allen's Rap Show which was syndicated throughout the country and was available for two hours per week in Leeds, on Pennine FM (shout out to me). Jeff Young was dropping Hip Hop on Independent Local Radio, Dave Pierce had his famous drive time show on GLR (formerly Radio London) and Tim Westwood was starting to make a name for himself on LWR and at jams he DJed at like Spats and Dingwalls. (In 1988 he was to succeed Mike Allen at Capital. Now he has the only national Hip Hop show twice a week on Radio 1). In Bristol pirates like FTP and Emergency gave the people what they wanted.
Tim Westwood really did a great deal to progress the Hip Hop art form over many years in this country. Mainly through his radio shows, but also with helping a few acts to release their material too. One project which apparently is still running silently is his Justice label which back then made a bit of noise with the Trouble 12" 'I Get Hype' b/w 'I guess Its Dope', however more releases were very thin on the ground. I get Hype came out some time around 1988 and uses Spoonie G's 'The Godfather' Break and also The B Boy/Funk Classic 'Just Begun'.
All over the country an underground jam culture was evolving. In the St. Pauls area of Bristol The Wild Bunch (who would later become Massive Attack [Buy] later in the '80s) which included the likes of Claude 'Willie Wee' Williams, Andrew 'Mushroom' Vowles and Grant 'Daddy G' Marshall and DJs Nellie Hooper (Soul II Soul) and Miles Johnson, played outdoor 'block' parties NY style and span records at the 'Dug Out' Club. Other Bristol Crews getting down at this time were 2Bad, the City Rockers, UD4 (Roni Size's brother) and the FBI Crew. In Leeds DJs like Martin, The Ital Rockers, The MP Crew and Mickey Spllaine would rock free blues parties in the Spencer Road area of Chapeltown, basements in Hyde Park and at the Bonus Print Warehouse on Kirkstall Lane or any other suitable venue. These jams were a mixture of Dub, Soul, Rare Groove, Jazz, Funk, Reggae, early House and of course Hip Hop. MCs would hype the crowd all night whilst the DJs wove an intricate soundscape using turntables, drum machines, samplers and a whole host of effects interspersed with live performances, all put out through huge home made sound systems. Nightmares on Wax even took Hip Hop into more conventional legal clubs such as the Phonographique in the Merrion Centre.
Soon it seemed like Hip Hop could become mainstream. Everybody I knew either Wrote, Break Danced or Body Popped and novelty tracks had even been recorded, such as Micron's homage to 'Eastenders' (the TV show) in 1987. The most unlikely people liked Run DMC; Doug E Fresh and Melle Mel were in the charts and nothing rocked a party like the Beastie Boys.
The UK's version for the Beastie Boys could have been the Thrashpack who released tracks like 'Kinda Cool In the Place' 1987 and 'Trigger Happy' 1988 mixing rock and rap on the UK's first label to concentrate on producing homegrown Hip Hop, Simon Harris' Music of Life. The label originally started producing compilations of US Hip Hop, but due to a lack of material and finances to acquire more licenses for the first record 'Def Beats 1' in 1986, the company's A+R man Derek Boland saved the day and pretending to be both DJ and MC recorded a track 'Rock the Beat'. Derek B (and Ezq!) was born and Music of Life had started putting out UK Hip Hop. Derek B followed up this record with his debut proper 'Get Down' and two more 12"s on Music of life: 'Good Groove' and 'We Got the Juice' both of which charted, Good Groove reaching #16, and subsequently he was to appear on Top of the Pops at a time that the only Rap groups that had been on were Break Machine and Doug E Fresh. Being the first UK rapper to accomplish pop hits he was quickly snapped up by Rush Artist Management and Tuff Audio, Phonogram's new Hip Hop imprint where he continued to release 12"s such as 'Bad Young Brother' and specials like 'Def B-Boy'. Having been a parody from day one though, Derek B was never to receive acclaim from the underground although there was much of merit in his work. He rapped with an American accent and symbolised the deep engrained argument that UK artists should use their own voices and not copy others.
MOL looked to the Demon Boyz and MC Duke with DJ Leader 1 for their hardcore appeal. And as Simon Harris released records as fast as he could he dropped the cracking compilation LPs including the 'Hard As Hell' series and 'Dub Attack' in 1987. Similar to the Def Beats compilation this one features dub versions of a whole bunch of Music Of Life classics including the Demon Boyz, Derek B, Social Illness, Vicious Rumour Club and Lady Sugar Sweet amongst others.
Having previously formed the Turntable Trixters in 1985 with DJs Supreme and Undercover, Kamachi Sly won a Tim Westwood MC competition in the summer of 1987 in White City. After getting the prize money he dashed it into the audience and shouted that 'It's not about money but about art'. Derek B had seen this and got the South London group signed to Simon Harris's Music of Life records. Shortly afterwards as Hijack they dropped 'Style Wars' a significant track in UK Hip Hop. Gritty and extremely furious, from day one they showed they were the crew to beat.
Two years later and joined by Ulysses and Chrhymester their second single 'Hold No Hostage' B/w 'Domesday of Rap' would again be outstanding, nothing can really match this record for sheer intensity, but would also, at 125 and 120 bpm respectively, define the fast British style that UK artists had pioneered and perfected. Other crews that would follow this style would be groups like Silver Bullet and Gunshot.
Mell'O' alongside Monie Love with DJ Pogo released the 12" 'Freestyle' in 1987, and collaborated with others such as D to the K on 1988's BPM released 'Slow Jam', but he would have to wait until 1990 to release his own LP 'Thoughts Released' on Republic Records. Initially he had struggled with his identity and like most UK rappers starting out used an American accent. However, partly due to his long held spiritual beliefs and his desire to use his own street slang he soon realised that he had to be himself. Highly underrated Mell'O' has always rapped about deeper and more metaphysical issues, such as knowing one's self and insanity. He was largely overlooked until 'Open Up Your Mind' was licensed to Island's first 'Rebirth Of Cool' [Buy] compilation in 1991. Next to all the US tunes by the likes of Gangstarr, X-Clan and a Tribe Called Quest, the UK offering stood up well. British Hip Hop was beginning to produce tunes that would compete equally with anything the originators in the Bronx could produce. Having our own voices and relevant reference points made UK music resonate within us all the more.
Sadly though Mell'O''s releases have been quite sparse. In 1994 he put out an EP '' on Natural Response, but only followed it up recently with a 12" 'Melloizdaman' on Jazz Fudge Records.
In mid 1987 BBC 2 screened a half hour Open Space documentary 'Bad Meaning Good'. It centered on Tim Westwood and his work as a DJ now on Kiss FM when it was still a pirate. There are interviews with Tim as his drives about and checks out Groove records shop. Then he progresses to a Run DMC concert where Run DMC are interviewed. Next up is DJ Fingers who shows everyone how to scratch and mix in his bedroom, then he and MC Crazy Noddy as the Sindecut perform their single 'Sindecut Is Kickin' at a local gig. The film then cuts to more interviews with the Cookie Crew, the Beatmasters and the Wee Papa Girl Rappers intercut with performance shots. Approximately 15 minutes in there is a couple of minutes exploring Graf. The programme then spotlights al-fresco accapellas from Daddy Speedo and Flyboy B before returning to Tim Westwood as he leaves his radio show to pick up the members of the London Posse. They nervously chat for a while in the back of the car until Sipho Beat Boxes and Bionic Raps. The programme closes with a London Posse show and overall gives a fair insight into the scene as it was then. If you get a chance give it a peek.
Shortly after BBC 2 started running a youth strand called 'Def II' in which there was a magazine show entitled 'Behind the Beat'. This programme regularly featured Hip Hop music, art and fashions and had an occasional special such as showing entire LL Cool J and Public Enemy shows and the 1989 DMC World DJ Championships! If only we still had terrestrial TV like that. Hip Hop was more accepted, welcomed and surprisingly understood by the media back then. Back in 1985 the Artful Dodger had even been commissioned to create an entire nationwide Weetabix cereal campaign based around Graffiti.
The first UK Hip Hop Album that I remember was brought out in 1987 by a Duo from Harlesden called Faze One. Entitled 'Heroes' it was preceded by a couple of 12" which received a bit of radio rotation - 'Mellow Down' and 'Get Buzy' on the Westside records label. The next Long Player that I remember was 'G.B. Boys' by the Three Wize Men on Rhythm King in 1988. The Three Wise Men - Jemski, AJ and Wild Danny D alongside DJ Fil Chill were better known for their earlier 12" 'Refresh Yourself'.
Soon the London Posse would have the deal with Big Life that would allow them to release their first single. In 1988 MC Roddie Rok (later Rodney P), Bionic, Sipho the Human Beatbox and DJ Biznizz dropped the self entitled 'London Posse' (produced by Tim Westwood) as their introduction. And with it they brought new underground UK styles to the table. Rodney P rapped in a broad Cockney accent with yard slang and Bionic almost chatted/toasted reggae style. Both were proud of their accents and made a point of using current UK vernacular and sounded extra British. I'm sure to them they were just being themselves, but to me this was sounding extra tuff. Along with excellent production this was Hip Hop for British people to relate to that was equal to anything the US exported to us. Although a few rappers were still sounding overtly American, UK acts were increasingly becoming themselves, pushing the boundaries and competently producing a wide variety of styles.
The years between 1988-1989
are perhaps the time when hardcore underground UK Hip Hop was most accepted by
the media and the public alike. Overlord X
from the 16th floor of a Leyton tower block had smashed it with his first hardcore single '14 Days In May'
(1988) about the miscarriage of justice carried out against Edward L
Johnson, his last 14 days in jail and his subsequent execution. He
followed it up with a 12" about where he lived 'Rough in Hackney' and an LP 'Weapon Is My Lyric' on Mango.
Overlord X with the backing of his X Posse and the likes of MC Freshski,
the London Rhyme
with their second release, their self entitled 'London Rhyme Syndicate' Rhyme'n'Reason 12",
(who would later become Definition of Sound and get chart success with their
cross-over appeal) on James Horricks' Rap Sonic label who released 'Straight From The Soul' and the
Sindecut - 'Can't Get Enough of Who?' were blowing up night spots, car systems
and radio stations alike. Peep this
Sindecut live freestyle from around 1990.
Out in the country Bristol was putting it down with the likes of the Wise Guise, Plus One (from which Wilks would emerge) and Smith & Mighty (formerly the Three Stripe Posse) who had their hit 'Just Be Good To Me'. The Ruthless Rap Assassins from North Hulme, including: MC Kermit Le Freak, Anderson (Dangerous Hinds) and Carson (Dangerous C) with their record 'We Don't Care' 1987 on Murdertone/EMI which was backed with Kiss-AMC propped up Manchester with the corresponding accent. With their ability to be both humorous and socio-political the Ruthless Rap Assassins received plaudits within the industry, released a couple of 'Killer' albums and even had their video for 'And It Wasn't A Dream' shown on terrestrial tv, but not having made the sales EMI required they packed it in in 1992. Kermit later joined Shaun Ryder's 'indie' Black Grape and has released work as Manmade.
The radio-friendly Stereo MCs [Buy] originally from Nottingham represented for the Midlands. Rob Birch and Nick 'The Head' Hallam started out again, this time in London and with Richie Rich they helped to form the Gee Street label and studio. In the early 90's, joined by Italian-born DJ Cesare and Welsh drummer Owen Rossitter, aka Owen If, they would get mainstream pop success with their blend of trip-hop culminating in a top 20 chart placing for the 'Get Connected' single and number 2 in the LP chart! In the 1994 Brits they got awards as the Best Band and for the Best Album. The 'Get Connected' song is still used in 2000 as the music for the Carphone Warhouse adverts!
Holding it down for the ladies was Monie Love, a member of one of the country's strongest crews, DETT Inc (Determination Endeavor, and Total Triumph) with the other main players in the London Scene: DJ Pogo, Biznizz and Trouble's DJ Jay and Cutmaster Swift, with MCs Mell'O' and the No Parking MCs. The crew also included dancers Funky Dope Maouvers. But after limited chart success over here Monie Love would emigrate to New York with her daughter and hook up with Queen Latifa for the 'Ladies First' single and would quickly find herself at home as part of the Native tongues crew.
Also putting out records were Total S and Ty Tim (Sandra + Timmi Lawrence) who made up the Wee Papa Girl Rappers. They complained that they had no control over their music and were forced to make commercial rubbish by Jive. For their second album (how did they get that far?) they brought in Cold Cut and Bomb the Bass's Tim Simenon to produce, but things didn't improve above teeny pop level. Antonia and Donna, the She-Rockers (with DJ Streets Ahead) were better, but probably the best female group the UK has produced so far has been South London's Cookie Crew who proved that the ladies could tear it up just as hard. Susan and Debbie took up rapping around 1982 and progressed from playing copious gigs for which they would routinely only receive £20-25 to releasing singles like 'Females' 1987 and 'Rok Da House' on Rhythm King. On the strength of these singles they signed to London and released an album 'Born this Way' 1989 which was largely produced by Stetsasonic's Daddy O & DBC, with a couple of cuts produced by Davy D. They proved they could keep it real with tracks like 'Faith and Conscious', but also had to produce more commercial tracks like 'Love'.
The scene was so vibrant it could support a full colour regularly produced publication devoted entirely to it. Hip Hop Connection (HHC) was just what young kids were looking for, information on their favourite artists in a simple glossy format. Growing out of a phone line information service it was launched in May 1989, initially the magazine was 50% UK and 50% US, but gradually progressed to covering more and more American based stories. The photographer and tv presenter Normski made his name by capturing all the stars on camera. People complain that it has lost what it had and to some extent I would agree, however it was never renowned for deep insightful articles and always devoted a fair amount of coverage to the pure commercial poppy side of the genre. The magazine has gone from strength to strength and after several owners and re-vamps it it now owned by the Ministry of Sound.
The semi-success of UK rap was mirroring the explosion that was taking place in the US where groups like Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy had broken out of their Hip Hop confines and brought their music to a larger audience. The way things were progressing it wouldn't be long before UK homegrown Hip Hop would be shipping units and rubbing shoulders with Michael Jackson and Madonna at the top of the pop charts. If anything the UK was screaming out for quality UK product, of which there was still very little being put out. To try and create his own source of material Dave Pearce on his Sunday night GLR show had a phone in rap competition. A weekly topic was set and callers/MCs from all over London would be judged by other listeners who would call in and vote. The show was quite successful, even if there were problems rapping to a beat over the phone and as a prize the winner would go into the studio and possibly receive a recording contract. These competitions were particularly interesting when the topic was currently in the news because the contestants put in a great deal of thought and intelligence and were often controversial. One such winner was Silver Bullet. The result was two fast paced rolling singles 'Bring Forth The Guillotine' and '20 Seconds To Comply' on Tam Tam in 1989.
Bullet was born in London and when he was a nipper moved to Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire (not Leyton, London) which is also Evil Ed's home town. They did some shit as kids in 1985, and he later became Silver Bullet in 1987 and sparred with Ed's old Hidden Identity partner Mistima. Together they did a wicked Anti-Drugs rap on Dave Pearce's Fresh Start to the Week in about 1987, which was done over Public Ememy's 'Rebel Without A Pause' instrumental. Bullet moved to Aylesbury in 1988 and got down with Triple Element. He then got his break with Tam Tam.
Everybody who is anybody from the UK's 'Old Skool' made appearances on Dave Pearce's shows including Evil Ed, (latterly better known for his production) rhyming over Cool C's 'C is Cool' the same night as a girl called Fly Girl Venus who rhymed on 'Cash Money's Play it Cool'. Anyone got that tape and want to send it to me?
Coming out of the Laylow Posse, the Cash Crew released their first record (1989) on the local record shop's in house label. Originally a trio (DJ Loose now resides in the US), Jamal and Trim, from Ladbroke Grove always came with high production values, a funky edge and serious reality lyrics, they would go on through several releases such as: 'My In Sense Is Burning' 1992, which included: 'The Provider', and 'Anything Can Happen' 1994, which included 'Bring It On', to build to an LP 'From an Afropean Perspective' and gain an underground following.
Blade, a Ukrainian hailing from New Cross, had been rapping since he was about 12 and was in the TCR (Total Control Rappers) Crew with Kenny and Merlin around '86-87. After parting with them where he had mainly been known as the beatbox, he set out as a solo MC and alongside his DJ 'Grazhopper' burst onto the UK scene with his debut single 'Lyrical Maniac' 1989. He subsequently gained a large amount of underground approval for his gritty lyrics and even some national airplay. The 12" was to sell reasonably well and establish Blade as one of the UK's coarsest MCs. Blade has subsequently released several classics and continues to release records into 2000.
Also from London, reminiscent of Chuck D, one of the roughest and thought provoking rappers the UK has produced was Black Radical MK II. His first record, Monsoon, dropped in 1989 when he was 19 and was to demonstrate his focused rage against demons in any sphere of life whether they be racists or corrupt politicians. Later he was to release an LP on 'large' Island records where he continued his tirade against the powers that be. However this was to cause too much friction and he was soon unceremoniously dumped. He continues to periodically put out records via the Copasetic label, one being his response to the Roland Adams murder 'This is War' 1993.
Representing the North were Nightmares on Wax, who in early 1989 released Leeds' first Hip Hop 12" 'Stating A Fact' on Poverty Records, it was however backed with House and Techno tracks. The duo Eze E and the Boy Wonder would go on to be quite successful, but had to release Dance and Trip-Hop on Warp records only lightly interspersed with Hip Hop. Shortly after fellow Leeds crew Breaking the Illusion, also a duo - Wiz and TD, dropped their first 12" 'Can You Understand' a more laid back offering, but with equally potent lyrics depicting the situation of Jamaican's descendants in urban England. Coming after excellent demos like 'For The Record' it was b/w 'Drop the Mic'. Breaking the Illusion were to be founding partners in Low Life records which would become a hot-bed of talent and an environment where aspiring artists could be nurtured, educated and developed.
So in five years the UK had developed a credible, but small Hip Hop community spread in pockets all across the country. There were a couple of labels supporting and regularly putting out wax. Styles were diverse, experimental, original, creative, innovative and unique and were produced with immense passion and enthusiasm. In the tradition of Hip Hop many records were deeply political and either held a mirror up to the bleak Thatcher Police state, incited activism or inspired the listener to conjure mental images of the artists portrayal of a situation that needed highlighting. An example of this was the heavy weight posse cut featuring all the biggest names of the time like: Cookie Crew, MC Mell'O', London Posse, Demon Boyz, Overlord X and The Icepick amongst others. Produced by Hijack's DJ Supreme the track 'Beyond the 16th Parallel' was marketed as being by the B.R.O.T.H.E.R. Movement and was released in aid of Anti-Apartheid charities on Island/Fourth and Broadway. Other tracks were raw battles and disses, again remaining true to the genres origins. The future was looking rosy and it would seem that UK Hip Hop was set for an explosion.