Mark B, I suppose could be seen as the UK's first super producer, in his time making beats for loads of people like Blade, Delerious, Bury Cru and Task Force as well as producing his own EPs and LPs where MCs guested for him like 'Its Impossible' on Ninja Tune in 1996.
As well as the old skoolers there was a new fresh wave of talent emerging to continue the struggle and progress British Hip Hop. One of these artists was Lewis Parker. Coming from Kent via Luton he is now based in Aldgate, East London. After self financing his first release 'B-Boy Antics' (1995) at the age of 16, he has worked frenetically hard to become one of the UK's foremost Hip Hop all-rounders. After dropping a 7" based on Oasis' 'Wonderwall' and a troubled period with Trevor Jackson's 'Bite It! Records' label where he dropped records like 'Rise', in 1998 he dropped 'Shadows Of Autumn' 12" as he progressed to Massive Attack's Melankolic label, an imprint of Virgin, to whom he is still signed.
His first release for them was 'Masquerades and Silhouettes' Ep [Buy], which brought him to the attention of the music press and a wider audience. He has developed his own style blending 'Easy Listening' with the raw grit of underground hip hop and although he has had his detractors (or are they just jealous?). The promo pressing including the tremendous Casa Forte which epitomised Lewis' sound at the time and also featured Supa T. Lewis has re-signed for an Album, whilst keeping his integrity. This is testament to the quality and originality of his music and his continual touring both here, on the University circuit and in the USA, supporting groups like Massive Attack. With his easy on the ear approach he has a mass appeal and is still able to keep true to himself. In between Melankolic releases he has released some material on Low Life Records. But now two years on will he be herd of again?
Not such a youngster, but Blak Twang aka Taipanic, who started putting out records in 1995 with 12"s like 'What's Going On' and 'Queens Heads' (which also featured Roots Manuva) on the independent Sound Of Money records label was also one of the UK's 'New Skool'. Coming from South East London, Blak Twang was deemed to be one of dopest underground UK rappers of the mid 1990s. Building a lot of respect with each new release, in 1996 he was voted the best UK Rap artist at the Brits. Much in demand he hooked up with Fallacy for 'Homegrown' in 1997.
However Politics would turn things sour at his label. With his album completed the release date was put back and then back further. Rumors circulated about sample clearance problems and eventually it was announced that 'Dettwork Southeast' would not be coming out. This record was the shit, as you know if you were luck enough to get a promo copy. Knowing this to be the case Blak Twang was determined that it should be heard. After re-working much of it, a couple of taster 12" were released and then finally almost two years later in 1998 '19 Long Time (live from the big smoke)' dropped on Jammin records. Although possibly not as inspired as his first effort this debut LP showed off both Blak Twang's lyrical and production skills, his hard core edge and his use of his own accent and slang proudly demonstrating his South London origins. Able to competently cover diverse topics such as urban deprivation, business, drinking, love and just pure battling, Blak Twang had secured his place in the history of UK Hip Hop and is building a South London Mafia - the Rottonostra featuring the skills of Amedis, Danny Vicious, Seanie T and Karl Hinds who dropped his debut 12" 'Don Grammar' in 2000. We all eagerly await Tony Rotten's next record 'Bonafide Flava'.
After hooking up with Blak Twang for 'Queens Heads' Roots Manuva dropped his own 12" 'Next Type of Motion' also on the Sound of Money label. Later in 1996 a new producer and MC combination would enter the arena. DJ Skitz hooked up with Ronin's Mad Money Wah and produced Roots Manuva's [Buy] notable appearance 'Blessed Be Thy Manner' b/w 'Where My Mind Is At' which also features Deckwrecka on the decks. Roots Manuva (Rodney Smith) had started out at 14 playing in a sound system - 'Trojan II', named after the Jamaican record label and progressed to release material as part of the I Q Procedure crew around 1994. Although primarily known for his gruff vocals, Roots has progressed to prove that he is just as dexterous about the boards as well and has produced much of his recent work himself. After dropping a couple of 12s on Ronin and guesting on some other tracks, he moved to Big Dada and put out his excellent 'Brand New Second Hand' Lp [Buy]. In 1999 Roots took on DJ MK for his live sets and received a MOBO award as the best British Rapper, but despite this accolade he still holds down an engineering job at his local studio in Brixton.
MSI + ASYLUM [Buy] is an amalgamation of two Birmingham based crews who got together in 1994. Firstly the Microphone Stranglerz Inc. featuring MCs: Lord Laing, Winter, Ravage, Tactic and DJ Casualty alongside producer Ranx; and A.S.Y.L.U.M., which stands for Another pSycho Yout' Livin' Unda Madshit and features: Str8jakit Bandit and Charles Moopowe. Bandit had been in America for eight years since his late teens (he is now in his early 30's!) and had been involved in promoting gigs in Miami. Seeing MSI performing to 800 people on his return to the UK prompted him to approach them. They quickly set about recording and performing gigs supporting large US acts touring over here to build a rep. During the early part of 1995 MSI + ASYLUM found the time to film a TV drama/documentary 'Codes of Honour'. The programme was broadcast September 7th the same year on Channel 4. The drama also featured other UK acts like the London Posse and Kruze amongst others. After finishing the 'Takes Time' LP they formed their own label 'Gran Kru' in September of 1996 to put it out. The album was well received and entered the Echoes Hip Hop charts at no. 7. 1996 also saw ASYLUM hook up, on their own with Scorn (ex. Napalm Death) to drop two tracks on Gran Kru. Later ASYLUM were also involved with the Luke Vibert produced 'Gemini Twinz' 12" on Big Dada. Haych was also part of this collective, but he attempted to gain a higher profile by striking out on his own with some solo material with some production from Frikshun.
Some records that were making ripples around 1997 included tracks like Chris Smoove's 'Life Is Hectic', Ty and Shrotee Blitz's 'Shortee's Theme'. Ronin records who were making a big comeback was also hooking up with on of the UK's most promising and vibrant collectives - the Mudbury Family of North London. A close grouping of crews including Task Force (formerly the Highbury Hoodlums), the Bury Cru, Skinny Man and Mic Skilligan etc. who were getting shit together by running their own monthly showcase of homegrown talent ' Mudlumz' located at Dingwalls, and by ripping open mic's anywhere they could. In 1997 this hook up resulted in a limited edition 12" 'The Mudfiles' produced by the Deckwrecka A.K.A Agzilla with Skinnyman and Mongo providing the vocals on two tracks, and Chester P Hackenbush (Task Force) on the other. On the ep are 'Itchy Town', 'Camden Wildlife' and of course ' Mudfiles' which has a different beat for each different rappers verse suited to each rapper's style. For their next releases each Mud Bury crew would do their own thing. In 1998 The Mud Fam hooked up with Mark B to drop 'The Half of It' Ep on K-Boro, as would Task Force for their highly acclaimed 1999 Ep 'New Mic Order' [Buy]. In the same year the Bury Cru put out 'The Begining' 12" on their own Graveyard records label and if you are around Canonbury or Highbury you can still see the stickers today.
Low Life Records were also rejuvenated and back on the scene too. After several years of trying to get back to square one in 1997 now re-located in London, they released two stunning EPs - Braintax's 'Future Years' incorporating the forward looking and questioning title track, 'Jokes Over' a highly underrated track that had had posse members hyped for nearly two years before it dropped, 'Deal With It' a hardcore commentary on today's society and oppressive police state and 'Taxation' another hard track explaining what the now one man crew were about. The other EP, for which they are still remembered, was the only release so far from Streatham's Dominant G, Detonator and Jam One collectively known as Psychic Phenomena called 'The Whole Circumference'. Featuring several deep insightful tracks the EP also included a re-recordeding of DJ 279's favourite demo from the previous summer, the underground demo 'Inter-Cranial Pressure' featuring David J. Like the lyric says, 'beats so phat they need liposuction'.
1988 saw Low Life's continued revival with the release of two compilation 12" entitled the '98 Series', Each of these 12"s included solo cuts from Low Life family members such as Supa T, Lewis Parker, A-Cyanide, Braintax and Profound, but also featured posse cuts such as 'Life and Breath' and in 1999 the daddy of them all 'Easter Island'. The nine triple also saw Braintax put out his 'Travel Show' EP another release that firmly placed him as one of the UK's most consistent producer/MCs, yet highly underrated.
In 1997 the Hombre records label was founded by Jamie in Bristol, and the first release was Onecut's EP which established the label's name. Subsequently the label has continued to sign and regularly put out West Country crews including the Aspects and Numskullz. The independent nature of the label has allowed the artists to put out some inspired and imaginative work. One particularly notable track for me was 'Think' from the Numskullz's 1998 'The Unexpected' EP. Hombre is also associated with a sister label 'Mapaché Brand' which has been putting out the Binary Brothers 'Binary Exponents' 12s and Sir Beanz OBE's 'Beanz Presents' 12". Beanz is Bristol based Parlour Talk's DJ/Producer and the 12" has three tracks, each one features the vocal talents of Numskulls, Aspects and Junior Disprol respectively. In trying to open its records to a wider market Hombre has on occasion touched on Trip Hop and has enlisted some American MCs like All Natural and to rap over UK produced tracks on Hundred Strong's 'Strength of a Hundred' LP.
In 1988 Skitz was back with the significant posse cut 'Fingerprintz of the Gods' which brought together the likes of: Phi Life Cypher, Roots Manuva and Skeleton on the mic and I.T.F world champ Tony Vegas and the Deckwrecka on the cuts. The track followed earlier posse cuts in that it had a different beat for each MC. It received excellent reviews and created such a buzz on the underground that it firmly established the producer Skits and the contributing MCs as some of the UKs best.
MSI + ASYLUM were also back having spent the best part of 1998 locked down at the Spider's Web studio recording their self entitled second album [Buy]. It dropped in 1999 on Gran Kru and features guest vocals from Rodney P. and Mr 45 and production from Baby J. Having earlier got into visual media they dropped a video for the single 'Hangem High' in early 1999 which got some airplay on MTV Raps along with an interview and trailers. 2000 saw the release of the 'Cheated' 12" and the accompanying video.
June 99 and sadly it is possible that bad elements within Hip Hop are rearing their ugly heads over here with the drive-by shooting of Tim Westwood when he was on his way back from playing at a family day out. However, luckily he was hardly injured and was back in the hot seat within weeks. Things had changed up at other radio stations though. WNK was no longer broadcasting, DJ 279 had taken over from Steve Wren at Choice and the show was now called 'Friday Night Flava'. For a while he was backed up by Big Ted, but as they deserved, Big Ted and Shortee Blitz - the Chubby Kids took over from the long serving Max and Dave at Kiss. Choice was soon to gain an extension to their license allowing for a sister station in North London on 107.1 where 279 would be given another slot on Sunday nights.
Late 1999 saw Skitz following up on his earlier success with Ronin by dropping the hardcore 'Dedication' b/w 'Revolutionary' 12", both tracks featuring old time cockney specialist Rodney P on the vocals and new DJ ' Go' and Deckwrecka on the cuts. This was quickly followed by the follow up to 'Fingerprintz' another stinging all star posse cut - 'Twilight of the Gods', this time featuring Rodney P, Skinny Man, Wildflower, Ridla and DJ Prime Cuts.
In September Channel 4 even broadcast quite a detailed four part documentary entitled 'The Hip Hop Years' to celebrate Hip Hop's '20th' year and it was before midnight! Although the programmes focused entirely on the US and basically regurgitated the usual stereotypes, stories and footage, which perhaps showed the mainstream's changing attitude to Hip Hop, or maybe it was just trying to cash in on the fact that Hip Hop in the USA was for the first time the largest grossing form of music. Any way the music was done by Dom Search (Dominic Betmead) and Baloo (Brad Ellis), the Nextmen and this high profile lead to them teaming up for the 'Break the Mould' single featuring Grap Luva (Pete Rock's younger brother) on Scenario records.
As ever UK Djs are at the forefront, with the Scratch Perverts being placed
1st in the 1999 DMC team championship (shortly before their split),
Tony Vegas also placed 2nd in the individual competition and took an
award from Grandmaster Flash for the most outstanding moment of
excellence. Things were better in the ITF
championships held in
Hawaii, when Prime Cuts was placed 1st, almost ten years after Cutmaster
swift last held a world title for the UK.
Wolftown Recordings had entered its embryonic stage around 1996 when the Villains Crew, MC Late and DJ/Producer Tricksta got together initially with Profesah 194. Both had already been long serving on the local Hip Hop scene DJing on pirate radio, working in record shops and promoting a night 'Revival Pressure', but linking with Nugsta (at the time signed to Deadbeat Records), and Birmingham producer/engineer I.M.D gave them the extra impetus to get things done. Over the next couple of years they worked towards an LP whilst developing their sound. Based in Wolverhampton they are part of a much larger posse involving members such as Vicious Circle made up of 10 Shott and Size B with production from Tricksta and Pez; and the Wolftown Comittee, a much larger affair featuring all the above members with the addition of Jai Boo, High Timez, Wayney G, Lee Dee, Tee n Tee and Bristol based producer Long Lastin.
By December 1999 Wolftown was ready to be born and the Villains dropped their debut 12" a well received three tracker featuring ‘UK Sound’ / ‘Welcome To Wolftown’ / ‘Heir To The Throne’ which received praise from One Step (Galaxy FM, Birmingham) and Excalabah (Juice FM). Look for this organisation to make noise in the future.