UK Hip Hop: The Story www.low-life.fsnet.co.uk
www.low-life.fsnet.co.uk
Intro Early Doors:
1979-1985
False Dawn:
1985-1990
Underground Years:
1990-1995
The Renaissance:
1995- 2000
The Future:
2000 & Beyond
Artists &
Discographies

UK Artists: Cash Crew, Black Radical Mk II, Blade, Defisis, Charlie Parker, Delegates of Culture

Underground Years: 1990-1995
But the utopian days of Middle School where all the kids had openly embraced the new sounds and styles of Hip Hop had to come to an end. The preceding couple of years before 1990 had seen many Hip Hop heads lured away to the glamour of Raves and House music. But being here in Britain the different styles co-existed and fed off each other, groups such as the Unique 3 and DJ Mink (for Swedge) straddled both styles. Trendies quickly dropped away from Hip Hop and by the Acieed Summer of love around 1998 the production base for UK Hip Hop had suffered severe reduction, but remained devoted and wished to show and prove. This might have been a good thing because although it retarded the development of Hip Hop in the UK it left behind a pure hip-hop hardcore which was allowed to develop out of the corrupting glare of the mainstream, commercialisation and mass expectation. This situation only spurred artists on to develop skills and produce some particularly poignant records.

At the beginning of 1990 the BBC finally woke up to the huge youth movement that had been forming in front of them and gave in to Jeff Young's requests to do a pure Hip Hop show where he could show case the more underground flavas rather than the accessible commercial stuff that he had slip in between the dance. National Fresh was born which was initially just an hour of his Radio 1 'Big Beat' show between 9-10 on a Friday night, but was the UK's first national Hip Hop show. But at the same time they got rid of Behind the Beat to replace it with Dance Energy fronted by the comedic parody Normski. As the name suggests this new show was firmly focused on Dance culture as was the entire country and Hip Hop was sidelined, although in the Top of the Pops type format there was usually one Hip Hop act every couple of weeks.

In London there was a whole plethora of legal rap shows: Tim Westwood's legendary 'Capital Rap Show', Max LX and Dave VJ - Wednesday nights and Richie Rich - Sunday evenings 7-9pm on the newly legalised Kiss 100 FM, Roger Kwik-Cut & Mark Ross on WNK in North London and Steve Wren's 'Rap Attack' on Choice in South London. My favorite was Richie Rich because he did proper mixing live and showcased loads of UK stuff, such as getting Killa Instinct to perform live in the studio. That was until he left to be a Soul VJ on MTV?

Across the country Stu Allen was spinning on Key 103 in Manchester, Triston B had a three hour Sunday afternoon show on BBC Radio Bristol and 

SL Troopers - DJ Crime, DJ Woodhouse, Sweetpea & Jon-oAt this time things really hotted up for a while. MOL continued to explore the hardcore underground with releases from , SL Troopers, Asher D & Daddy Freddy, and Hardnoise etc. Hardnoise like so many other crews started out as a sound system created by a group of friends from school. Originally comprising DJ Son, DJ Nyce 'D' (who passed in 1990 due to Sickle Cell) & T.L.P.1. Later they hooked up with DJ AJ & Gemini and put together a demo track 'Pure Destructive Power', which remains un-released. Their first record 'Untitled' was released in 1991 as a white label, which Music of Life saw the potential of and decided to take on. With additional production from Mastermix, and extra cuts from DJ Son's younger brother DJ Mada this crew really lived up to their name. Hardnoise's next 12" 'Mice In The Presence Of The Lion' B/W 'Serve Tea Then Murder' saw each of the MCs showcased on their own solo tracks. But after blowing up the scene so quickly they disbanded to pursue their own agendas.

Brothers DJ Son and DJ Mada continued where they had left off as Hardnoise and hooked up with MC Curoc who had recently left Gunshot to form Son Of Noise. Together they dropped 'Son Of Noise' B/W 'Ill Justice' still on the Music of Life label, but underhand dealings within the label would force them to leave.

Crews were continuing to drop stuff totally independently such as Essex's funky five piece outfit - Powergroove comprising: J Groove, The Rhythm Poet, DJ Red Eye and Track This producing. Having started out on their own 'Bass Groove' sound system they graduated to studio, production and remix work. In 1991 they put out 'Lifestyle' b/w 'Power To The Groove' in association with Boogie Times records.

Other releases of this time that should be mentioned include: MC Storm's 'Playing the Field', a young Lords of Rap and their Demo 'Calm Down', Sirus with 'The Rhymes are My Thoughts' and MC Merlin (now just Merlin) who had a series of 12" releases including 'Born Free'.

After getting together in '87 to form Krispy, Microphone D.O.N. and Mr. Wiz would go on to be one of the UK's most consistent duos, releasing their first track 'Comin Thru Clear' in 1989. They continually released tracks throughout the 90's including abundant singles like 1991's 'Hip Hop Boy', 3 EPs and 2 Albums - 'Can't Melt the Wax' on Kold Sweat and the latest of which 'From the Country' which was released in 1999. Krispy also embarked on tours with the likes of Naughty By Nature and headlined their own shows as far a field as Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France. Due to keeping their profile reasonably high through releases, touring and frankly dropping slammin' tunes, they have been able sell into Europe and be reasonably successful. From the earliest days they were lucky enough to link with Bomb records, who as a smaller independent label were able to give Krispy the freedom they needed to develop, but are also large enough to hook up the distribution.

Criminal Minds - Guilty As Charged
Criminal Minds - Guilty As Charged

The first band I remember that was signed to a big label (and not a smaller offshoot) was High Wycombe's Caveman who were signed to Profile. With production from the Principal, lyrics from MCM and scratches by Diamond J they produced pure quality Hip Hop, but very much on an American vibe. Their first single 'Victory' in 1990 (unsurprisingly with all that backing) was an immediate success and was followed up with 'Fry You Like Fish' and 1991's LP 'Positive Reaction'. Check the '91 Capital Rap Show freestyle. They followed this with a couple more bangin' 12s, and a 2nd LP 'The Whole Nine Yards, And Then Some', but at the height of their popularity, they split. MCM would drop his own 12s as The Next Wavelength with DJ Bizzness on the Blue Planet records label. Principal would produce some excellent beats for others, but it is rumored that he has now turned to Islam, sold all his records and given up music! The D.J. Diamond J has done some remix work for The Gravediggaz 'The Night the Earth Cried' and Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz's 'Deja Vu'.

But a new label coming out of Askew Road, Shepherds Bush started dropping bombs left right and center. Kold Sweat even signed some of MOL's crews and rapidly built up quite a catalogue of releases primarily over 1990-1993 including artists like: the SL Troopers from South London. Made up of DJ Woodhouse, DJ Crime, Tech 1 and Destiny they had an underground hit on the Music of Life label the year before and at the end of September 1990 they put out their first 12" for Kold Sweat - a fast side 'Knowledge' b/w a slow side 'Put Your Brain In Gear'. They followed this up with a few more 12s including 'Systematic Terror'. Korperayshun, F9's, Prime Rhyme Masters with releases like 'You need Discipline' and Dynametrix consisting of Ace Shazamme, Master Best (The Phantom), Genius 'P', DJ Knives and Grand Wizard Zahid-Mohamed, who had been around in various guises since 1984 put out their debut 'Keep Da Crowd Dancing' and of course Standing Ovation.

In 1992 Kold Sweat produced stunners such as: Unanimous Decision's 'Rap Sings The Blues' b/w 'Bomb Diffusal', Most Dominant (whose lead rapper Cel would later form the Gutter Snypes)'s 'Pushed To Da Limit', and Point Blank's 'Planting Semtex'. Poached from Music of Life by Kold Sweat, Son Of Noise dropped another two 12's including November 1991's 'Master of Menace' B/W 'Milk in the Chocolate' which got to number 3 in the MRIB Rap chart and 'Negative Forces' in April 1992. While recording their LP they adopted another member into the crew - Renegade. The LP was 'The Mighty Son Of Noise' and would be released in 1993. But this is where their relationship with formal record labels would end. Tired of the music industry hypocrisies they took a potentially retrogressive step and  decided to finance and put out material themselves. This resulted in 'Crazy Mad Flow' B/W 'Retrocide '93' 1993 on Little Rascool Records, and their last LP 'Access Denied: Bullshit & Politics pt1.' in 1996. Today DJs Son and Mada still play out, AJ does some production and puts out mixtapes. Gemini worked on the Bushkilla tracks and now goes under the name Bloodhound.

Instrumental in British Hip Hop and central to Kold Sweat's success has been Katch 22. Band member Huntkillbury Finn's first band 'Black Phantom Reigns Supreme' was just about to drop on Cooltempo when one of the crew became ill. Un-dismayed he soon formed Katch 22 with Marga. Their first record was a posse cut 'Burial Proceedings in the Coarse of Three Nights' released 1990 on Music of Life, featuring Ice Pick and Shaka Shaz-zam of Standing Ovation. Over the next few years Katch 22 released many records including 'State of Meditation' and three LPs on the Kold Sweat Records Label. Always thought provoking their single "Diary Of A Blackman" was banned by Radio 1, for its use of National Front soundbites. Katch 22 progressed to pick up a load of awards and nominations, the pinnacle of which was probably their nomination in the 1993 Brats for best rap group. That year bands like Cypress Hill, Ice Cube and Public Enemy were their competition. Although Katch 22 haven't released anything since 1994 Finn has been working with other artists and has had several tv music production credits to his name.

MC Mercury of GunshotAnother equally influential crew which appeared about the same time as Katch 22 were Gunshot. Made up of: MC's Alkaline, Mercury and Q-Roc (who left to join Son of Noise) and DJ's Barry Blue and White Child Rix, Gunshot came out in 1990 with a rapid succession of hardcore 12"s on Vinyl Solution. The first of which was 'Battle Creek Brawl'. The group prided themselves on producing a complete package and put and increasing amount of effort into their presentation and promotion, especially the visual aspects, in particular the design of their record sleeves. Next came 'Crime Story' for which they made a simple but effective B&W hand held video shot on their East London manor. At that time nobody else was producing videos and it was later screened on Tim Westwood's Night network show on ITV. Gunshot were rather more on the fast and furious tip, definitely a uniquely British style, using speeded up breaks at around 110-125 bpm, blending them with a discordant cacophony of noises, sirens and screeches.

Gunshot - Mind Of A Razor [Vinyl Solution]Also well known for putting on excellent live shows and parties, they released several more 12" including 'Clear From Present Danger' and progressed to releasing their debut LP 'Patriot Games' in 1993. Continuing in the same vain they put out several more 12" and a 'Singles' LP on Vinyl Solution, until they parted company and in 1997 after signing with Words of Warning the 'Twilight's Last Gleaming' LP was released and demonstrated a change in style and musical progression although the original spirit and energy still shone through. Gunshot after their spectacular five years were on the down low for a while only really keeping in contact through their website gunshotuk.com.

Having been unable to maintain his recording deal Blade set up his own label '691 Influential' and in 1990 dropped 'Mind of an Ordinary Citizen'. He became a well known figure selling records out of his bag everywhere he went - on street corners, at jams up and down the country and at train stations etc. Thus earning him the title of the 'Hardest Working', this was true self distribution and cutting out the middleman too! For his next release a year later 'Rough it up' B/W 'You Better Go For Yours' he continued following the totally independent path and by now was consistently selling over 5000 units per release.

Blade continued to regularly release records and in 1992 he put out 'Survival of the Hardest Working' a mini LP, a prelude to his largest production to date - a double Lp. However Blade's plans would be severely disrupted with the passing of his father and the burglary of his yard in rapid succession. Skint and knowing that he was soon to be a dad, he trusted his skills and unusually requested that his fans pay advances on his as yet un-recorded epic 'The Lion Goes From Strength to Strength'. He was successful and the record dropped in April of 1993, the first full length UK double Lp by a UK artist. It came in a gatefold sleeve and contained a lyric/picture booklet and was probably his best selling work extending sales into Europe. Those who had showed their faith in Blade by paying up front were repaid with an additional white vinyl 12" 'Clear the Way' b/w 'They Ain't Shit To Me' a track in which he puts the record straight about the UK's two largest Hip Hop record labels and any others who have crossed British rappers. Blade was now one of the scene's favorites and was regularly played by Steve Wren on Choice FM and Max & Dave on Kiss. He was also opening for major acts such as: Stereo MCs, Big Daddy Kane, Showbiz & AG, Afrika Bambaataa and Ultramagnetic MCs. By the end of the year though Blade had gone underground and was busy being a father to his child.

Hijack - The Horns Of Jericho [Sindicate]After hearing Hijack's 'Hold No Hostage' whilst being a guest on Tim Westwood's Capital Rap show, Ice T signed them for his newly formed Rhyme Syndicate records label. Their first single from the 1991 'Horns of Jericho' LP was 'The Badman is Robbin' which even entered the Gallup top 40. This connection helped them reach a wider audience and they went on to sell more than a phenomenal 30,000 albums in Europe and tour with artists such as: House of Pain, Ice T, Leaders of the New School and Public Enemy. But in a story similar to several other UK groups on the verge of something really big, misfortune would set in and lead to the crews demise. Rhyme Syndicate records was shut down and Warner Brothers, the parent company, although deciding to  keep the group on, did not have the knowledge or set up to nurture them properly and sadly overlooked them. Due to these frustrations DJ Supreme (the main producer) would leave in 1992 to pursue other projects.

1992 also saw the launch of Low Life Records, based in Leeds. Two local groups Breaking the Illusion and Braintax (4/9 & DJ Test) teamed up to drop 'Can You Understand?' and 'Fat Head' Eps respectively. Produced on zero budget these records are testament to the UK artist's resourcefulness and creativity. Having been central to the Leeds Hip Hop community for a number of years Low Life was now running radio shows (The Night Train, 12-3am, Friday Nights on Dream FM) and opening for all the famous US acts that passed through, such as BDP, Ice T and Redman etc. BTI went on to drop their mini LP 'Loose Your Illusion' in 1993. After surviving many of the obstacles all British Hip Hop artists and independent labels must endure subsequent problems with distributors would force the suspension of Low Life's activities due to financial reasons. Behind the scenes though Braintax and the other Low Life crews were still recording, working and planning for their return.

So Blade amongst others was riding the crest of a Hip Hop wave, but UK Hip Hop was about to undergo another large fan exodus for another type of new music. Underground music producers, most having had a schooling in Hip Hop, but many now producing dance/house/acid/garage type music incorporated their knowledge love and influence of Hip Hop with reggae/ragga and to create a new form - Jungle. This new genre was completely British drawing on all other influences in the UK such as: reggae and Ragga. A few early artists who made Hip Hop and Breakbeat/Jungle were the Blapps Posse, the Ragga Twins, Reel to Reel and Shut Up and Dance etc. This new music saw the second wave of Hip Hop heads depart and saw the UK underground music scene once again divide and leave Hip Hop behind to recoup.

Recoup it did well. Although Groove Records was now gone other shops had sprung up to supply the addicts with their vinyl: Catch A Groove, Unity and Wyld Pitch in Soho, Fat Cat in Covent Garden, Red and Solar records in Brixton, Handspun (which became Downstroke) in Camden and Liberty Grooves, Mitcham Road, Tooting.

Ruffness - British Underground EP [XL]
Gutter Snypes - Trials Of Life EP [Liberty Grooves]
Gutter Snypes - Trials Of Life EP [Liberty Grooves]
Kaliphz - Wass The Deal [Payday]

For a while Liberty Grooves owned and run by Johnny F seemed to be at the center of the London scene. Before Liberty Grooves Johnny had been a record dealer able to supply the addicts with cheap material straight from his house by cutting out all the middle men. Initially Liberty Grooves was a record label and the first release in October 1990 was Solid 'n' Mind's 'Original Break' 12". The group consisted of Johnny F & MC Whirlwind D. At first the group was called Solid State, until they were informed by another label that there was already a band with the same name. The record was recorded at Norburton Studios in Kingston and 1000 copies were pressed. The record even got to number 3 in the Tower Records dance chart. Next from the label in 1991 came True Style's  'Critical Timin' / Code Of Conduct' EP. The crew consisted of De.Vex and Mark 2 and was on the hard core tip in a similar vein to Hardnoise's 'Untitled'. Later the shop opened around late 1991, touted as being 'The Hip Hop Shop' there was a small office where Johnny F lived and he had Big Ted serving behind the counter. There was a selection of new and second hand records and the shop became a hang out for MCs and DJs. Whenever you went in there would be some impromptu freestyle or DJ session taking place or a producer or rapper would lace the system with their demo. Just after the shop opened Johnny put out a breaks album entitled 'Takin' Liberties' 1992 which he put together with KLM and the help of a few library records.

New Year 1993 Johnny hosted a wicked New Years Eve party in the shop which he got Old Skool Little Rodney C to compare. It was like a gig all night and I thought Johnny had taped it for a potential release - what happened to those tapes? Also put out on Liberty Grooves was the seminal 'Trials of Life' Ep by the Guttersnypes (Cel One, Sigher & Prime Cuts) in 1994, which remains to this day one of my favourite Hip Hop records and includes 'Judge Me Not'. There was several versions of the record with different coloured vinyl, a radio version with a Live performance on Choice FM 24/12/93 and an instrumental version which included the 'Who Fell' accapella. Due to the nature of the underground record market this record was pressed in the USA and imported back to Britain and sold as an import. Liberty Grooves formed an alliance with Stretch Armstrong's Dolo label and together released several other records including the two Freestyle Frenzy LPs and a very limited Freestyle Frenzy 7". On the A side, the 7" included an extra freestyle from Kool Keith & Pharoe Monch and on the B side was Aikinyelle's 'Gotta Go Down' and the samples from it. Because of the connections with the Dolo label it would seem that for a while Kool G Rap, Akineyelle and Intelligent Hoodlum were signed to the label, but not much surfaced from them apart from the unreleased 12" of Kool G Rap's 'Break A Bitch Neck' B/W 'No Exit' and Akinyelle's 'Gotta Go Down' of which apparently there were only 10 test pressings ever made. The last thing out on Liberty Grooves was DJ Noise's 'The Whole Mess Pt.2' and going from what looked like a good base the shop closed around 1994, the label folded and Johnny F faded into obscurity. He's an ardent Man U fan and you never know if the label will be resurrected. For further info regarding Liberty Grooves please email Dudley and to pick up original and rare original pressings check out Nod Factor Records' eBay Auctions. If you don't like eBay you can hit up Richard Smith direct.

Vie Marshall having worked for a few years as a hip hop journalist at Blues & Soul, The Voice, Record Mirror and Hip Hop Connection started the Muthaland Movement because she and her colleagues felt at the time that there was a closed door to British urban music. She was one of the first hip hop scribes in the country and had taken over the Blues & Soul Hip Hop column after the brilliant and legendary Malu Halasa (Muthaland's 'godmother'), who had previously taken it over from Tim Westwood. Out of this came the Muthaland club which was the first club in the country to be sponsored and was also the first urban club to do giveaways. The club was instrumental in pioneering open mic sessions and after having started at Woody's in the eartly 90s, then moved on to The Brain on Wardour Street. Then Muthaland moved onto The Boderline (before Flava Of Da Month), and later moved from The Boderline and onto the Wag. Regular visitors to Muthaland included: Gang Starr, RockSteady Crew, Tim Westwood, Outlaw Posse, Black Radical, London Posse, The Cookie Crew, She Rockers, Hijack, Normski, Demon Boyz, Stereo MCs, Big Ted, Tye, Blak Twang, Cutmaster Swift, Pogo and Bizniz. Other Muthaland Members: Hannah Ford (Soul Underground, The Face, Select mags) DJ Elayne (291 Club - tv presenter) Wendy K (label manager Sleeping Bag Records, Marketing manager Talkin' Loud) Miss Bliss (Radio DJ). For further info contact: muthaland@givepeaceachance.com.

Many venues such as John Baker's Tabernacle located in Powis Sq, London and club nights such as 'Flava of the Month' held at the Borderline club, hosted by Steve Wren and 279 of Choice FM's Friday Night Flava, garnered much support and continued in Muthaland's vein and made a point of giving local talent a chance via open mic sessions. Other nights came and went like 'Smoking Beats' and 'The Alley' underneath the Rock Garden in Covent Garden. At these events the Scientists of Sound, Son of Noise and Killa Instinct amongst others would frequently be grabbing the mic. A new generation of home grown artists started appearing like Dominant Force with their Ital Juice 12" 'When We Flex', 3:6 Philly, Force n K'zee, Upfront Rudies and Kinetic Effect. MC Kinetic and producer Insane Macbeth (who has also produced for Katch 22 and Icepick) released their debut 12" 'Boarderin' Insanity' in 1993 on the independent Insane Records, which was notable for the educated lyrics. More experimental was their 1997 sophomore release 'Man Bites Dog'. However, the most militant of these new acts was MC D and his Crew Silent Eclipse.

MC D, who had previously been in the Two Times Def crew since the late '80's, surged onto the scene in 1992 after a series of explosive shows at venues like The Live Rhyme Experience at Subterania, Ladbroke Grove, Flava Of The Month, Hackney Empire, and the Anti Racist Alliance: Arafest at Brockwell Park where he would tear down the house with his confident and fearless approach to telling it how it is. In 1993 he was still blowing the opposition off the stage at Chats Palace culminating as support for Brand Nubian at the Brixton Academy October. Now he had a rep it was time to put out some wax. The first 12" was the excellent 'The Damned' Ep 1993 on Monroe Productions' Blueprint Records. It was produced and marketed as being by the Principal (Caveman) featuring Silent Eclipse (MC D). All the tracks were seriously political and fat too, like 'Reality'. The 12 was later remixed by MC D and was re-released as a product entirely of his own making, although I think the Principal had the better beats.

Island Records A&R man Darcus Beese had been eyeing MC D and recognising his quality and potential signed him up. In 1995 Silent Eclipse put out their long player 'Psychological Enslavement'. MC D's style is to break down all the corruptions within the government and deliver reality raps with vehemence and intensity. He also proudly speaks in his own London accent. He is not apprehensive about recriminations, does not hold back and has, in his time dissed all sorts from his former manager to the now deceased Bernie Grant MP. MC D is a man with a mission and is here to open listeners eyes and educate the youth to avoid trouble and discrimination.

An Asian Crew from Manchester called the (Nu Konshuz) Kaliphz who had formed in 1992 had been performing at jams and putting out cassettes of their tracks. The original crew members were: Jabba Da Hype, X - Tufan (the Alien) and the Poet Saqib who were soon joined by Chok the funky Polak, Seftonik the Demonik, DJ XL, Sniffa Dawg N.A.D, and 2 Phaaan (Tufan). In 93 producer Martin Price got them signed to London for whom they released a few 12"s. Whilst recording their LP they were joined by another member Wiz who had parted from Breaking the Illusion. The Album 'Seven Deadly Sins' followed in 1995. After some critical acclaim but not enough success for London, Pete Tong their label's A&R gave them to Jive. Pete Waterman, took over their production, they changed up their name to Kaleef and under the big labels pressure they released some almost boy-band material, but this was interspersed with dope Hip Hop classics and they put out another LP in 1997 '53rd State Of Mind'.

To support these new artists there were also new labels like 23 Skidoo's Ronin, Trevor Nelson's Bite It! - Lewis Parker, Brotherhood - 'Wayz of the Wize', Mad Dog - Lords of Rap with their 'Stix and Stones' EP, John Baker's Gee Street who put out records by Richie Rich - 'Boogie Back' on the Scam 12", Outlaw Posse and Gold Top - 'Introduction' and on a more commercial side larger independents like Rhythm King and Big Life.

This time seemed to be the true heyday of British Hip Hop. Shows and new acts were jumping off all over and due to the popularity of R'n'B and New Jack Swing, Hip Hop was able to follow along and be present in the mainstream, if only on the sidelines. However most people were only aware of US Hip Hop and were oblivious to the fact that there was a whole distinct set of UK MCs, producers, Crews and writers doing their own thing.

Intro Early Doors:
1979-1985
False Dawn:
1985-1990
Underground Years:
1990-1995
The Renaissance:
1995- 2000
The Future:
2000 & Beyond
Artists &
Discographies

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