Shoulda Gone Platinum

Posted: December 2, 2014 in Music
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Melanin9: Strange Fruit


The UK underground hip hop scene is a very vibrant one, populated by many talented artists who treat the art form with the respect it deserves. Personally when I listen to hip hop I want to be taken on a journey, I want to see the world through the artists’ eyes. So for me the lyrics have always been the most important part of any hip hop track, unfortunately all too frequently with today’s mainstream hip hop acts we are seeing beats and catchy hooks taking precedence over the once revered verses. This is why my iPod is awash with stuff from the underground, a world where lyricism still matters. Obviously these journeys are never the same, sometimes they can be gritty social realism, at times they can be harrowing tales of lost loved ones and on occasion they can even educate and enlighten you. Melanin9 has given me the gritty social realism while simultaneously educating and enlightening me.

I fear that many people have not had the privilege of going on a voyage to the chilling often grim world sculpted by M9s sublime lyricism. Although the world he depicts is often a menacing one it is always crafted with magnificently articulate lyrics. Despite the fact that he still remains relatively unknown, he has been prolific in the last seven or so years, releasing a number of different solo projects. Most recently his debut album Magna Carta which received substantial critical acclaim, the single White Russian (featuring NY rapper Roc Marciano) was even featured in The Source magazine.

However for the rest of the journey I will be taking you on, we will be focusing on one of M9s earlier works Strange Fruit which was the lead single on his 2008 mixtape entitled 144,000. Although the original remains historically important, thankfully it is no longer relevant in the way it once was as there are no longer such atrocities taking place today. M9 has intelligently used the title of the classic song for his own track and he has transformed the subject matter and once again made it relevant for a modern audience. The “strange fruit” are now no longer innocent black men and women being lynched and hung from trees, they are now the black men and women who have lost their way and fallen foul to the tribulations that M9 illustrates. The beat (produced by Jon Phonics) which forms the backdrop of M9’s social commentary is simple yet brilliant; it adopts the typical boom bap beat formula with Hi-Hats, kicks and snares pulsating throughout the track. The addition of the piano gives the track a very sinister feel which bodes well with the subject matter. The beat is very 90s and traditional, nothing flashy just a blank canvas which M9 decorates with his intricate lyricism.


Lyrically the track is simply incredible. Your journey with M9 begins as he opens with a couple of lines depicting a bleak reality:

“Follow me to a place where a face don’t smile, there’s no hope for youngers on the block running wild, single parent mothers struggle to support their baby, the fathers either dead, in jail or gone crazy, daughters skip school to link boys with their friends, the boys look up to the older shootas with the Benz, the media exploits black deaths with no solution, this is a place where love is just an illusion… the slums”.


M9 flows over the beat immaculately as he manages to pack line after line with complex multisyllabic rhymes. Stereotypically tracks of this ilk often lack depth; there are countless tracks out there about selling drugs, gang banging and the generic “struggle” which is often used as a tool for braggadocio or self glorification. This is where M9 really stands out; although he perhaps uses a similar formula he gets very different results. Instead of talking about how many rocks he’s sold and how many clips he’s sprayed M9 shifts the focus from the actions themselves to the reasons behind them. He does this by simply demonstrating a dichotomy between his ancestry and the rather forlorn reality that is typically faced by many in his community:

“Brothers cut with precision in Pyrex bowls and hand it to brothers to silence the road, far from a hieroglyphic scroll”;

In little more than a sentence M9 highlights how his ancestors were once the most advanced civilisation, yet now due to the destruction of their history and culture his brothers and sisters now find themselves lost and doomed by a self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuated by the media.

The perpetuation occurs on many fronts. Whether it’s the injustice of the Mark Duggan case or Operation Trident, could the institutional racism be more overt? We need to think to ourselves how do things like this affect the younger generation when they grow up witnessing things like this? M9 does the thinking for us, throughout the track he shows what a negative impact these things are having on the younger generation as he simultaneously tries to speak directly to them in an attempt to get them to see the error of their ways:

“What does it take to make you realise we are killing each other, my black brother from another mother, we going under”.

Being a white listener, questions may be asked as to why and how I can listen to this and enjoy it when it is patently obvious that the subject matter is something I cannot relate to. Aside from being drawn to M9’s poetry, listening to M9 has taught me many things about race politics and race relations. M9 helped me realise how deep racism really goes and how far we as a nation still have to go to alleviate these deep seated issues. The power of music is undeniable and M9 harnesses this with Strange Fruit to speak to the Black community and to educate the rest of us.



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