Posts Tagged ‘grime’

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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Warlock: Friend of Mine Foe of the Music

 

This is a grime album (I refer to it as an album as mixtape seems derogatory for something of this calibre) that was released in 2008 by Warlock, an MC hailing out of West London. Despite Warlock getting airplay on kiss 100 and receiving praise and critical acclaim by DJ Logan Sama, the album surprisingly failed to achieve much else. The album was of course released independently by Warlock; I even bought my copy directly from the man himself! Why do I think it failed to reach its potential? Apart from the obvious difficulties that he faced doing it independently, I think the music that Warlock put out was too niche, I mean only a handful of the tracks on the album could actually be categorized as grime in the traditional sense. The conceptual grime that makes up the bulk of the album undoubtedly had trouble finding an audience at the time of release. This is because the majority of the successful tracks of 08 lyrically consisted of generic braggadocio and rarely anything thought provoking. On Warlock’s offering you will find more of the latter and less of the former. By dissecting the album track by track I hope to show you exactly why this album shoulda gone platinum.

 

Friend of Mine:

In terms of production this track is rather lacklustre in comparison to the rest of the album. It begins with the bass drum kicking hard, coupled with the typical hip hop claps, high hats and looped strings which give a sense of impending doom; you will be hard pressed not to bop your head to it. Lyrically, Warlock kicks off the album with a flurry of aggressive rhymes in defence of grime, his chosen genre. This becomes a recurring theme throughout the album as Warlock grapples with and confronts naysayers “Whoever said me and grime can’t be together/fuck that me and grime are eloping”. A decent opening track in that it gives the listener an idea of Warlock’s style and hints at some of the themes present in the rest of the album.

 

 

Stick to ma gunz:

The second track picks up where the first one left off, albeit with much less aggression. This is due in part to Warlock’s more calm and collected approach and the track being punctuated by the jubilant sound of trumpets. The track is a soliloquy in which Warlock tussles with the opposing forces present in his head and in society which make him question the musical path he has chosen to take. There is one particular line which perfectly sums up the track; “Should I appeal to the grime majority/ talk about shanks, straps, money in the bank and hating the authorities?”

 

Drunk Dance:

As the name suggests Warlock is paying homage to his fellow males who find themselves in similar situations. The earth shattering baseline combined with a melee of different instruments creates the perfect back drop for the subject matter; a recount of Warlock’s drunken antics. This is the first track in which Warlock shares the mic with another MC. Dre a young MC, joins Warlock in describing the inner workings of a night on the tiles. A disappointing feature in the end, as he adds little to the track and his voice sounds annoyingly squeaky at times. A fun track, yet not pushing any boundaries.

 

Grime Train:

Lyrically and in terms of production this is one of my personal favourites. The beat begins with the melancholic strumming of an electric guitar, the subsequent introduction of the hi hats and the quintessential bass drums brings the beat up to a tempo which Warlock can comfortably take us on a journey through his mind’s eye. This track sees the album return to its overarching theme; Warlock’s struggle to get acceptance in the scene which he has professed his love to. The music scene is analogous to a moving train which doesn’t seem to stop for Warlock despite him being more than a worthy passenger, he proclaims “they won’t let me on the grime train they wanna stifle my speech like little Maggie/even though I wallow in so much grime I’m expecting a visit from Kim and Aggie” The lyricism and the stellar production make this one of the best this album has to offer.

 

Kurt Cobain:

Now four songs deep in the album, after two rather mellower offerings Warlock really begins to up the ante, in this track he abandons the concepts, themes and anything of the sort in exchange for a candid display of his lyrical prowess. Once again the production is outstanding; the baseline hits you harder than a shot of Jamaican rum, as does the ferocity in which Warlock comes at you. You can really hear the hunger in his voice as he attempts to sate his appetite by ravaging the beat. The punch lines packed with double entendres, metaphors and similes come at you in quick succession but the delivery remains as lucid as ever. As he boasts in one of his lines “If you see Warlock and you don’t see I got bars then you’re missing an eye like Leela/cause I am so far ahead with the bars that I posses I can see the Jetsons through my visor”. This is genuinely one of those tracks where it’s difficult to pick a particular line to quote; you are just completely spoilt for choice. This I what would refer to as a “hype” track with a healthy dose of intelligent lyricism to keep you listening attentively.

 

London’s Burning:

The fifth track is another shining example of the exceptional production which is showcased throughout the album. This one kicks off with a rock n roll esque guitar riff which is then skilfully fused with the archetypal hip hop hi hats and bass drums, which creates perfect a synergy between the two genres. Warlock then bursts on to the track and raucously delivers the hook:

“London’s burning cause I got a lyrical perversion/and I can’t cope with the burning/so I let off disturbing wording/bound to get all the vermin squirming/I’m unnerving him/real piff I’m serving him/hound him out/drown him out/if he aint amphibian then he aint resurfacing”

In the chorus it’s almost like he’s addressing the Grime scene which makes this song feel like a sequel to Grime Train. After the scene seems to have rejected his advances thus far, Warlock now seeks to wreak lyrical havoc on the scene which refuses to recognize him. Warlock even hints that he himself realizes that his content may be too niche for the grime scene proudly claiming that his lyrics are “earning me my own category N****s are turning green”. Arguably one of the best beats on the album and nothing but quality it terms of lyrics from the man behind the mic.

 

Old Dog and Old Tricks:

Warlock takes the rather exhausted topic of male promiscuity and gives us a fresh take on it. Often songs of this nature are filled with far too much self-glorification and not enough honesty, as MCs and rappers try convince you that their exploits would put Mr. Hefner to shame. Warlock on the other hand, offers us a much more honest approach as he addresses his admirer(s). After the previous three tracks the bar has been set dizzyingly high in terms of production, this one unfortunately sounds rather mediocre in comparison. The beat opens with a looped piano score which is then injected with a guitar riff as Warlock begins the first verse. As you may have guessed Warlock is the “old dog” mentioned in the song title as he tells the story of an unsuspecting lady that has fallen foul to his charms. In hip-hop we have regrettably become accustomed to the objectification of women, especially when it comes to the protagonist describing how he seduces women before mercilessly kicking them to the curb. Warlock contrary to many of his hip hop compatriots tells the story of the man that is honest about his intentions yet still manages to keep things respectful. The song is filled with witty humour and the intelligent lyricism that has become synonymous with Warlock’s content, I’ll leave you with an example “If it weren’t for that extra G&T that fateful night/our relationship would still be platonic.”

 

Music is my Legacy:

This beat is perhaps somewhat minimalist in comparison to some of the others; however this is what makes it deceptively clever. It begins with a vocalist eerily harmonising for the first ten seconds before the ensemble of hip hop instruments is introduced. I compliment the minimalist production because what it does is it showcases Warlock’s ability as a true lyricist, not a fraud who hides behind the beat and catchy hooks; the latter is something which permeates much of mainstream hip hop today. As the name might have suggested this track revisits the album’s central theme, Warlock’s passion for music. Warlock’s passion exudes out of each word he says as he entrances listeners with his effortless delivery. The hypnotism continues as the vocalist sporadically Ad Libs Warlock with her eerie wailing and Warlock chants the chorus to the mesmerising backdrop of a sitar. In terms of lyrics, it’s nothing short of top notch from the self proclaimed “microphone mogul” as he demonstrates his love and dedication to music: “So I regulate a flow that resonates, elevates, levitates settles down and decimates/ then I decorate and devastate every beat that I penetrate/ let’s set the record straight/ you can’t emulate unless you amputated my tongue.” That is probably one of my favourite quotes from the entire album. If we can have songs about frivolous things like “German Whips” in the charts why can’t we have something with substance representing grime?

 

Please, Cautious:

After a trio of conceptual tracks, Warlock gives the listeners a break from the concepts with this high octane offering. The track is produced by Rifle who also produced Warlock’s other “hype” track Kurt Cobain, so if that was anything to go by, you know what to expect in terms of the production. The beat begins quietly it actually sounds like its coming from a phone. At first all that is audible is the bass line which gradually gets louder and is eventually joined by the strings, claps and hi hats which transform the beat into an absolute monstrosity. For only the second time thus far, Warlock is joined by two other MCs K.P and Direman. The title of the track sums up the subject matter dealt with, which is a warning to other MCs who think that they can compete with these three lyrical heavyweights. Direman & K.P are actually fairly decent features they both have a fair share of quotables between them. However what they lack is the intelligence which is present throughout Warlock’s content even on a so called “hype” track. K.P & Direman are more traditional grime whereas Warlock offers something a little different and this is apparent when you compare their verses. Nevertheless this is a decent track, but definitely one of the weaker ones thus far.

 

Mrs Lewis:

This track is probably the closest to Warlock’s heart. The track was written at a time when his mother was taken ill and he feared the worst. Warlock once again proves that he recognises that his potential target audience may not want to listen to something of this nature as he says “if you don’t wanna to listen to this type of thing then skip the track”. This is because deeply introspective tracks are not commonplace in grime. Suitably the beat is a sombre piano score which helps Warlock get his trepidations across to listeners that little bit easier. Throughout the track Warlock wears his heart on his sleeve as he takes us on a harrowing journey. Introspective tracks like this are good because what it does is it allows listeners to relate to the artist. This is certainly a commodity at a time where rappers are increasingly creating hyper-real worlds of over indulgence in money, women and a plethora of other things that the majority of their target audience cannot relate to, yet oddly enough we still find ourselves listening to it. For the umpteenth time now Warlock produces a fine lyrical performance on a track that would certainly touch even the coldest of hearts.

 

On trial:

This track sees the resurgence of one of the albums central themes, Warlock staving off criticism of his decision to become a grime artist. Warlock is accompanied by childhood friend Yello Boy as they both lay down verses in defence of grime. The beat is another elegant piano score which is joined by flutes and other woodwind instruments during the chorus. The title refers to the design of the track which puts the MCs on the stand and their verses are their defence testimonies. Both artists defend grime from different standpoints. Warlock in particular argues against the fact that the media correlates violence and other aspects of criminal activity with grime music, “He spent 15 years in crime but they blame it on the little time he spent in grime”. Yello boy follows a more linear route, he defends grime on the grounds that the people criticising grime do not understand its roots and the group of people it represents, thereby making these criticisms irrelevant. Like Warlock, Yello Boy sounds natural as he effortlessly glides over the melody, something that his other features thus far have lacked. This is another showcase of Warlock’s intelligence as well as another excellent beat; two things you should come to expect from the album if you listened this far.

 

Nah like Me:

After a handful of the previous tracks featured a piano score in some shape or form, it does become a little repetitive that this track also features one (this is me nitpicking I myself am a sucker for piano scores). Warlock once again is addressing his critics and people who refuse to take notice of his gift because of the genre he finds himself in. Despite this Warlock is adamant that once you eventually hear his poetry you will no longer be able to deny him what he is due:

“Relax as I let my mind talk/ and splatter my thoughts all over the track/ this is the blank canvass to which the musical part of my brain reacts/ the hard hitting bars are landing/your attention spans expanding/bars get dispatched/ ears get catched/ now realise War aint ramping”

At the same time Warlock wants to make it clear that the hate he is receiving serves as motivation to prove naysayers wrong. Lyrically another great performance from Warlock, however I think if I am being honest I would like some diversification of content. We know the man can write with the best of them just think I would love to hear him broach some different topics. However we must remember this is his debut album and he’s only going to improve.

 

Pump It:

The maestro Rifle is behind the boards once more, so you know the beat is going to be absolute bananas. Of course Rifle delivers the goods, the beat begins rather slowly but you know it’s the calm before the storm. The bass drum begins to hit intermittently, trumpets begin to blare and a myriad of other sounds enter the fray to create beautifully orchestrated chaos. For this joint Warlock comes complete with his entire crew the Gritty Committee. Each MC brings their own breed of typical grime braggadocio which fits perfectly with the mosh pit inducing beat. As with every track Warlock has been on so far his verse is the one that stands out because his wordplay is just streaks ahead of not just his features, but a lot of so called “big” rappers and MCs. If this track got played in a club it would be absolute pandemonium, the lyrics and the beat make this the perfect grime club banger.

 

Old School:

The piano score which has become a staple in Warlock’s diet returns one last time on the penultimate track of the album. The piano score is solemn and slow paced to match Warlock’s reminiscent rhymes about the good old days. I think much of the magic of this track would be lost on an American audience or perhaps anyone not in their mid twenties. This is because the iconography (Ice poles, Wink murder, live and kicking and push pops) that Warlock uses wouldn’t be that familiar to anyone but British 80s babies. In this retrospective track Warlock speaks of the many truths that we all have to face when we grow up and also reminds us what we miss about being kids. One of my favourite lines on the track which metaphorically depicts the change we have all gone through:

“…high school skipping/at home on the games console switching/duck hunt, paper boy, streets of rage/now the streets have aged and the duck hunt turned into the paper chase/ cause the paper boys gotta get gotta get gotta get paid”.

The fact that I’m encompassed in the era Warlock raps about means I thoroughly enjoyed the journey down memory lane, however I know this will not be the case for everyone. Despite this, this is one of the best tracks on the album the beats and bars are of high quality as usual.

 

Souls Crying:

The final track of the album begins with a rather ominous feeling as the base line menacingly begins to kick; then a demonic sounding voice begins to echo the words “soul will be crying” in the background while the eerie sounds of the violin drift in and out of audibility. To those that are familiar with the Immortal Technique song Dance with the devil this track is somewhat reminiscent of Tech’s offering. This is a story of a young individual who through lack of guidance from parents, and due to misguidance from peers has ended up on a path of self destruction. Warlock’s fictional character has convinced himself that he must “climb the street ladder” no doubt because he didn’t receive the love and attention from home. This song is like no other on the album, he really tries his hand at telling a fictional story which reflects reality. In my opinion doing this is, and making it credible is harder than simply writing a track straight off the back of firsthand experience. The angelic voice of the singer alongside the demonic recitation of “soul will be crying” is a great dichotomy of opposing forces inside the characters head. Warlock has done it again. Awesome beat and possibly the best lyrical showcase of the entire album saved till last, I don’t know about you but he kept me hooked till the last.

 

 

 

I hope I have made it clear why Warlock shoulda gone platinum. At the very least I hope you have gone and listened to his stuff to see for yourself. Really hope you enjoyed my rather unorthodox approach at reviewing this album, I just feel that I should try and put as much work into reviewing it as artists do in recording it. Until next time…..