Posts Tagged ‘Shoulda Gone Platinum’

CASisDeaD-

Drugs Don’t Work

 

There seriously must be something in the water in North London and I’m not talking about the fluoride, because for over a decade now North London has consistently produced some of the country’s top MCs. I mean I where do I start, Mercury Prize Winner Skepta hails from the streets of Tottenham, as does Wretch 32 and most recently Avelino looks set to continue on this path laid out by his predecessors. Although I absolutely love the aforementioned crop of MCs, there has been one MC who has truly stood out to me, but has perhaps flown under the radar of the masses and that’s CASisDEAD.

 

Over the last 12  months or so Cas has significantly raised his profile with Giggs featuring on a remix of his track “What’s My Name”, and then Cas himself being the star feature on Giggs’s debut album Landlord. However Cas is not new to the game by any stretch of the imagination, previously going by the name Castro Saint, he released a slew of Grime tracks in the early Noughties. Although his style and approach were not as polished as they are now, his masterful manipulation of the English language has always been there.

 

Since then Cas has transformed into an international man of mystery. Sporting a mask and going by a different moniker, complete with slower delivery and with content 50 shades darker Castro Saint really is dead. The mysteriousness goes so much deeper than just the identity of Cas, even though most of his fans don’t even know what he looks like. The YouTube comment philosophers have fuelled conspiracy theories that even go on to raise questions about exactly why he calls himself “Cas”. Is it simply a shortening of Castro Saint? Or is it in reference to the CAS numbers list? C.A.S is an acronym for Chemical Abstract Service and these numbers are used to help identify chemical substances, including drugs of course, which is fitting as Cas’s content is riddled with drug references. What does “isDead” signify? Is it a clever way of him displaying his rebirth as a new artist? Or is it the more sinister suggestion that has been encrypted in some of Cas’s lyrics, that he sold his soul to the devil after what should have been a fatal motorcycle crash? Either way, I could write an entire article attempting to uncover the many mysteries surrounding Cas. In a time where information is just a short Google search away, Cas has worked miracles in order to shroud himself in such mystery.

 

“Drugs Don’t Work” is easily one of Cas’s magnum opus’s. MssingNo’s production (yes eagle eyed Pokemon Red and Blue players will recognise his namesake as the Pokemon that would spawn while you did the infinite rare candy or master ball cheat) plays a big part in this tracks success. It’s immediately obvious that the beat is MssingNo’s take on The Verve’s 90s hit of the same name. He’s pitched down the original instrumental, but his own additions are not far away, as hi-hats can be heard ominously in the distance like a marauding band of cavalrymen; and before you know it the hairs on the back of your neck are standing up as MssingNo’s entire arrangement prepares to plunge you into the dark recesses of Cas’s mind.

 

The journey you embark on when you listen to Cas’s “Drugs Dont Work” isn’t a pleasant one (in the conventional sense). His morose lyrical depictions remind us of a grim reality, which we’ve become accustomed to escaping through TV, social media and of course music. You’ll find no such hyper-real escapism when listening to “Drugs Dont Work”, instead Cas forces the listener to face some of these harsh realities. This then begs the question how does Cas manage to make this entertaining? Music is a form of entertainment at the end of the day, even if you’re trying to educate the audience they’ll be much easier to reach if you manage to retain the entertainment factor. Cas’s gritty, and sometimes macabre storytelling lands somewhere in the promised land of entertaining social realism. Most artists that tread down this beaten path fail to find the difficult balance between the two. Their songs end up either sounding like a TED talk or like some hood version of Keeping up with the Kardashians- i.e. full of gross self-glorification and not an ounce of substance.

 

Although Cas traditionally plays the role of drug dealer, on “Drugs Don’t Work” Cas displays duality by encapsulating the difficult of experiences of a chronic drug user. This Bruce Banner/Hulk dichotomy is a central theme in much of Cas’s music, although he can sometimes appear cutthroat and callous, in the next bar you might hear him reflecting on the damages his actions may have caused. This foresight is rarely seen in music like Cas’s, you’ll often just get MCs fraudulently glorifying drug dealing but never the acknowledgement of the societal ills caused by it.

 

The juxtaposition is immediately apparent as the track begins with Cas reflecting on the negative effects of his over indulgence, but he quickly snaps out of the self-pity as he derides himself for showing vulnerability:

 

I’m wire thin/ I dunno why I aint dieting/ maybe it’s the Vicodin that strung me out like a violin/ fiend Simon dialled he’s tryin to buy a ting/ its mad I used to look down at him for piping up and firing/ talking to myself not recognizing who’s replying/ I’m becoming so much like the clients that I’ve been supplying/ BUT FUCK THE SENTIMENTAL SHITE/ IM MENTAL AND I GET MORTAL LIKE/ POP A PILL AND SPIKE THIS BITCH AND FUCK HER TILL SHE AINT WALKING RIGHT”

 

This internal conflict is played out throughout the track as Cas invites the audience to take a glimpse into the troubled minds of the various characters plagued by addiction. Long-time fans of Cas will recognize the character Simon, who has previously faced Cas’s wroth, but this time we see him coming to his aid, once again Cas has brilliantly encapsulated the way ones fortunes can change in an instant when dabbling with drugs.

 

Cas doesn’t do things in half measures, the same applies for his storytelling. Rather than just be content with his explorations of a fraught and unconventional relationship between the drug dealer and the user, Cas is keen to delve into the myriad of reasons why people turn to substance abuse. In modern society this has become a rather taboo subject, as addicts are often just dismissed and cast aside, Cas however refuses to shy away and brings some of these harrowing realities home to roost.

 

 But my life’s shit/drugs seem like the quickest fix/temporary escape from the estates and all the fucking bricks/that’s why I’m in such a rush to take the first hit or first sip/ E&J burnt up my throat fucking roach burnt up my lip/then it wears off/and I feel like I’m worse off/looking out on London bridge thinking about throwing myself off/NAH THAT’S SOFT THERE’S BETTER WAYS I COULD FEEL HIS WROTH/I GOT LOADS OF GEAR IN MY LOFT/ I GOT LOADS OF PILLS I COULD SCOFF

 

In just a few lines Cas has shed light on the dark underbelly of addiction that few care to acknowledge, while simultaneously fleshing out the mental strife that has been caused by the prevalence of stoicism and hyper-masculinity. Considering the fact that male depression has only received widespread attention in the last 12 months or so, and this track was released almost five years ago; it goes to show that good music stands the test of time. One might argue that Cas isn’t unique in speaking on these topics, but what is unique is not the topics per se, but the way in which he delivers it. You’d be hard pressed to find another artist who manages to blend a convincingly gritty persona with deep, insightful and most importantly entertaining social commentary.

 

“Drugs Don’t Work” is a track with more twists and turns than Nuremberg, and from start to finish Cas has the listener captivated and hanging on his every word, as he unpredictably veers the Tarantino esque multi strand narrative from one harrowing tale to the next. Cas even manages to weave in the tragic story of his friend who passed away after Chemo therapy failed stave off Cancer. Which is simply audacious, who would have thought that a track that begins with Cas reeling from the aftereffects of a drug fuelled night, would culminate in a reflection on the crippling effects of medical grade pharmaceuticals?

 

This is just the sought of artist that Cas is, he can turn his hand to anything, one need only explore his criminally small discography to see his diverse range of beat selection and his ever present lyrical wizardry. The only problem with the elusive CASisDeaD, is that there is simply not enough product, his intermittent releases can be frustrating for fans but art as they say, cannot be rushed.

Advertisements

MicMic Righteous-Try My Best

When it comes to spitting with passion and hunger few come close to Mic Righteous. Most MCs tend to lose some of this once they achieve some degree of recognition, however all of Mic’s tracks right up to his latest offering ’Ronnie Pickering’ are awash with his trademark ferocity. His fiery delivery is reflective of how personal and emotive his lyrical content can be, which is certainly something unique in a scene that has become inundated with far too many MCs who claim to possess some sort of gangland superiority in an attempt to appeal to a form of pseudo-masculinity. Mic has snubbed this well travelled route and paved his own way with his passionate introspective storytelling. Mic began writing lyrics from a young age and as a result of this he now has an impressive back catalogue of mixtapes, singles and EPs. However I only stumbled across Mic after his now infamous first appearance on Charlie Sloth’s Fire in the Booth, in which the BBC (so much for impartiality) censored the words “Free Palestine”. This moment catapulted Mic into the spotlight beyond that of the UK music scene and was the catalyst that led me to exploring his aforementioned superb body of work.

 

During my explorations of Mic’s discography, I unearthed a gem entitled Try My Best on Mic’s critically acclaimed second mixtape Kam-Pain. The mixtape as a whole is a great piece of work, every track has Mic’s trademark delivery and is coupled with brilliant production from Preston Play throughout; the mixtape even features two guest spots from the incredible spoken word artist George The Poet. However I feel that Try My Best is just a cut above the rest in all departments. The track is a huge risk; it’s a Mic Righteous take on the legendary Eminem song Stan. Although not exactly a straight cover of Stan, upon hearing Try My Best it becomes clear that they are conceptually very similar, and herein lies the risk. It is no mean feat for an artist of any kind to attempt to take a concept made famous by someone else and try to do something different with it. The pitfalls are plenty, but Mic navigates past them with aplomb and provides us with a brilliant insight into the sometimes difficult relationship that an introspective lyricist shares with his audience; although seemingly very similar to what Eminem does on Stan, thanks to Mic’s unique experiences we actually get a completely different angle.

 

Without the presence of the subtle, yet no less exceptional production from Preston Play, Try My Best may well of fallen foul to some of the lazy accusations of unoriginality that have been levelled at the track. The beat begins with a slow sombre piano score which is shortly accompanied by the equally melancholy bass drums; which maintain this as a theme throughout the song. The understated brilliance of Preston Play continues, as the sound of fingers frantically dancing over a keyboard punctuate the track, in the same way that the sound of a pencil scribbling once did on Stan.

 

As we have come to expect from Mic, lyrically, he doesn’t disappoint. The format of the track again bares similarities to Stan, however to truly appreciate how good the track really is, we must focus on the nuances. In each verse Mic plays a different character, and then ties them all together adeptly with his response on the final verse. Adding different characters rather than focusing on just one like Stan, adds a level of complexity and depth not found on Stan. The first two verses are representative of the type of outpouring Mic has had to become accustomed to because his reputation has been built upon his emotionally charged content; which has resulted in his fans sharing their deepest thoughts and feelings with him.

“All I ever do is listen to you/Something inside me tells me this is the truth/I know you feel the pain that I do/Sometimes I even wish I was You”.

However the third verse is by far the most interesting. The third verse focuses on how some of his fans have come to expect a certain type of music from him, and feel so passionately that they are willing to chastise Mic for veering off this perceived course:

“You sold yourself Mic, thats why they call you a celeb/never knew you would pretend/ you aint spreading the truth/you used to represent now you forgetting your roots/you aint fire fam you’re a liar in the booth….I thought you said you couldn’t deal with fakes/after that shit with Cher Lloyd who could still relate?”

 

The particular track that the angry fan references is called Dub On A Track which also featured two other UK heavyweights Ghetts and Dot Rotten. The trio reportedly received a whopping £8,000 each for their contributions. Some fans felt that this was a departure by Mic from what they had come to know and expect from him. At the end of the day, what some of these self proclaimed “fans” forget that making a living from music is tough, tougher still for the underground artists. Without major label backing they rely solely on the support of their fans for their revenue. Underground fans are often the staunchest critics and will jump at the opportunity to tell their favourite artist that they’ve “sold out” or that they aren’t “real” anymore. However it’s important to remember that all of Mic’s previous projects up until Open Mic were all available for free. So as fans, we ought to be sensitive to the fact that he has to make money somehow. It was one verse, I would hardly describe it as selling out, and I think if any of us were offered 8Gs for a verse we would do it! The irony is that these same fans that are quick to call Mic a sell out, will be the very same ones that don’t buy the “real” music that he puts out; thus making it an unsustainable venture. Thankfully in Mic’s case, these “fans” seem to be a minority as Open Mic went to number one in the iTunes chart 45 minutes after release, it’s evident that most of his supporters are willing to put their money where their mouth is. The moral of the story is if you don’t support the music that you love by purchasing the music or going to shows etc, then don’t be surprised when the artist stops making it.

 

The fourth and final verse ties this beautifully crafted multi-strand narrative together perfectly, as Mic responds to the questions and criticisms of the previous three verses, with the honesty and ferociousness that has won him hordes of supporters. With the fourth verse Mic gives us an insight into the problems he has faced precisely because of his real and honest lyricism, thereby showing the listener just what a double edged sword it can be.

“These fans get attached to my lyrics/I just don’t get it/is it a gift or a curse? It’s like there’s no winning/ I’ve always spat the same go listen to my old lyrics/ it’s got me thinking have I led them on? Like I call myself Righteous cause I’m never wrong”

The overarching aim of the fourth verse for Mic is to humanise himself, and remind listeners that he cannot solve all their problems he has his own problems he must deal with. Only these problems have been amplified because now he feels a sense of responsibility to these fans that write to him pouring their hearts out expecting him to help them with their problems when he can’t even handle his own:

“Im gonna take this chance and make sure you know the truth/ you might be going through hell/ but understand this I aint coping as well”

But ironically, this will only further endear him to his fans as rather than appearing on some sort of pedestal like the majority of celebrities; allowing himself to appear this vulnerable will only make fans love him even more. All in all this is an incredible track from start to finish. The structure, the beat and of course the lyrical content are all nigh on perfection, therefore it leaves no doubt in my mind that this track Shoulda Gone Platinum! But don’t take my word for it, go check it out and make sure you listen to Mic Righteous’s entire discography in anticipation to the release of his long awaited debut album later this year!

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.