Various Artists
Exclusive and Rare Tracks, Volume 2

By Masta G

This new compilation showcases a wide range of talent from progressive Manchester-based label Grand Central. The diversity of different sounds on offer – from the kind of melodic hip hop soul popularised by Aim to Riton's electro breaks – is impressive as much for the fact that Grand Central have maintained a coherent feel amongst their growing roster of artists as for its variety. As well as breaking new producers and vocalists (Niko, Kate Rogers, Dual Control), Mark Rae has picked up Smith and Mighty’s Rob Smith for some solo stuff.

English MC-ing is well represented by 24/7 from Blackpool-based B boys, the Funky Fresh Few, but the spoken word element isn’t as well developed as you might expect for a label that brought us UK collaborations with the likes of The Pharcyde and Afu Ra. The FFF get on the nostalgia vibe which has been coming on strong recently, harking back to the days when 'hip hop MCs didn't go pop – paper chasing'. Friends and Family promoter The Nudge comes with a happy combination of 80s beats, haunting piano harmonies and Robert Owens style soulful vocals on Bumpin’, soon to be released on 12". Ill Gotten Gains get down and dirty with a tribute to classic funk track Mr Cool. Aim vocalist Niko proves herself as a breathy chanteuse equal to her namesake from the Velvet Underground on the pleasantly dissonant You're My Favourite Music and Don't Waste Your Time. Jon Kennedy follows on from Riton’s dancefloor friendly ‘cast of thousands’ with some squelchy, Latin/funk influenced breaks on The Make To Shake You. The sampler also sees dual control previewing their forthcoming Stoned Mason EP, with the A side's dark hip hop beats and cut up vocal loops balanced by the gentle melodies and sweet vocal of Spring Again.

Grand Central seem to have taken over from the experimental/instrumental hip hop scene which came to grief at the end of the 90s as Mo' Wax lost the plot and the English trip hop sound imploded. The harder edge audible on a lot of UK hip hop isn’t really present here, instead sung vocals and real instrumentation are used to great effect, creating a softer vibe that’s maybe more accessible for non hip hop heads. Grand Central's corner up north certainly isn't grim.
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