Border Crossing

By Masta G

Loose knit collective Border Crossing move through the different musical idioms of their native West London with consummate ease. Their genre defying debut LP takes in hip hop, dancehall, soul and jazz house and succeeds in imprinting an impressively varied selection of tracks and guest vocalists (from both sides of the Atlantic) with a coherent feel. The album has already elicited well deserved comparisons with the Wild Bunch and Soul II Soul and it's refreshing to hear some authentic UK hip hop which is not afraid to manuva through musical boundaries.

First single The Alias is a dissonant UK hip hop track which enlists the smoked out talents of MC of the moment Jehst – North London's own high plains drifter. Halifax born Usmaan is also keeping the UK vibe alive on opener No Go Area, which paints a bleak picture of an urban scene in which 'slappers and sluts jam/in Kappas and push prams'. By contrast 'original heads' invokes the early 90s US sound with a rolling premiere-style beat and the self proclaimed ghetto fabulousness of American rapper Rockwell. He's also controlling the mic on R'n'B flava'd track The Return, over some Timbaland-type beats. Searching for Mr Manuva is a heavy instrumental tribute to the man who's done more than anyone else in recent years to break the UK sound into the mainstream. The reggae roots which can be heard here, as well as in his work, are acknowledged on a couple of dancehall influenced tracks: Rankin's Move sees Ricky Rankin toasting melodically over lush string and vocal arrangements, while on Dance for Your Life he urges the listener to 'keep on skanking'. The threat contained in the title is rendered irrelevant by an immediate head nodding attraction. The accomplished jazz-house of Flight Path and the meditative morning-after feel of Future Blues (which features Rankin in contemplative mood) prove that this lot are not afraid to push the envelope of hip hop production.

This album deserves commercial success but its distinctive qualities lie in the fact that it condenses the sound of basements, blues parties and back rooms into a convincing whole. The disparate musical influences of Border Crossing's three founding members, which range from nascent hip hop and sound system culture in the 80s to jazz and blues, cohere satisfyingly in Ominous and the album is definitely a positive step for the homegrown hip hop sound which has yet to make the impact many feel it deserves.
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