Various Artists
The Dugout

A wide regional variety of talent from the UK hip hop label's finest.

By Demented Toddler

 
Born out of Simpson & Robert Luis’ Juice FM show, this album showcases some of Zebra Traffic’s best established and upcoming talent. The label has championed and nurtured homegrown hip hop from all over the UK besides the capital; the artists featured here hail from Nottingham, Swansea, Brighton, Guildford, Forest Gate, Hebden Bridge and Cornwall. The compilation’s packed with such a variety of dialects that Londoners may find it linguistically dizzying, let alone American listeners.

Given the regional variations, it’s surprising how many similarities there are between the tracks featured here. A pretty high level of quality control has been exercised, but there’s not much musical risk taking. Happy to let their accents to distinguish them, the rappers tend to cleave to convention. The majority are full of traditional braggadocio and self-praise. ‘If you never seen or heard of Phi Life or the Task Force, you’d have to be deaf dumb and blind and in a coma’. Dirty Diggers are ‘so high even number one’s under us’; Cappo is similarly haughty, ‘above those lesser than caps’. Diversion Tactics’ Chubby Alcoholic has ‘a more unbreakable will than Bruce Willis’; Digitek ‘be wreckin shit’; and Freight Corp’s records ‘are like Pokemon – gotta catch em all’.

Being British hip hoppers, they’re not bothered about much. Cappo says ‘It’s no skin off my nose’; ‘I care less for your opinion’. ‘We just don’t care’, Task Force announce, calling to mind their Godnose collaboration with Braintax: ‘We don’t give a fuck’. About much, that is, apart from cash. When you’re an underground rapper, money’s tight. ‘I need the cash for a higher prize’, says Digger Pat Stash; Diversion Tactics ‘don’t work for free, we rhyme for cash’, sampling Rakim’s line ‘without the money it’s still a wish’. According to the rules, earning it involves overcoming various hinderers and opponents. The first tune is ‘for the haters who thought I had weak breaks’; Task Force warn off ‘backstabbers’; Debut 75 sees ‘amateurs fall, I keep rockin on like Cannon and Ball’. And don’t forget the obligatory nationalism: ‘it ain’t yank bashin, but ain’t it great, Britain?’

US rapper Hug’s Complexity Kills sets itself apart, about his paranoiac politics rather than feats of rhyme: ‘I’m a man before I’m an american’. His Moore-ish rant ranges from McDonalds to the Middle East. Like Pharaoh Monch’s Agent Orange, it’s another artistic ripple emanating from the epicentre of Ground Zero. Calling to mind 9/11’s oft-noted resemblance to movies, he comments on life’s imitation of art, and art’s desertion of life. ‘Ain’t no Bruce Willis, ain’t no John Wayne on this plane, ain’t no Wesley Snipes… Watch the television with mistrust, I think I read this one already, everybody dies in the end’.

For something completely different, try She Told Me She Was A Boxer from the Headcase Ladz, a delightful tale relayed an inebriated Swansea accent over skipping-rope, duckin’n’divin’ beats you can’t help but bop to. What with Goldie Lookin Chain and these guys, it looks like the Welsh have hip hop sewn up! Fingers crossed, the rest of Nobsta and Dek Masha Slicer Man’s album will be as fun and funny as this gem.

It’s worth skipping over Moviedrome, from the Life half of Phi Life Cypher. The beat’s nice, biting Premier’s style so thoroughly it’s topped off with a guru sample, ‘a never ending saga when I rap to these beats’. And boy, is it a never ending saga. six minutes of no-chorus, self indulgent ramble. The task Life has set himself is to make a lot of movie references. This isn’t really much of a challenge. Have a flick through Halliwells, almost every word and phrase in the English language has been used as the title of a movie. This pointless wander through your local Blockbuster isn't even all new work. Life re-uses references from his earlier work, ‘seeing events over the horizon’ from Mics At 20 Paces, and Eight Heads in a Duffle Bag, referred to in memory. Worst of all, his video collection contains rubbish like Jumanji, The Specialist, Extreme Measures, Snake Eyes, Judge Dredd and Waiting To Exhale. His poor taste in flicks leads to lines as embarrassing as ‘I’m the phantom menace who gets deep on impact’. Yes, this was reasonably fun live, about four years ago when he used to pretend it was a freestyle, now it’s just tiresome.

Back to the album – it’s worth mentioning Cappo’s impressive delivery (in case you didn’t already know), the funky-as-hell Quantic Soul Orchestra mix of Learn To Be Strong, and Pablo and Warwick’s production on Digitek’s Su’ Ink, coming on like a more excitable version of that other ‘tek, Wayne Bennett, in the biggest musical break from form on the album. Ach, it’s impossible to do justice to the whole thing here. If you’re already a fan, you should be getting this anyway, most of the tracks were only available as vinyl singles before now, if at all. If you’re not, check this out. that’s what samplers are for, godammit.
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