Getting snowed under here at Devizine Towers, but speedily need to push this to top priority, ahead of tonight’s (Saturday 12th) gig at Salisbury’s Winchester Gate from Bristol hip hop outfit, The Scribes. I whopped up a quick preview of the event, but as I pressed publish an email popped up with their latest EP The Totem Trilogy Part 1, made in collaboration with Chicago raised producer Astro Snare. Should fans of UK hip hop hear it, they’d be planning to head to the Gate for this free gig, by hook or by crook.
The Scribes are a multi-award-winning hip hop three piece based in Bristol consisting of lyricist/multi-instrumentalist Ill Literate, rapper Jonny Steele and beatboxer Maestro Lacey. In 2013 they signed with US label Kamikazi Airlines, co-owned by Dizzy Dustin of legendary hip hop act Ugly Duckling and released two albums, The Sky Is Falling and The Scribes Present Ill Literature worldwide to critical acclaim, garnering the group a sponsorship deal with ethical clothing company THTC, alongside artists such as Ed Sheeran and Foreign Beggars.
By 2016 they had signed with Reel Me Records, releasing a sonically challenging 16-track album which thrived on a perfected blend of poignant lyricism, A Story All About How, and the apocalyptic concept album, Mr Teatime & The End Of The World, winner of the UndergroundHH.com “Concept Album of The Year” award. Last year The Scribes received global recognition, upon releasing Quill Equipped Villainy, featuring Akil the MC from Jurassic 5, TrueMendous and Leon Rhymes from Too Many T’s.
My personal affection for the genre though, goes back to the old skool. Prepped by Kraftwerk’s influence on eighties electronica, rolled with Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte’s production on Donna Summer’s I Feel Love, and still nothing equipped me for the eureka moment I first heard Afrika Bambaataa’s Planet Rock, on a journey to Asda in my Dad’s Cortina! Only lingering in the underground less than a year, the US hip hop and breakdancing movement swept the UK, and it was inevitable we’d develop our own brand.
As hip hop spread through the States it distorted to hackneyed fashion far from the original blithe ethos of revelry. Pretentious bling, hoes and pimping one’s ride, and of course gangland rivalry were never on the original agenda. While some during the later eighties, like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, strived away from this tenet, recapturing hippy, carefree roots, the east-coast/west coast rivalry and vehement bravura dominated and hallmarked the modern preconception of hip hop.
Meanwhile, by a method akin to rock n roll some twenty years prior, the place to hunt for creative and innovative progression of the genre was neither east nor west coast, but here in the UK.
Because hip hop was never supposed to be uniform, shaped by urban multiculturism it’s naturally a melting-pot of genres and an experimentation in fusion, always has been. Given Caribbean roots and common affection for reggae, it’s inevitable those influences would have a profound effect on UK hip hop.
Full-circle in actual fact, considering pioneer of the genre, Kool Herc was a young Jamaican NY immigrant with a sound system, who altered from dub to disco and funk as residents didn’t favour reggae. And, in a nutshell, and to wrap up my waffling, that’s precisely why I love this EP; it’s like The Scribes dipped a colander into said melting pot, and extracted only the very best ingredients.
It’s a non-commercial, bundle of heavy beats not relying on a single subgenre. Opening with I’m Back, for example, fresh, dripping with early east coast scratching and rapping. Yet Mighty Mighty follows, leaning on dub akin to Roots Manuva with brass, subs and a contemporary dogmatic theme comparable to Silent Eclipse, albeit this was divergent towards John Major’s government (apologies for my archaic comparisons, it’s an age thing!)
By the third tune we’re back to nonchalant fun with Rock This; I’m in awe, this is lyrically composed with a witty genius parallel to the Fu-Schnickens. Heart Breaks though swaps back to east coast; sublime rap harmony with a R&B slant, pensive piano chops and soaring strings with a definitive Bristol angle, as if a Tribe Called Quest came out of St Pauls!
Keep Bouncing ends the ride, and I’m left pondering Dizzee Rascal’s influence, yet tougher, as Rodney P, this is fresh, possibly the most marketable sound given today’s impact on the scene. The Totem Trilogy Part 1 is the first of a 3 EP series featuring the stunning artwork of renowned illustrator Chris Malbon. The absolutely gorgeous cover designs of the 3 EPs will link together to form one image of the titular totem. With guest vocals from both AstroSnare himself and founding father of the UK hip hop scene MC Duke, here, clearly, is something imminent, a rise of The Scribes, a method grasping an evolution for UK hip hop, yet firmly aware of its roots and unafraid to exploit them.