Fancy a break from the serious side of life? Tired of bolshy reactionary keyboard warriors blotting facts and illogically splicing political car crashes into positives? Or maybe it’s just that bastard tap in the upstairs bathroom, dripping, and the only thing the bimbo at the call centre is filing is her fingernails.
You need some Chop Chappy time, a dose of which is available from Bandcamp. Some name-your-price craziness from Mr. B, The Gentleman Rhymer spawned yesterday, and chockfull of jolly, pythonesque hip hop lockdown cabin fever rejoinders, it’s what the doctor would recommend; the madcap scientist type.
Lessons from Double Dee & Steinski I’ll give you, but no album is going to wax lyrical Michael Palin fashion over the Grange Hill Theme, throwdown Grandmaster Melle Mel’s Message over the Charleston, or bite LL Cool J’s Mama Said Knock You Out with a Wurzels-fashioned backbeat, usually.
And we’re only five tracks into Chop Chappy, inspired by the tunes of his lockdown “niceolation” parties, every Tuesday, on his Mixcloud. Though, since its dawn, the likes of The Treacherous Three, Doug E Fresh or Ron & the DC Crew sprinkled comedy into hip hop, and today even locally we’ve Goldie Looking Chain, Monkey Bizzle, Corky, and more, it’s only cliché if you fail to find an original angle. Mr B subtitles his angle, The Gentleman Rapper, and with mock pomposity it does what it says on the tin, granting said tin should be authentically displayed in a museum of curiosities.
Lounge style Casio keyboard Bowie, a gangsta version of Presley’s cover of That’s Alright Mama, a Chas n Dave skanking Pistol’s Pretty Vacant, are just some of the actions, but while there’s always a gentlemanly vintage edge, it’s not all vintage sourced.
As well as old skool, contemporary rap acts go under Mr B’s sniping tool, one revealed to my outdated knowledge to be Cardi B, apparently. Called in E-troops, Shazam recognised it despite the fairground organ pasted atop. One, namely Flat Beat, even tested the app, admitting ‘this is tricky’ and it expanded its search to find a remotely similar track. I knew what it was, couldn’t put my finger on the title. Yet others are instantly recognisable as you dally through its crafted mosaic, from Daft Punk to a sample of Bojo’s bus model making waffle.
There are few occasions, like Nearly Robin, where Mr B raps original lyrics, and that’s most definitely the funniest parts. But to face facts, nothing here is desert island discs, hip hop is throwaway, music caught in the moment, and not repeated. This said, it makes Mr B hugely prolific, sixteen releases strong on his Bandcamp page since 2008.
So, rather than expect a stairway to heaven or bohemian rhapsody, accept, for a while, you’ll be bamboozled by Mr B simply mucking about and mashing up, and then, and only then, will you see, this is about as much fun you can have with two turntables, mic, sampler, and gramophone 78s; and for that much alone, it’s highly entertaining and amusing.
Driving my inner-goth, I’m comfortable with this, because London-based Freya Beer’s voice is hauntingly alluring, similar to Nina Persson of The Cardigans, or more obviously, Siouxsie … Continue reading “Freya Beer’s Beast”
I caught up with Ill Literate, one third of Bristol hip hop trio, The Scribes, to chat about their new single, how they, and in general, writing a rap is composed, a bit of their backstory, on diversity and where they’re heading…….
After the unnerving atmosphere of their mind-blowing previous single, Stir Crazy, Bristol hip hop ground-breakers The Scribes release Haunted House Party today, featuring Mr Teatime and DJ Steadi, which will act as a double-A-side with Stir Crazy. Somewhat slighter in neurotic ambience than its flipside, still it maintains a lingering disturbed undertone, an eerie mood weaved by the intensely hypnotic lyrical style which we’ve come to expect from the Scribes.
Despite the haunting opening piano solo, there’s nothing tongue-in-cheek with this haunted house, as might be wrongly perceived by cliché pop songs with similar themed titles. The Scribes aren’t doing the Monster Mash, don’t even go into this expecting something similar!
But you know me, I showed my age with the trio, jokingly citing a lampooning track, The Haunted House of Rock from the debut EP of eighties hip hop trio Whodini. Why one third of the trio, Shaun Amos, aka Ill Literate agreed to chat is beyond me, but he did, and here’s the awkward questions I threw at him, and his answers!
Hopeful he’d humour me, I went wrangling on a technicality with the group’s name. I reckoned it should be “Scribes,” and not “THE Scribes,” as the first denotes a copyist, i.e., anyone who writes, prior to the printing press and can be traced back to ancient Egypt, whereas the latter usually relates to a particular group from biblical times who were largely critical of Jesus, probably contributed to his crucifixion. “What’s in a name,” I asked!
“Wow man, I’ve got to say I don’t think we’ve ever thought about it to that extent!” Shaun acknowledged, “when we first came up with the name, we did have a list of possibilities, including some genuinely terrible ideas like “Guttersnipes”. When we settled on “The Scribes” we did quite like the vaguely iconoclastic undertones going with the main thrust of writing. We already knew we wanted to write music by our own rules rather than by going with trends or scenes.”
I’m glad he didn’t bite at my absurd logic, as likely it matters not one iota, rather there was reason. Being scribes are writers, it leads us into my intrigue at how they, and rappers in general go about writing and composing a track, if they have a set formula?
“It really does vary hugely, we work with a lot of producers and the process of getting a track completed is different every time,” he replied. “When I’ve composed the music, myself I tend to bring it to the rest of the group with an idea of what I want the song to be about, maybe even with a hook already written and recorded. Sometimes we’ve got a topic we want to write about and we’ll seek out music that will fit with it. Quite often producers will make a selection of pieces for us to listen to and mess around with and we’ll get a vibe off a particular track, sometimes by jamming it out in the studio, sometimes on the road between gigs listening to bits on the car stereo.”
I see the writing process for a solo, say acoustic musician, usually being a lone affair. Whereas scripting an episode of the Simpsons, for instance, is a group affair, the best writers gather around a table and knock the jokes and narrative about, which is more how I’d envision they work a song, because there’s three of them and the subject has to harmonise, as they bounce lyrics off each other. Unless, one contributes an idea and the others adlib their parts?
“We do bounce our lyrics off each other a lot,” he confirmed, “checking they make sense mostly! Whichever one of the aforementioned routes we’ve taken to write the track, it’ll almost always end up with us all agreeing a hook together, that then tends to set the topic of the track in stone. We then go off and write our verses separately before coming back together to record. So, while the hooks/theming is generally a group effort, the verses are much more of a lone affair!”
But what of adlibbing rappers freestyling, I’m guessing they’ve set templates to fuse with a running theme, but usually this consists of a simple premise; boastfully bigging themselves, or criticising the opposing rapper. Yet tracks from the Scribes meld like crochet, tackling tricky subject matter, they weave in and out of notions, rather than repeating words or thoughts. How does this process start, with a subject, or with a set of words which flow?
“It pretty much always starts with a subject,” Shaun elucidated. “Maybe not even something as specific as a subject, sometimes it might just be a feeling or an emotion or a general statement. Either way it’s enough for us to aim our verses at, and I think doing the actual verses as individuals does mean we end up with maybe a couple of different takes on each topic, or at least a couple of different ways of expressing it. Having said that, in hip hop there’s always room for a bit of bragging wordplay and head nodding crowd pleasing!”
That said, I guarantee The Scribes could freestyle the ass off most!
“That’s not really for me to say!” he laughed. “I think our freestyle game is pretty tight, we crack it out at most performances!”
Does Ill Literate find a trio is, as De La Soul say, the magic number, when it comes to composing a rap? “Where,” I asked, “and when did it all start? I mean, were you all separate artists who assembled, or have you always been a trio?”
“I don’t know if it’s the number of people involved that’s important, more that the people involved are on the same wavelength and get along well. Both for the writing process and for the amount of time you end up spending together on the road! Me and Jonny have been best mates since we were five, and have basically always rapped together, we met Lacey during the early days of gigging and he got onboard straight away!”
While on the backstory, I asked Shaun for his first musical memory, particularly his introduction to hip hop, feeling it was time to remind him when I cited buying Whodini’s “Haunted House of Rock,” in, shit, 1983, though this was not my first hip hop record!
“We do have some pretty old school influences,” he chuckled, “though Whodini may be a bit old school even for us! I think my first introduction to conscious hip hop, as opposed to mainstream hip hop which was very gangster back in the day, was through friends at school. We used to listen to records at each other’s houses, a lot of the early Rawkus Records compilations like Lyricist’s Lounge and Soundbombing. Bristol has a pretty big scene for hip hop so there were also a few local records shops with a good selection of underground releases that we could dig through, though a lot of the time we’d just look for instrumentals we could rap to! I think that late 90’s boom bap hip hop sound is pretty much the backbone of all The Scribes’ tracks!”
I confess; had to Google the subgenre boom bap, certain it wasn’t an explosive breast, as I originally fathomed! I discovered while unfamiliar with the term, many of my personal hip hop likes relate, pioneers like Marley Marl, and acts such as LL Cool J and A Tribe Called Quest. But I’m going to throw Shaun off subject, ask him if he liked English Lit at school, if teachers accepted anything he might’ve have wrote as credible by their formal standards, and if he sees his writing as poetry.
“I never really liked it as a subject, but I have always read a lot, I love books! It’s probably the main thing I do outside of music. That and watching pro-wrestling. It’s a heady mix! I don’t think I ever showed any verses to teachers in school, not sure what the reaction would have been to be honest. I’ve never really found it important to label anything we do but I would personally say it is a form of poetry, just a very rhythmic and flexible one that’s written to be performed rather than read.”
I’ve likened, in previous reviews, The Scribe’s sound, the way they intertwine lyrics and alter voices with accents and intonations to create a certain mood, be it fearful or humorous, to the Fu-Schnickens, but the way its composed, like the magic of Tribe Called Quest, as I reckon, they mastered this best. “That a fair evaluation?!”
“We will always happily take ANY comparison to Fu-Schnickens or Tribe!” Ill Literate contently responded, “that’s good company to be in!”
Yet nothing I’ve heard from their album, Quill Equipped Villainy, or the Totem Trilogyand singles, unless I’m mistaken, use recognisable samples. It’s an easy gimmick to include beats or a riff which people will recognise, whereas everything they seem to do is original. I asked him if I was right, and if so, if that’s something important to them.
“I guess this is something that varies from producer to producer. I personally don’t use any samples in my production, I just play/compose everything myself in the studio on guitar/bass/keys. I know a lot of producers who pride themselves on using only incredibly unknown and niche samples, spending a huge amount of time digging through obscure vinyl to find tiny little elements. I also know a lot who don’t really mind how “known” a sample is, as long as they switch it up so much it ends up as something unrecognisable from the original. I guess including a sample that is well known, so that the song becomes essentially a hip hop version of the original track, almost like a cover, is an easy way to get a bit of traction. Same as if you sample a movie theme song and do a song about the movie. But having said that I’ve heard some great tracks that do just that, so who knows?!”
On multiplicity, the album sees a number of collaborations; Akil from Jurassic 5, and Leon Rhymes. How far would they take diversity; “would it be acceptable to you for a producer to create a drum n bass, or house track from your lyrics? What about a mainstream artist asking you to fuse a rap into some cheesy pop? Because it’s a tricky balance isn’t it, not being seen as selling out to the ethos and genre, but creating publicity and notice?”
“We’re always up for anything,” Shaun replied, “I love hearing remixes people do of our tracks, be it Drum and Bass, Funky House or anything else. Even if someone did want to take our work and turn it into cheesy pop, I think I’d be cool with that. More just so I can hear what they do with it, rather than for any publicity or fame! I’m always interested in seeing what other musicians do and how they work and the different techniques used by different genres.”
Haunted House Party is released today, and yeah, it rocks, but what’s next for the Scribes?
“Well, hopefully we’ll be back gigging before too long, at least in time for the festival season this summer! Til then we’re working on keeping the releases and videos coming! Hoping to do a few more special one-offs on The Get Down Records, like transparent 7″ vinyl for “Stir Crazy”/”Haunted House Party.” People can keep up to date by signing up to our mailing list at QuillEquipped.com and on all the usual social media bits, Facebook and Instagram. It also helps a lot if you follow us on Spotify so we can make sure you know when we drop new tracks!”
I decided some time ago to construct our westward boundary at Bath, as far as events are concerned. Reason being, Bristol is so vast in culture there’s not enough hours I can dedicate to comprehensively cover it. We do however review and feature Bristol acts, because it’s impossible to ignore the wealth of talent, burgeoning since the nineties downbeat triphop era.
So, Bristol hip hop outfit, The Scribes gained a mention recently when they played Salisbury’s Winchester Gate, and consequently they sent their EP The Totem Trilogy pt1 which I fell hand-over-heels about.
In a little under four hours time, The Scribes are going to unleash a new tune, Stir Crazy on YouTube, a link I’ll embed below, and encourage you to return here when it goes live. There’s not a second to lose, You. Need. To. Hear. This. Because If UK hip hip is taken with a pinch of salt over the pond, The Scribes will be the ones they cannot ignore.I’ve given justified praise of the Totem Trilogy, but Stir Crazy goes beyond what constitutes good local sounds, and I’d tip The Scribes to be the international breakthrough act of the decade.
Released on Get Down Records, Stir Crazy is a collaboration between Finland’s own boom bap beatsmith extraordinaire J-Boom and The Scribes.
This forthcoming track, which I’ve sneakily previewed is, without doubt, seriously dope, in the hip hop jargon, and emotivly powerful without! There’s an air of the Fu-Schnickens about the techniques of The Scribes, experimental and diverse adaptations abound in their lyrical play on, not just words, but sounds and emotions.
The Fu-Schnickens could amusingly deal out classic Warner Brothers’ cartoon characters as if Mel Blanc was Schoolly D, and in turn tracks like Visions (20-20) were nervingly concerning, borderline frightening. Stir Crazy adopts this tenet with bells on. It’s uncompromisingily edgy, and as unsettling as a musical Stephen King’s Shining.
Dealing with psychosis under lockdown this wrecks a schizophrenic nightmare, and is as psychologically disturbing as its theme, the way the rappers roll their vocals to suit the mood is as Edvard Munch used colour. Hence why I’m saying forget the southwest connection, I’m tipping them the best hip hop act I’ve heard since Pubic Enemy.
Anyway, I’ll drop the link here, and add some pasted details from the press release. Soz, but I gotta hit the hay. If I can sleep after watching that video!
The single will be available exclusively through The Get Down Records bandcamp page from December the 11th as a digital download (With instrumental) and as a limited edition double A-Side transparent 7” vinyl with second collaboration track “Haunted House Party”. The video for “Stir Crazy” will then be launched a week later on December the 18th before the single is made available on all online streaming services/retailers from the 15th of January.
“Stir Crazy” showcases J-Boom’s trademark MPC production at it’s effortless finest, pairing a haunting piano loop with hard hitting drums to create a moody, atmospheric soundscape fitting for these strange times. The incisive vocals, provided by The Scribes alongside dark alter-ego Mr Teatime, talk candidly about the feelings of isolation and helplessness brought on by the various lockdowns of 2020, documenting the artist’s creation of an imaginary friend who goes on to take over his mind.
The accompanying music video, with clothing provided by The Scribes’ sponsors Aekor Apparel and Bones Clothing, is a strikingly bleak visual telling the story of the track across a day in the life of The Scribes. The sinister presence of Mr Teatime gives the video an edgy b-movie horror feel, perfectly suiting the vibe of the project as whole.
Together the release provides a perfect and entertaining summary of the year 2020 and the claustrophobic environment that the world has suffered throughout the year and is certain to find fans both in the hip hop scene and beyond.
Following the release of Chilly’s new album ‘A Very Chilly Christmas’, platinum selling UK producer Toddla T has put his very own spin on the record, The Coldest Crimboout today (16th Dec.) Featuring help from friends Nadia Rose, Serocee, Coco and Deli OneFourz, and even Jarvis Cocker features, Toddla T and Chilly Gonzales delight with this tongue-in-cheek hip hop “very festive mixtape.”
It’s an amusing quarter-of-an-hour of naughtiness seasonal rap, like a nativity gone bad. Chilly Gonzales may revisit old carols and the new pop standards on his album, but it wouldn’t be Christmas without friends and family, so Gonzo has assembled his gang to celebrate the holidays in his playful and intimate style.
A Very Chilly Christmas Special gives old-school TV Christmas variety shows a 2020 makeover. “Santa Claus, like all of us, has had a challenging year,” Chilly says, “and has decided to go to therapy.”
A very chilly christmas special, with guests Feist, Jarvis Cocker and more, streams December 23. Details and tickets here.
If our last music review from Ruzz Guitar impressed me for its exploration of traditional blues styles, note I’m not conventional and you need not rewind progress to appease me; I love Climbing Frame, the second forthcoming album by London-based Gecko, equally, but for completely opposite reasons.
Partly, it reminded me of the time Louis Theroux rapped for one of his “Weird Weekend” episodes. In the mockumentary Theroux was advised by the US rap producers to “keep it real,” yet upon drafting lyrics about eating cheese and driving a compact car, sardonically citing as that as what is real to him, they contradictorily sniggered it off and recommended he rapped on cliché subject matter; bling, hoes, cold cash, etc.
If commercial US hip hop has lost its direction, UK rap thrives and remains faithful to the origins by pushing new boundaries. But if you feel the midway “cocknee” chat-come-singing style, the likes of Lilly Allen and Kate Nash, has come of age and flatlined for being samey, Gecko is a refreshing breeze of originality, and so multi-layered it’s difficult to pin it down and compare. Fact is, I’m uncertain defining it as “rap” is a fair shout, as hip-hop fashioned beats here have been left to the bare minimum and what we have is intelligent chat, often thought-provoking or comical, which slips into song over either acoustic indie guitar or retrospective electronica pop; as if Scritti Politti met the Streets.
If you’re contemplating, sounds rather geeky, I’d reply ah, it could head one of two ways, and in the hands of many it’d be bad news, but I’m happy to report Gecko accomplishes it in a proficient and highly entertaining way.
Awash with sentimental or witty verses reflecting on all manner of unique themes, the bulk of Gecko’s thoughts are honest observations, whole-heartedly personal, often retrospective anecdotes. Gecko does not uphold the ego or bravura of prominence; rather like Jarvis Cocker, there’s a contestant notion he’s opening his soul and depicting his innermost feelings, but is never without a punchline, and never afraid to show compassion. After a spoken word intro, for example, the opening song, “Can’t Know all the Songs,” is an upbeat riposte which any live performer could identify with; the annoyance of an audience shouting requests he doesn’t know. It’s ingeniously droll.
But if the opening tune cites Gecko’s mature issues, the title track follows on this juvenile running theme, reflecting on childhood. The climbing in frame in question is a fallen tree, an amusing photo of Gecko estimated age of eight as the cover design reinforces this notion. Gecko perceives the unusual and expresses it inimitably, here, a reference to an age where we once recycled nature’s way for childlike kicks. Hope that the youngest people in this world will turn the apocalyptic hand that they’ve been dealt into something positive that we have not yet seen; “they weren’t trying to be symbolic, they were just having a laugh, but where most saw an obstacle, they just saw a path.”
Soaring does similar, but reverting to a simple acoustic guitar riff, it highlights the awe of childhood innocence in discovering something they think is exclusive, only to be knocked back by their parent’s clarification. I can’t detail it anymore without it being a spoiler, but believe me, if you don’t see yourself in this song and laugh out loud, you must’ve been born an adult. However, Gecko twists the narrative with genius writing akin to John Sullivan, and completes the track with a sentimental and virtuous moral. Hence my concern of my comparison; UK rap is not nearly multi-layered enough; don’t know why I even mentioned it really, only in desperation to pigeonhole this unique sound.
After this other recollection, Gecko proceeds to explain the theme of the next song, and performs a sublimely sentimental tale of Laika, a Moscow stray used to send into space, from the point of view of the dog. Perfect example of what I’m getting at with my originality angle; who dreams up a theme for a song on this subject? Gecko is part songwriter part author, Jack London in this case, and a damn good one to boot.
Furthering the childhood theme and his unpretentious tenet, he takes it to the next step with a real recording from his childhood, displaying the roots of his talent.
It’s a chockful album of twelve tunes, Breathe maybe the most commercially pliable with uplifting eighties synth-pop goodness. Yet Always and Pass it On plod like nineties indie anthems, Stereo MCs fashion. Whereas there’s a piano-based ballad, All I Know, and whoa, back to acoustic splendour with an immature narrative called A Whole Life. Here, Gecko writes from the perspective of a child just started primary school, giving a speech to a reception class about his experiences in ‘big school.’ This is, quite simply, ingenious writing and played out with sentiments so ultrafine and intelligently placed, you could listen to Climbing Frame over and over and still pick out elements you may’ve missed.
Best start then, as it’s released this Friday, 23rd October. It’s so multi-layered and original I’d highly recommend it to anyone, loving any genre, with an open mind, and perhaps a twinkling for nostalgic dreams.