Taking a brave departure from the current sea of UK hip hop singles which continue to make up this welcome Golden Age that we are blissfully experiencing, Style Warrior present us with a different sound.
Ardent 'Britcore' enthusiasts may be left in a confused daze while critics of 'live hip hop' will be up in arms. Both camps however should leave their cranky-pants at the door and slip into a velour lounge suit instead because easy-listening is the dominant sound found on Tough Crowd's debut wax offering.
Consisting of artists playing real instruments, the TC lineup is; Luke Wynter twinkling keyboards, Colin Sutton pounding double bass, Andy Illingworth twanging his guitar, Ben Wilson pounding skins and David Hogan providing saxophone.
Completing the band are the two MCs, Exp & JND who effortlessly sail over the tight groove in crisp, clear Leeds vocals.
This is certainly a different sound to what I have been used to hearing and melds two genres that I personally am rather fond of; jazz-funk and hip hop. Imagine if Bob James had employed the services of a couple of linguistically-bountiful street kids from the Bronx during one of his seminal 1970s albums then you'd be in the right area.
Martin has long been a huge fan of the laid-back, funky, Rhodes, jazzy groove as listeners to his occasional audio mixes for Disco Scratch Radio or Very Good Plus will attest to. This is then a natural progression in the musical game plan of Style Warrior which is renowned for it's clever leftfield subtlety. The whole package is one of remarkable coolness especially the sleeve design - which continues the same uniformity of SWREC001 - which conveys the title track in an understated blue hue, rigid record cover and full colour production. As before an inlay sheet is included with the single that features doodles, drafts and sketches along with a backstory of the record's release. A nice touch.
As you might now expect, the songs are equally as understated and relaxed which might fill the heart of the more short-sighted listener with unease as this is not your usual hip hop fare.
The title track ("Manners") could almost be the Style Warrior theme. The subject matter is so quintessentially British which is actually the core of SW; UK and proud with quaint quirkiness.
Not wishing to exclude international listeners, the topic of bad manners is universal, however the examples spoken in the track are wholly from a British angle - from someone bumping into you on the street ("pavement etiquette") and you apologising to them or remaining quiet when witnessing someone cutting in line. My favourite is JND's story of booking a train ticket to find someone already in his seat refusing to move and then when "grassing" to the conductor then proceeds to feel self-conscious from the glares of his fellow commuters ("embarrassed by the situation I can feel their eyes scold") as if it's his own fault for not complying to the norm.
It's all delightfully relatable stuff spoken over a smooth backing (somehow reminiscent of Eminem's My Name Is, I thought) which allows the vocals be heard clearly and concisely.
The flip is Forget Yesterday which speaks on the terrible ills of a media-centric society as well as leaving time-wasting individuals behind who shouldn't even feature on your radar. The inclusion of printed lyrics on the rear sleeve enables you (or me at least because I'm a very visual guy) to read along even without the song and realise how complex and real the words are. JND's verse is magnificent and beautifully illustrative; "I see you laughing at my vision, fool / though the place I'm tryna get to is a mission, where there isn't you / I wouldn't even let you visit either / think I'm playing games you'd better stick to FIFA / cos I'm in a different league to anyone".
As I mentioned before there is a Northern style displayed here which doesn't curtail it's localness for a US - or even countrywide - audience and proudly displays it's colloquialisms ("escapism in bags int summat I've craved"). This is home-grown hip hop with knobs on.
It is by no fluke that this second release on Style Warrior is very much reminiscent of the early 90s Acid Jazz scene being that honcho Martin is a big fan of this genre. It is certainly a departure from the usual sound you'd expect to hear but I would encourage you to add this positive, delicately-woven 45rpm to your collection because you will be richly rewarded by the sound of this late night hype upon repeated listens.
|Small and beautifully-formed|
And how about this....all orders of the new 7" come with free downloads of the 2 tracks, plus instrumentals, remixes and bonus beats... That's 9 tracks in total.
And.....if that isn't enough then the first 100 Tough Crowd orders will be entered into a prize draw to win a Test Pressing PLUS the last SWREC001 MC Alikazam Test Pressing PLUS the hand written lyrics as seen on the reverse of the SWREC001 sleeve!
Click here to purchase your copy of the 7" vinyl
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Previous MC Alikazam record review on ABU