Album: Lyric Superbrand
Label: Different Drummer
Rating: 6.5 / 10
For most people, UK hip hop is a simmering pool of quality MCs and producers, all very talented but just not good enough to become mainstream on a Jay-Z or Eminem level. Also for most people UK hip hop is London, and a scene packed with heads who mix local accents and American slang with hilarious consequences, while rocking skateboarding gear cause nowhere sells Phat Farm. But there’s more to it than that.
“Lyric Superbrand” is a diverse collection of ill emcees compiled by the Birmingham hip hop club Substance. For a start, they certainly fucked up big style with the tracklisting – can someone tell me what the point in numbering the tracks on the packaging is if you mess up the order with pointless interludes anyway? I expected this to have a similar aura to the first “Lyricist Lounge” album, due to it coming out of a hip hop mic night, and so being lyrically very open-mic-ish braggadocio and flowing for the hell of it. And it is for the most part, content wise the lyrics are 60 / 40 battle / other shit.
When will conventional battle rap be considered played out? It continues to be butchered by unimaginative lyric recyclers the world over with no sign of fading away. The trend is continued wholeheartedly here, particularly by the squeaky urchin Mad Flow. Now you know immediately no MC baring that moniker would be dope. It’s like when you buy a drink called Super Cola, a TV labeled Hi Quality or anything badged Executive, you just know they won’t be. And sure enough, when Mad steps up to the mic, he doesn’t disappoint your pessimistic predictions. He uses a huge shitload of lines that I’ve heard at least 20 times before by other MCs, and utilises them in relatively uncomplex rhyme schemes with a choppy rhythm. Lord Laing isn’t much better, and could do with dusting off his imagination once in a while. Some of the battle rappers on here expand on the idea with nice results, Haych mixes clever lines and conventional battle shit with intelligent metaphors and advanced vocab on his two tracks, ‘Can You Feel Me?’ and the masterfully produced ‘Tomorrow’s Today’ with its gently bubbling bass and off the wall sound. Elementz and M.God do similar work, throwing in hugely pretentious spiritual and mythological references with their “I’m iller than you” bragging.
The first cut definitely isn’t the deepest on here, as the tracks seem to get more dark, deeper and soulful as the album runs its course. Taharka sounds very generic in his voice and flow, and hardly puts any enthusiasm in his delivery, but his endless but clever references to religion and the soul are pleasing to the ear. Cipher Jewels is something special. His track ‘2000 Years’ features some truly lovely production thanks to Roc-1, and on the vocal side he spits some shit which is only inches away from being on the spoken poetry tip. So deep it’s mind blowing, this is the prophetic counterpart of ‘Nature Of The Threat’. Cipher’s lyrics reach to the future through lessons learned deep in the past while dropping references to everything under the sun. Impressive.
A hip hop love song? Well yes, although it’s not quite. The MCs on ‘Many Moons by Flow’ (this one’s not so Mad) are MCs in the Erykah Badu definition of the word. The captivating but undistinctive female vocals broadcast some emotional lyrics which aren’t very complex, but make up by sounding like they’re 100% from the heart.
What’s most notable about this album is the beats. If you’ve heard Roots Manuva, Ty or any other big UK hip hopper, I’m sure you’ll have been impressed by the work done behind the boards. While beats on the West side of the Atlantic regress to being increasingly similar and using the same old samples, same old basslines, same old rhythms, and the same old sounds, production on the UK is becoming amazingly creative. This is showcased here in part by the three four instrumentals that appear late on in the album. Circumstance lays down two phenonemal track backdrops – ‘Choices’ is pure creativity where a cymbal quivers behind a moody lilting piano and progressive rhythm, and ‘Freshlines’ is some smokey hip hop-jazz stylings – he deserves props for this track. Digital One’s angrily sinister ‘Happiness And Sorrow’ is also dope, and Creative Habits’ ‘Turntable Music’ is exactly that.
Overall, this is a ill collection of artists. These are talented individuals who are very creative and who can write intelligent, thoughtful lyrics while still knocking down rivals on open mic battle sessions. None of them are particularly stunning, they are all pretty average as far as underground MCs go on a worldwide scale, but I’d enjoy hearing the majority of these people again, no doubt. The production is what you should keep an eye on though – the UK rules the world for beats right now. “Lyric Superbrand” is a nice introduction to the UK hip hop which exists outside of the stagnant London scene, and I recommend picking it up.