Room For Improvement

March 20th, 2005

On a boring cold and rainy day many months ago, I tapped away at my laptop to moan about a few area’s of UK hip-hop which sometimes get on my tits, or which I feel are aspects most in need of improvement. I recently found the file amongst my achieved porn downloads and thought I’d slap it up on here. There are many things good about the scene, some of which aren’t present in other international scenes, and I’m far from suggesting myself to be the voice of authority on any of these matters. This is just some thoughts by nothing more than an enthusiastic fan. I’m conscious that constant over analysis of something wont actually benefit it, but in fact run the risk of worsening situations. I’ve therefore included a few lines in italics after each heading, of the positive equivalent to the point being explored. Of course there are a lot of things not present in this list, as to document everything would be to write a novel length essay. Also, some points would be better explored as its own article.

1) The bitchy fan-

As with life, not everyone within the UK hip-hop scene will like everything. Difference of opinion is healthy. However, to spend a significant amount of time and energy expressing negativity isn’t going to do any good for the health of hip-hop. Far too often, in magazines, on websites and in conversations, people vent their reasons for not liking a rapper or an album in the most unnecessary of ways. Instead of holding an intelligent, fair discussion about what it is that’s not liked about something, generally, the debate is constructed of nothing more than pathetic statements about the artist or album being ‘gay’ or ‘wank’. Where’s that going to get anyone? Perhaps if things went a bit more like; “I do not like the album because I feel the beats are repetitive” or “The rapper doesn’t seem hungry or interested in what he’s saying” the artist or producer can take from this the constructive criticism, and move on to develop something which is more diverse or more compelling. Also, I often feel that a lot of people are looking for reasons to dislike something, rather than putting something in their CD player or on their decks and enjoying it for what it is. It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking for what’s bad before what’s good, and it’s a trap more people need to be aware of. Are you spending your time listening to something because you want to enjoy it, or because you want to rip it apart? Are you anywhere near as good as the stuff you’re listening to, or are you untalented and jealous so simply moan?

Many fans give extensive amounts of their free time being part of street teams and promotional pushes for artists they’re fans of. Stickering up lamp posts, handing out flyers at the end of gigs, simply lending a CD to a friend who hasn’t heard it, organising an event at school or uni, requesting videos on Channel U and MTV, writing into letter pages of magazines expressing their pleasure of a release, tuning into 1xtra and other rap shows, and ringing up and requesting airplay of a track you think is dope are just some of the ways in which positive people are conducting themselves, and at the same time, helping the scene.

2) The tribal mentality-

With UK hip-hop being as small a community as it is, it’s of no surprise that a lot of rappers, producers and record labels collaborate with one another on projects. I can think of very few, if any artists that haven’t had another rapper or producer feature on their work. Almost every single person is linked in a huge chain of affiliations. Some are tight relationships, and some seem more distant. From the consumer’s perspective, it’s important not to hold too much interest with the trivia of who is friends with who. Sure, if you’re a fan of Rapper A who has a friend called Rapper B, the possibility that you’ll like Rapper B also is fairly high because people of similar opinions and approaches naturally come together. But just because rapper C doesn’t give shout outs to A and B or doesn’t belong to the same record label or management team, it doesn’t mean he’s wack. Don’t make quick assumptions about something by looking at the track listings and seeing who’s featuring before you put the CD and press play. At the end of the day it’s about the artist who the release belongs to, not who he or she is mates with.

There are several artists who practically have no public affiliations with other recording artists, management teams or labels, but are supported on their merits as a rapper. These guys have a fan base, which doesn’t worry or bother to care about the observation. Tommy Evans made a point of featuring few guests on his ‘New Years Revolutions’ album and spoke several times in interviews about his decision to only feature those he felt were relevant to the project, rather than simply calling up his entire phone book for the sake of having a laugh in the studio with mates. If more artists took this on board, the focus of their work could see improvement, and their releases could seem a tighter package or collection of material due to the absence of irrelevant inclusions. In saying that, the collaboration must NOT die, and helps to unify groups of fans and share exposure with one another. It’s just a matter of doing it at a time and on a record suitably.

3) Where you’re at, Where you’re from-

It’s a cemented fact. The biggest rap, production and label names are based in London. Some have lived in the capital for their whole life, others have grown up else where and settled in the city. I often catch myself not acknowledging anything beyond the city perimeter and tripping into the thought pattern that UK hip-hop means hip-hop in London. More of an emphasis needs to be made that some of the hardest working and most talented artists in the country are scattered all over the place. London has it’s Blades and Skinnymans, but Scotland has it’s Eastborns and Respect BA’s, Bristol has its Aspects, Brighton has its Zebra Traffic label and so on. Also, just because someone isn’t rapping in a London accent, doesn’t mean the eject button should be pressed immediately. At the end of the day, some of the favourite rappers have pretty different accents, but are good in people’s eyes for their lyrics, stage presence, attitude and flow. It’s not always about the voice, but how the voice is implemented. A world where everyone sounds the same, looks the same, says the same thing etc, is a dull and unhealthy world.

More artists are beginning to tour more extensively and reach many area’s of the UK frequently. Blade toured his ‘Storms Are Brewing’ album for a substantial time, doing everything from university student union events to much bigger shows. Jehst, Yungun, Skinnyman, Underground Alliance, Foreign Beggars and Roots Manuva are just a few of the names I’ve noticed putting in work at places far away from their town of residence. This increases the exposure of the scene as a whole, getting the message out there to a far greater number of people than simply gigging within the perimeters of the London Underground.

4) The artist-

I’m just an opinionated spotty internet geek who has never made one rap song in his life (That’s worth letting the world know about) and probably never will so I’m hesitant to comment on things I feel an artist could do to improve situations, but here I go in my daring little way. Some artists and labels just seem unfocused when it comes to the scene. There are a great deal of extremely hard working artists on our shores although I’ve come across a fair few who could easily be mistaken as a person not wanting as much exposure or support as possible. Doing interviews or posting a promo off is most certainly not the most glamorous of tasks for someone who at the more exciting end, gets to stand on stage rapping to a crowd of hundreds or thousands, but it’s still important. Someone might be well known on the circuit and in the scene, but to me, it’s part laziness and part complacency that they won’t spare five minutes on an interview or phone call. In fairness, on face value a shabby little magazine or website wanting release dates, gig dates and gossip isn’t going to significantly boost album sales. But it might inform just one or two people, and everybody counts, however huge you are.

Klashenkoff has spoke on radio about knowing there’s things he might not particularly want to do, but doing them because it’s all a part of the bigger picture. The Associated Minds label and artist Mudworth responded to an interview request and it’s questions for this site within 24 hours of it being made. Stark contrasts to several artists who have approached this site asking for exposure, and never following up our attempts to meet their requests.

5) Quality control-

The mentality of artists and writers should be thought about more. The majority of material I hear coming out of the UK hip-hop scene is dope, although there’s always wack promo’s floating around. Anyone releasing anything, should place more focus on the fact that they’re creating something and releasing something which has the potential of being heard by every single human being on the globe. Do they feel utterly comfortable with the release? Would they want the release to pop up in twenty years time or will it cause their face to blush? The opportunity to give just one person your perspective is a privilege. Most people don’t get the chance. Steps should be taken to insure the situation is used to the max.

Tommy Evans, Roots Manuva, Doc Brown and others, are utterly focused in insuring their output is always of a high standard and something they’re entirely content with, evident through articles, interviews and their releases themselves. Consistency is vital in a sustained career within hip-hop, and a healthy scene. By taking his time and almost disappearing for several years, Manuva was able to come back with something as extremely solid as ‘Awfully Deep’. Had he stuck around and constantly put out stuff, eventually the quality of it would have varied, leaving a less impressive discography.

6) Bootlegging-

I’m all for people downloading a few tracks by one artist, to see if it’s the type of music they’d like to go out and buy, but I feel too many people stay away from the record shops and download the majority of the music they own. It’s hardly fair that someone sits in a studio for half a year of their life, to create a product, which you simply log into soulseek to swipe. Check out mail order websites and small indy record stores. Things are hardly ever overpriced. If people keep using the internet to hear UK rap, rather than support it by purchasing it, things could eventually collapse, as there’d be no money generated to entice labels and rappers to keep putting out stuff.

People are using 1xtra and other similar broadcasts, alongside lightweight downloading of a few tracks on the internet, to identify what they are a fan of. They then go out to stores and buy the product, log in to mail order websites and place orders, and attend shows of the artist they’ve discovered. People lurk on internet message boards, read threads about artists, go onto official websites and tune into radio broadcasts and successfully find out about new stuff. All of these actions enable the artist to survive.

If you’d like to argue any of these points, check out the site’s forums and start a topic about it. If you’d like to add to this list, or alter it in anyway, simply e-mail in and we’ll sort something out.