As any Sputnik regular will know, a couple of the staffers here have got a thing going on for UK hip-hop; Orphans of Cush did gatecrash our 2009 top 50 at an impressive #27, after all. You might have realized, too, that the latest record from the scene to makes among us is Devil May Cry by Iron Braydz.
Now, I couldn’t tell you why, but something about Braydz made me cast my mind back to the early part of last decade, when UK garage was just beginning to turn into grime, and British urban music has a stranglehold on UK radio and people still gave a crap about the MOBOs. So Solid Crew were absolutely massive then. Hell, they were probably the biggest band in the country, regardless of country; they genuinely revolutionized UK rap. Angus Batey pointed out as much in a recent Guardian interview with the group’s lynchpin Megaman, while the band still gets respect in the scene; Durrty Goodz, on the state-of-the-nation address “Switching Songs”, acknowledged the change they brought to the UK garage scene.
‘Deep basslines and a load of energy
And I loved the beats because they came with melodies
I could go raving and sip on the Hennessey
And wouldn’t even think about looking for enemies
Then shit changed, everyone just bugged out
So Solid came and it all got thugged out’
That lyric encapsulates why the band were never really embraced by critics. Every single idea about the violent youth of today that the Daily Mail shouts at old Tories can probably be traced back to the moment “21 Seconds” got to number 1; for every good thing they brought through, and every career they launched, there was three controversies in tow. Nobody in a position with any sway (Simon Reynolds aside, bless him) praised them at the time, and as a result they were kept at arm’s length from both the mainstream and the cognoscenti, to the point where their second album didn’t even chart. Largely, they’ve been forgotten – they’re actually attempting a comeback now, but nobody has even seemed to notice, despite “Since You Went Away” not being half bad.
Funny thing is though, for a band who seemed so tied to one particular time period, their hugely successful 2001 debut They Don’t Know actually sounds better now than it did then. Like, a LOT better. Ditto for group members Oxide & Neutrino’s Execute. Maybe it’s just because the ideas there have since been fleshed out by other acts (from Dizzee and Wiley to Benga and Skream, and even M.I.A. and The Streets) who’ve turned them into more recognisable artistic statements. Maybe it’s because Oxide and Megaman were genuinely ahead of their time (check “Only Wanna Know You Cos Your Famous” by the former). Maybe it’s because several more years of exposure to UK hip-hop and grime has desensitized me to the UK accents and clunky lyrics that undoubtedly annoy so many people. Whatever or however it happened, this record holds up.
I mean, seriously, despite how badly dated the references in Neutrino’s verse are, can anybody honestly tell me that this track isn’t a stone-cold banger?
Somehow I don’t think So Solid are ever going to get their due; not from anybody who didn’t like them at the time, anyway. We’ve got them to thank for most of the good things that have come of the UK since, though. Maybe that’s enough.