Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 42)
Perhaps it was the staunch revivalism that dominated the country during the 90s, perhaps British accents just don’t wrap naturally around beats, but rap music didn’t break Britain like it broke America in the 90s. Monie Love and Slick Rick are Britain’s two chief exports on a rap front but both adopted American styling’s and crews to fit in and you would be hard pressed to find anyone who considers Tricky and Massive Attack rap.
The best distinctively British rap album to come out of the 90s belongs to Roots Manuva. Brand New Second Hand
is a well considered amalgam of Jamaican patois, trip-hop ambience, and solid steel bars sourced from hardknock NYC rap. But what separates Manuva from contemporaries is Manuva’s thick accent is front and center. While Monie Love and Slick Rick’s voices were twinged with a British accent, Manuva’s accent is so thick it can obscure what he’s saying. It’s this pronounced Jamaica by way of South London that grants Manuva an air of on the ground authenticity. Manuva details the kind of bland everyday happenings that would come to charecterize UK rap in the next century. The world of Brand New Second Hand
is far from glamorous, the beer is flat and the bass is barely making it out of the hand me down sound system. “Swinging out blabber with the coin to spare/Me myself, I only got five quid to spend and once I've broken this note my pockets on a bend,” he recounts on “Inna”. From ”Strange Behavior”, “Started fiending for a Jack but had no cash/I had no choice to piggy-bank or trash/It was me and my bold self with five bags of coppers/Splashed out on the counter at PJ Patel's.”
Brand New Second Hand
’s production largely favors a late night claustrophobia. Not an overpowering one, mind you, simply one that tends to hang around at the edges of the mind. Opener “Movements” keeps all its elements below the bass, allowing it’s thick pulse to dominate the mix. A winding guitar line momentarily sneaks past the bassline but is quickly snatched down again. On the head nodding paradise of “Clockwork” distant bell chimes form an off-kilter melody while Manuva’s rhymes “pounce like left limb leopard” overhead.
While Brand New Second Hand
is a very good record, possibly the best through and through UK rap album to be released by this point in time, it isn’t revolutionary. It didn’t quite light the underground on fire and it certainly didn’t break through to the mainstream. But a revolution wasn’t far off and if Brand New Second Hand
wasn’t quite the genesis, it is important as the first album to raise it’s voice.