This Is England: Compelling

Shane Meadows' This Is England is one of the most scary, compelling and brilliant films I've seen in years. Set in 1980s working class Yorkshire This Is England charts how an amiable weed-smoking, beer-drinking skinhead crew (who love the look and music of the youth movement) is decimated by the introduction of NF politics and racist violence. In particular it follows the path of a young boy (Thomas Thurgoose who's simply fantastic: cocky, cheeky, vulnerable) searching for a sense of identity, belonging and a father figure.

Loosely it's about the NF and racism, but for me it reveals how radical politics such as the NF can take over when a group or section of society is systematically put upon and marginalised.

Working class Britain was the victim/punchbag of Thatcher's success, with no jobs, prospects, hope or future: as a result men are emasculated with little sense of self worth or direction. And when a charismatic, forceful older man turns up and spews NF propaganda about immigrants taking jobs and Britannia under threat/attack from outsiders, it's all too easy to be seduced by this ideology.

Let's be honest here. The NF and racist skinheads may now be reviled but the Tories of the 1980s were the NF in suits. Their ideology was built around NF beliefs: pride and primacy of Queen and Country - they were officially called the Conservatives and Unionist party (Unionist for never relinquishing Northern Ireland), strong on anti-immigration (Powell's Rivers Of Blood speech, Tebbit's 'Cricket test') and strong foreign/nationalist policy (Falklands saved Thatcher's bacon, Cold War).

For Meadows to be able to elicit sympathy and empathy from me as a British Asian - who was labelled a paki by his neighbours in suburban south London - towards racists is a measure of how good a film maker he is. I should hate Combo and his vile doctrines, but instead I felt sorry for him and having no futre worth living. And the nihilism that it breeds.

This isn't easy viewing, it's gritty British cinema realism that would make Ken Loach proud. And it's all the better for its contemporary relevance: for disaffected working class 1980s Britain, you can read working class Britain in 2007, inner city youth on the rampage with knives and guns and young Muslim men who feel marginalised and under attack. What nasty, hate-filled, violent politics or philosopy will fill their void??


Metro Mixtapes column 3

This is the third installment of my mixtapes column for Metro newspaper: its basic vibe is to represent some of the incredible talent and music on the underground, that struggles to get coverage beyond urban publications. What many people don't realise is this column, and 99% percent of album/single reviews and music interviews/profiles, runs in all editions of Metro - Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham, Nottingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dublin. Metro is far from just a London ting. Most of its 1million daily readers, are outside of London.
If anyone has any mixtapes or music to put forward for consideration for coverage, drop me a line. A version of this appears in today's Metro. A short summary would be - buy Ny's Split Endz Vol 2 and L.Man's New Age Army. If you like R'n'B and hip hop, and are into UK style realness and honesty, and tougher production than slick, glossy US R'n'B/rap, then I can guarantee you won't be disappointed. D
J Shortkut's a New Jack Swing Era Mix is beyond heavy. It's great fun and you can see how the sound evolved into today's R'n'B, though the mix is missing some classic New Jack Swing tracks.. what no Mary J's Real Love? or TLC Ain't Too Proud To Beg or Wreckx-N-Effect Rumpshaker or Juicy or any SWV??
Massive thanks to L.Man who hand delivered his mixtape to me, and the Truetiger (Ny's label) crew, who did the same. That's what can make working with underground UK artists so refreshing - there are fewer middle men and much less PR bullshit to negotiate, you just deal direct.



After guest appearances on tracks for Sway, The Streets and Plan B, Nyomi Gray aka Ny stars on Split Endz Volume 2. There’s a refreshing honesty and conscious feel to Ny’s R’n’B: Who Is She? Sees Ny reveal the impact of finding out (age 11) that ‘daddy’ isn’t her blood father; underground anthem Fire is a plea to avoid the flames of street life; Ny describes her-self as the ‘everyday girl at the bus stop and end of your road’ (In The Crowd). The 20-year-old’s commanding honey tones (rich, thick and sweet) capably handles typical R’n’B (men, relationships and heartache), however verses from rappers including Purple, L Man, Professor Green and JME reinforces the ‘real’ feel. The combination of Ny’s songwriting and distinctive production – think Timbaland-minimalism with more bounce, bump and edge – demonstrate she has the potential to follow in the footsteps of another Naomi (Ms Dynamite). Though Split Endz Vol 2 also suggests Ny’s blazing her own trail and won’t be following in anyone’s footsteps.

Honesty and ‘realness’ also looms large on South London rapper L.Man’s New Age Army mixtape: going by this mixtape and his high profile fans (Westwood, Dan Greenpeace, Logan Sama, Lady Sovereign, Semtex - Dizzee’s DJ who hosts New Age Army), L.Man’s destined for big things. ‘This isn’t rap or grime, this is true stories,’ says L Man of his music: we hear devastating tales of a violent bike robbery, the joy and hopes of impending fatherhood dashed by miscarriage and an abused friend’s spiral into drug addiction. We’re also privy to anguished conversations with god and an absent father. L Man’s angsty yet calm, rebellious yet sensitive and has a gift for perceptive, lucid storytelling that reaches far beyond his street corner.

DJ Shorkut’s New Jack Swing Era Mix transports you to the late 1980s/early 1990s and Wednesday evenings watching The Fresh Prince… and Dance Energy. However this is more than an exercise in nostalgia: new jack swing laid down the blueprint for modern R’n’B, bringing a hip-hop edge (raps, rougher rhythms, and scratches), to traditional R’n’B and soul. With jacking tracks from King of Swing Bobby Brown (Every Little Step, My Prerogative), Bell Biv Devoe (Poison) and Keith Sweat (I Want Her) slammed into the mix this sounds as fresh and funky as 15 years ago. You’ll struggle to find a more fun and sexy soundtrack to the summer, but dancing like Carlton’s optional...

Guitar wielding, angry young rapper, Plan B’s Paint In Blacker is a cheeky collection of reinterpreted album tracks, unreleased singles and skits from films. Plan B’s searing stories are mashed up with iconic songs by Rolling Stones, Nirvana, Radiohead and more. Opening track Paint In Blacker is the story of a manic depressive, backed by Rolling Stones’ broody Paint It Black. Who Needs Actions is re-imagined as a live performance with with Dave Grohl and Kurt Cobain’s completing Plan B’s fantasy line up. Suzanne, Plan B’s brutal vignette on a prostitute’s brutal murder by the Camden ripper, is delivered over Leanord Cohen’s eponymous song. His debut LP hinted at it, but PIB confirms Plan B’s a sick rapper in both senses of the word.


utter foolishness and garbage

I received the following message late last night. For background, Amplified is an ace crew/promoters/webzine supporting any sounds soulful - whether house, hip hop, or soul. Amplified has organised album launches for Spinna, Roy Ayers, Angie Stone and put on gigs for the The Roots, Cody Chestnutt, J Dilla and Hil St Soul... so you get the vibe of where they're coming from musically. Last sunday they organised an instore gig at Fopp in London, for Eric Roberson, soul singer. And this is what happened - and this is the untold story of promoting black music events in London, the most multiracial and tolerant city in the world. Be sure to check out the amplified crew, they really do some great stuff: www.amplified-online.co.uk

FOPP situation investigation & explanation

Once again we would liketo apologise to all who could not enter FOPP on Sunday for the Eric Roberson showcase. We have since concluded our investigation into the situation andmust categorically state how incredibly frustrated we were by the ill and disrespectful manner with which our clientele were handled by both Management and security, especially after having attending rock/pop events at the same venue where we witnessed ourselves twice the number of people being treated with far less restraint. Unfortunately this is an episode we feel we must file under 'civil rights situation', where individuals see people of colour in significant numbers and panic.

We had agreed with the venue that NO wrists bands were to be used for access to the performance, so as to enable fair entry to the event as is regular Amplified operating policy. This was re-confirmed twice before the event. Upon arrival at the venue, we were confronted with the spectacle of a queue for people without wristbands. We immediately took this up with FOPP Management and were met with arrogance and indifference. Due to a lack of communication between FOPP head office and venue staff, the latter had gone ahead and placed adverts stating the need for wrists bands on their website and in the day's press, even though this was explicitly in contrast to what had been arranged. We continued to protest while Store Management kept changing their minds and capacity remained unfilled. Amplified member JC came out to explain the situation to the crowd but each time he came back in, a different decision had been made by Management. The pulling down of the shutter was a moment that further underlined the ignorance we were dealing with. After protestations from ourselves, Dome Records, and Eric himself, the shutter was raised but no more access was given into the performance area, regardless of the space remaining.

Restricting the number of people allowed to see the performance, without explanation or acceptable reason, simply caused unnecessary frustration and angst to a very civilised and respectful crowd. As stated in our previous email a formal apology has been received from the individuals responsible and from FOPPManagement, but the fact remains that Management’s behaviour on the day was completely unacceptable and we can assure you that Amplified has and will continue to pursue this complaint to the highest level.

Meanwhile the venue has requested an opportunity to redeem themselves by asking us to host another event. Whilst we consider this offer and the thoughts and feelings of all who attended, we would like your feedback.

We at Amplified have the greatest respect for our clientele and are pleased to be the hosts of gatherings of beautiful, progressive people who – without exception - behave and conduct themselves in a way that inspires pride and contradicts stereotype.

Once again thank you for your support, understanding and patience as always.


JC / Zak / Bemi / Kobina / Ahmed / Samera

The Amplified Team


College kid hustlers

Here's a version of my interview with Rawkus Records (Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, Company Flow, Lyricist Lounge), new signings Kidz In The Hall. A version of this article appeared in London Metro yesterday, though it's actually quite different to what's posted here. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions on that... Nevertheless, there's no denying it's good to be hearing some US hip hop that's accessible, yet not gangsta, misogynistic and has a positive message. About time too. What with Kanye West, Rhymefest, Lupe Fiasco, KITH, Consequence, hell even Ice Cube's calling out gangsta, jiggy, bling hip hop, new school conscious hip hop's time is almost upon us.


Kidz In The Hall, rapper Naledge and DJ/producer Double O, don’t boast the usual credentials of recent hip-hop superstars. Rather than build credibility around street life, dealing drugs and dodging death, Naledge (23) and Double O (26) take pride in their Ivy League education at University of Pennsylvania (the title of their debut LP’s School Was My Hustle), where they met.

KITH face the immense challenge of restoring revered independent hip hop label Rawkus to its position as the definitive imprint for accessible progressive, rap with a conscience. It’s a tough ask considering Rawkus made its name in the mid-late 1990s through breaking Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common and Company Flow, while becoming a symbol of resistance against the growing tide of gangster rap.

How does it feel to be bringing back, arguably, the greatest independent hip-hop imprint of all time? ‘We feel honoured but we’re also anxious,’ says Naledge. ‘We have talent, the music and ability to do that and we’re coming with something fresh: our movement is something that kids who admire Rawkus acts from before can latch on to.’

School Was… continues the Rawkus tradition of feelgood rap built around the classic boom bap template of glorious soul hooks and beat up funk combined with no nonsense rhymes. Positive messages are finely nuanced, rather than force-fed, and School Was… passes the ultimate test of offering something new on each listen.

It also clearly references the early 1990s’ bright jazzy hip-hop sound that preceded and hugely influenced Rawkus. Did KITH deliberately try to connect with - and evoke - that era and movement? ‘We grew up on that sound but I don’t think we purposely had a mindset to create something from the 1990s it just happened that way,’ explains Naledge. ‘Good things come together when you’re being creative and it’s possible to channel that energy subconsciously because we’ve always felt that era and music.’

‘We always wanted to have the same type of impact as Gang Starr, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Pete Rock & CL Smooth,’ continues Naledge. ‘We are the step sons of that era but we’re also from the Jay Z era and it’s mashed in together - there’s an arrogance and a bravado but also a humble, everyday aspect to our sound.’

Just as a decade ago, Rawkus is bringing balance back to mainstream hip hop and representing perspectives beyond thug life or lifestyles focussed on partying, grillz, girls, and the size of your rims. ‘In hip hop the convention is the extreme, meaning the extremely poor or extremely rich can rap and no-one’s talking about the middle ground and what happens in everyday life,’ concurs Naledge. ‘There are nuances in everyday life that can tell a great story, without you shooting somebody or fucking hos or drinking champagne.’

‘It doesn’t have to be in every song and it doesn’t happen everyday,’ continues Naledge. ‘If you ask nine out of ten people they don’t hug the block, shoot the Glock, drink Cristal or wear Versace – they’re taking the bus to work, on their lunch break wish they could switch jobs and are dealing with their children.’

There’s a real sense that the KITH emergence, Rawkus’s return, and the rise of conscious hip hop artists such as Kanye West, Common, Lupe Fiasco and Rhymefest, that nihilism and materialism-obsessed rap’s dominance of mainstream hip hop is being challenged. Is it coincidence that all of these artists (bar KITH’s Double O) hail from Chicago?

‘Definitely - I believe the music people make is a product of their environment and Chicago is a very blue-collar city, but very urban too,’ explains Naledge. ‘So there’s a twist - Black Chicago is detached from the corporate world downtown and Black Chicago gives you the ‘hood and gangster element.’

‘But the city’s also very rooted in religion: both Rhymefest and Lupe are Islamic, and Kanye talks about Jesus because he went to church and worshipped a higher power,’ continues Naledge. ‘There’s a sense of community and being a real citizen - Black Chicago is very much a neighbourhood based on community but at the same time it’s inner city.’

Naledge admits that his parents, who both have PHDs and work in education, inspired and motivated the 23 year old to achieve his goals. What do they think of Naledge’s chosen career path and music?

‘They love my music and are very supportive because I represent myself in my music, so they don’t hear me trying to be something I’m not,’ explains Naledge. ’They hear me trying to inspire my generation and realise I’m doing something very special.’

‘In this day and age I’m the voice of my generation, a generation who don’t read books, listen to teachers or preachers as much as they listen to music,’ concludes Naledge. ‘Rap is the main voice of the youth and they realise I’m taking the role of leader and stepping forward.’

Kidz In The Hall’s School Was My Hustle is out now