Tag Archives: mc duke

THE FADER’S EARLY DAYS & SOME OTHER STUFF

STAPLE IN PRINT

It’s good to see that the Reed Space’s ‘Reed Pages’ has reached issue one with a more substantial, perfect-bound offering than the launch edition issue zero all those years ago. I know I’m prone to assuming cancellation when follow-ups aren’t forthcoming, but almost two years is quite a gap. Just bear in mind that Mr. Staple is no stranger to printed matter.

It’s worth taking this moment to take it back to a time when you were still mildly optimistic about Rawkus releases, when Zab Judah was on the rise and Gravis Tarmacs (were they co-designed in any way by a pre-Visvim Hiroki?) were still a contender. ‘The Fader’ does an excellent job now on the music front, but in 2000 and 2001 it was a bible to me in my Bedford residence for matters of style too. I was more than happy to shell out around £6 an issue at the Piccadilly Circus branch of Tower Records in the hunt for this title and ‘Mass Appeal,’ ‘LODOWN’ or the lesser-spotted Transworld spinoff, ‘Stance’.’

These were pre-blog (shouts to the Mo’ Wax bulletin board massive, Spine Magazine, Rift Trooper and Being Hunted though) days, and if I saw an article I liked, it got memorized like rap album thank you’s. Jeff Ng’s contribution to the editorial side of early issues (the jeffstaple design was excellent too) gave us some English-language profiles of brands, product and people that had been confined to Japanese publications like ‘Boon’ and ‘Relax.’

It’s always nice to see the smart Supreme advertising that ‘The Fader’ carried, but Jeff’s 2001 Paul Mittleman and Hiroshi Fujiwara/Nike Japan profiles from issues #4 and #5 were very strong and resonated with me for some reason. The Hiroshi piece places plenty of emphasis on an innovative early ’00s boomtime—the Monotone collection white/green Terra Humara are something I’ve looked out for ever since in a US10 and the Air Max 120 remains underrated. Paul Mittleman’s recurring Arc’teryx coat and the shots of the never-bettered Dunk Lows (reissued next week) that built on his appearance in ‘Stance’ talking about the same shoe.

I spilt coffee on issue #4 of ‘The Fader’ and lost it when my mother culled my magazines left in her loft back in late 2002. Since then, I’ve been looking to read the Hiroshi article again (I’m sure that at one point it used to reside on its own http://www.fader.com/hiroshi URL). Then the homie Masta Lee at Patta saw my Tweeted plight and hooked me up with scans of the piece—props and praises to him for that act of kindness. Shouts to Jeff and the Fader for creating some essential content that resonated with an info-hungry freak like me.


UK RAP RENAISSANCE

Just because I think some folk need to deal with hip-hop’s progression doesn’t mean I feel some UK legends deserve to exist in a netherworld where their names are only uttered by the older generation during talk of the olden days. I think most of the current wave of UK hip-hop that’s broken through is still a crappy imitation of our American brethren, and while I appreciate that men rapping about demons over very fast Bomb Squad-style production isn’t going to cut it any more (maybe in some other parts of Europe, but not here), I love to see some of the old guard who made some classic LPs and reinterpreted rap on their own terms deserve some shine.

Take Hijack for instance—they had one of the best visual identities of any British band, but remained a cult favourite due to label politics—or MC Duke, or labels like Kold Sweat or Music of Life. There was a vitality to these names in their heyday and a sense that they’d go far to rep our nation at a point when hip-hop truly hit the mainstream circa 1991. Some are content to talk it up and simply recollect, some feel that they’ll give Giggs and Pro Green a run for their money at some point (still labouring under the misapprehension that their time is coming) and others entered a bigger industry and made a buck by taking off the blinkers and branching out. Respect to former HHC editor Andy Cowan for starting Original Dope—a label dedicated to reissuing old British hip-hop albums in remastered, repackaged and expanded form. Ruthless Rap Assassins, Blade and MC Duke fans should be delighted.

I remember the merchandise pages in Blues & Soul, HHC and several LP sleeves, but who was going to entrust their cash or postal order to some mysterious P.O. box address? I got my fingers burnt several times over the years, but I always wanted those mysterious tees and sweats that groups and labels promoted. Then there were the acts that should have had tees, but never did. What’s the solution? Officially licensed UK rap shirts from Style Warrior UK. Back in 2006 I spotted a MySpace for this UK label but missed out on a Hijack shirt…then I was outbid on eBay for it twice. Now it’s back—Overlord X, Son of Noise, Gunshot, M.C. Mell’o’, Music of Life (and there’s an excellent breakdown on their logo on the site), MC Duke, Silver Bullet, Kold Sweat are reliving their youth on cotton in a remarkably well-designed way, and there’s even two Hijack styles to pick from. The blog’s very good with some video links to the old ‘3rd Eye’ video magazine, talk of Stereo MCs and Cash Crew tees on the horizon and a history of the Demon Boyz logo too.

Today’s actually the cut-off for picking up the Hijack ‘Style Wars’ shirt. I assume there’s some rapidly aging fuckers like me who bug out at that kind of thing. It’s up there with the Japanese BBP licensed Showbiz & AG tees from five years ago in the very necessary stakes. Props to all involved.

JIM REDMOND: NIKEHEAD

Thinking about Nike endorsements, one of the most extensive one-man brand examples actually comes in the shape of an athlete’s father—Jim Redmond, the dad of Derek, who memorably accompanied his stricken son to the finishing line of the 400 metres in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. From the “Just Do It” hat to the Huarache t-shirt, socks and 180 running shoes, Jim was Nike down that day. I’m not 100% sure if the shorts were the brand’s own, but in late 2002 I bumped into him at an event and asked if he’d sell me the Huarache t-shirt. He laughed deeply and wandered off. I don’t think he realised that I was being serious.

NOSTALGIA OFFSETTING:

‘CONFESSIONS’

It’s no surprise that ‘Confessions’ (‘Kokuhaku’) has been nominated for a foreign-language film Oscar. It’s a unique, strange, overblown, almost operatic blast of human misery, but it’s also one of the most beautifully shot films I’ve seen in a long time. The entire film pretty much moves in a stylized slow-motion, but it doesn’t jar or de-humanise the hyper-emotive nature of the film. Best of all, it relies on certain facets of Japanese culture that would confer any attempts at a Western remake to failure status.

THE RIDE #5

I’ll confess—I have no interest in riding a bike at any time in the future. I lack coordination and live in a town where the roads simply don’t want to accommodate car and bicycle at the same time. It’s a democratic mode-of-transport though, and for some reason, that seems to breed great journalism. ‘Rouleur’ is awesome and ‘The Ride’ journal is good too—from the ilovedust covers to the 700 word stories and accounts of bike experiences, brief interviews and fine photography, it’s evidently a painstaking production. I can’t be arsed to take foot to peddle, but cycling is such a broad church—far more than Eras, rolled up Uniqlo chino legs and fixies – that it generates absorbing and eclectic reading matter. It’s available at Albam, Howies and some other spots right now. Anything with a piece on 1960s Eastern Bloc cycling artwork that adorned matchboxes is worth the expenditure, plus all profits go to charity. It actually makes me want to take a ride, and only the knowledge I’ll end up under the wheels of a bus within an hour discourages me…

THE UK RAP AESTHETIC

When it comes to the UK hip-hop look and sound, someone’s changed their tune in a major way. I wrote the following in 2008-

“It’s one thing being harassed by charity muggers on the hunt for your sort code on a busy shopping street or having a long distance phonecard thrust upon you at every turn, but the enterprising characters trying to get their Percee on and shift a CD-R because you look like a likely hip-hop consumer (at the age of 30, a massive insult) are the new menace. It’s not even a mixtape. It’s just some UK bloke in beat shoes with hotrock burnt tracky bottoms on with tired bars, recycling Heatmakerz instrumentals. The British rap scene absorbed itself, slowly dissolving, eroded by its own weak attitude while grime kids grafted, battled and shamelessly self-promoted.

Feeling liberated by the joy of feeling absolutely nothing when someone dressed like Barry George demands that we support “the homegrown” — stripped of eccentricity, humour, originality and a deeply dull preoccupation that rhyming off the noggin is the be all and end all (see also, Skillz and Supernatural) it simply devolved. The sense of obligation, that “putting in work” meant pressing up complete shit, sulking, sitting in a bedsit, sick with the bitterness of decades spent practising tags, backspinning and writing rhymes with deliberate references to Pat Butcher and Blair to assert UK status is over. As far as rap goes, keep on outsourcing.

To the angry local lyricists—speed up those rhymes, study Hijack, mention more sorcery and exorcism and fuck off to Germany. Your Britcore sound might earn you a Euro and floor to sleep on. Meanwhile, across the pond, those effortless Parisians can merge rap and graf with no trace of corniness. Extra points for the double time flows and nice jackets.”

Call me shallow, but beyond some tinny sonics and a small-minded worldview that hindered the sound of hip-hop, the look alienated me too. Raised as I was on rappers posing outside the Gee Street offices in head-to-toe Troop and Reebok (back when Reebok was aspirational), or Hip Hop Connection shots of UK crews in Chipie, Air Max Lights, Africa pendants and pinrolls, things just seemed to get squalid. Local rap just became an embarrassment, split into two factions – the night where grime was slightly slowed to a half-arsed mulch of screwfaces and attitude, and the dogs-on-strings, balding with a beer belly beneath a faded Stones Throw fun-free student-friendly headnod, no hint of populism evenings. I never felt either scenes. To truly conquer, I wanted to hear kids on the street listening to UK rap, and for cohesive long-players that weren’t just bought out of sympathy for the scene’s bedraggled patrons. When I saw the atrocious artwork for Blade’s ‘Guerilla Tactics’ I just walked away. I didn’t look back.

Years prior, London MCs looked aspirational. They might have been skint, but they didn’t have the spliff-yellowed forefingers or stretch-necked tees. Unless you’re really good, I don’t want to see a rapping tramp. Album covers were lurid but not lurid good. I don’t hold US rap up as a hotbed of superior design, but there’s weak, and there’s a friend from the call-centre day job’s desktop publishing software. Bar the fine work of Big Dada, and superior mixtape artworkers with international clients like Deftone, great UK rap covers were a ’90s thing. ‘Horns of Jericho’s over-literal underground with punk rock cut and paste, ‘Gangster Chronicle’s newspaper and (the overlooked) ‘Elementalz’s Dave McKean art. An extra mention for Bite It! records’ Little Pauly Ryan sleeve.

It could’ve been amazing. MC Duke’s semi-famous stately home ‘Organised Rhyme’ photoshoot, draped in tweed and gold was some Andre 3000 antics long before ‘Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik’…even on that debut ‘Dre was a Jordan man. Of course, the Krown Rulers ‘Paper Chase’ album sleeve in chainmail with a castle behind them  was marginally more gentrified, but to a young ‘un, a presumably underpaid (from rap anyway) Duke seemed as flossy as Big Daddy Kane. He also turned up a few years later in a full Burberry suit. A few decades later? Shabbiness reigned supreme. Then UK rap went pop with the appalling N-Dubz, Tinchy and Pro Green, Plan B got wacker. In 2010, the F64 era brought the faith back. All blacked-out in their attire, at least Strapzy, Giggs, Skanx bring a certain swagger where desperation once ruled the scene. I even like SAS’s work more, shorn of that Dipset affiliation. My expectations for the Trident-baiting Giggs’ new album (and XL debut) ‘Let Em Ave It’ are high, but I’m undecided on that artwork. A garish blend of 2000AD, naivety, and akin to a cautionary government-funded pamphlet handed out in an upper school, at least he tried. Any unexpectedly odd touch like that warrants a celebration. Long may this momentum continue.

However, my Gallic preoccupation still remains. Despo Rutti is that dude. This is hard too –