Album review

Burning Ambition

Someone's gotta coin a snappy name for the genre represented by So Solid and the hordes of MC crews who came in their wake. UK garage doesn't cut it any more—it's misleading. Listen to this debut from Leyton crew More Fire and you'll hear hardly a trace of house'n'garage. 2-step's swing and sensuality is banished in favour of hard-bounce riddims and punishing textures. More Fire's primary producers, the Platinum 45 team, draw on the most anti-pop, street vanguard elements in black music history: electro's angular coldness, jungle's bruising bass blows, ragga's lurch and twitch.

"Oi!", More Fire's No 7 smash of 2002, made for the most exhilaratingly extreme Top Of The Pops appearance in living memory. For pop punters who like a nice choon and fans of Artful Dodger-style softcore garage alike, "Oi!" had the shock impact of punk: "Is this even music?!?"

The answer, eventually, is "yes". But it takes several listens before what initially seems hookless reveals itself as contagious. Platinum 45's idea of melody seems derived almost entirely from video game musik and mobile ring-tones. Their dry rhythms connect backwards through time to Schoolly D and pioneering dancehall riddim "Sleng Teng", and sideways across space to current rap like The Clipse's "Grindin"(a drum machine on auto-pilot). If James Brown was a 19-year-old from an E4 estate who'd misspent his youth in a purple haze of PlayStation and hydroponic, this might be his idea of future funk. Factor in the rapid-fire jabber of Ozzie B, Lethal B and Neeko, with its blend of gruff ragga grain and uncouth cockney, and you've got music that instantly creates a massive generation gap.

Can this sound, brutally shorn of pop appeal, sustain a whole album? If you make it past the dreary "Intro"you'll find an album that's highly listenable. Alongside Platinum 45 standouts "Smokin'" and "Politics", two killer tracks are guest-produced by members of Roll Deep, hot crew of the moment. Wiley's "Lock Down"pivots around a bubble-and-squeak bass line similar to Roll Deep's insidious "Creeper", while Dizzee Rascal (the MC/producer to watch in 2003) contributes the asymmetrical anti-groove of "Still The Same", over which he spits rhymes in trademark edge-of-hysteria style.

Lyrically, no ground is broken. Haters are castigated, ho's get humiliated, weed (strictly high-grade) is hymned, and "soldiers, fallen"are mourned as mawkishly as Bone Thugs or P Diddy. But the art of MC-ing doesn't really involve opening up new areas of content. It's about finding fresh twists on the same restricted set of themes. What we're witnessing with this genre-without-a-satisfactory-name that More Fire Crew exemplify and excel at is the final arrival—after many false dawns—of an authentically British rap. No longer a pale copy of the US original, different but equally potent, it's something to celebrate.

Rating: 4 / 10


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