About two decades ago, one of Rap music’s greatest champions (a guy named Russell) was working with Profile Records; he had helped to get his brother Joseph “Run” Simmons and two of his friends a record deal. Well, before you knew it, the trio called Run DMC broke this fledgling music genre wide open and took what began as a New York signature sound world wide.
The label was now looking for the next big thing.
Since its champion was a purveyor of the model world, they eventually decided that America’s elder cousin held the answer. Off they went to across the water to Austin Powers’ birthplace—Britain. Sadly, depending on whom you ask, N.W.A. and the West Coast ended up being the next hotbed. There only ended up being a couple of her majesty’s patrons who made some noise during this time, artist/ producer Derek B (from whom current rising star Dizzee Rascal no doubt got some of his inspiration) and The Wee Papa Girls (who undoubtedly were the precursors to the group Floetry). Other than that, there was nary a splash in the Channel, at least upon the world.
The next time the UK would chart abroad in the hip hop game would be with a cat who was dubbed “England’s Eminem:” The Streets. (We can’t count Floetry because like the Pilgrims before them, they chose to vacate the tea and crumpets for a North American diet and the Liberty Bell). However, that didn’t mean the streets of London were devoid of a sound of its own. They created Drum & Bass, Garage, and several other offshoots, while simultaneously cultivating a more pure rap sound.
Enter: The Herbaliser.
The Herbaliser at its simplest is two guys: Jake Wherry and Ollie Teeba, two of the UK’s most productive and innovative hip hop/funk producers. Over the years they’ve worked with great rap minds, including MF Doom, Irascience, and the world’s most underappreciated MC, Bahamadia.
For this, their 5th concoction, they enlist the aid of one of the genres illest rap artists, Jean Grae. In fact, for the purposes of press and touring, Jean has in fact become an official member of the group. And for her part, the scourge of the underground drops gift on four of the albums tight 16 tracks. The first of these, the battle ready “Nah’mean Nah’m Sayin’” bangs out over a funky brass section and sparse drums. The title alludes to the fact that Jean is so bad you sometimes don’t catch her ill verbalism without multiple listens.
The haunting “If You Close Your Eyes” has America’s lyrical champion exploring a netherworld that lies just behind the eyes; while “Twice Around” (possibly the second single) has Jean bouncing around an acid jazzy mixture, expressing her heartfelt appreciation to all the fans that have supported her through her musical trip. However, it’s the posse cut “Generals” where Jean is joined by a mixture of MCs á la The Juice Crew’s Symphony, that really sets shit off. The charge is set behind a marching band drum kit and menacing keys, with strings and horns propelling the entire project. Jean stands out, of course, but her comrades come prepared for war as well. Especially a shorty fresh out of primary school named MacGuyver; she sets it straight from jump: “I’m only twelve, but I can hold it down for myself/ The general, private e-1 MacGuyver/…From the rotten apple I’m an eighth grade nightmare.”
Other lyrical heat is provided by Nottingham’s Cappo (on “Failure’s No Option”) and the impressive Roots Manuva (“Lord Lord”). But this ain’t just no rap record.
Wherry and Teeba enlist a host of impressive players to lay down the albums backbone, tight ass music. The funk inspired “Gadget Funk” perfectly blends DC’s Go-Go with the distinctive synths and bass characterized by such legendary outfits as Parliament Funkadelic and Dazz Band. “Geddim” fuses percussion and bass together to form the backdrop for a rollicking jazz experience. And the tender, angry “Song For Mary” harkens back to a ’60s London filled with hazy smoke, berets and “boots that are made for walking.”
Just as the “epic, orchestral” mastery of the Italian tinged “Sonofanothamutha” conjures up dark alleys and seedy night spots. The tribute to Serge Gainsbourg, the album’s final cut “Serge,” which features Katerine on vocals backed by a lulling banjo, atmospheric strings and moody Moog topped off with some guitar, is equally engaging.
All in all, this experience is one that will stay with you long after the final notes fade out. You’ll find yourself rather pleased with the balance of vocals and instrumentals, rotation in the CD player becoming a no-brainer. In other words, the mission to over take London may very well lead to world domination.
Don’t be caught without your blueprint.