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"Original London style": London Posse and the birth of British Hip Hop
Andy Wood Available online: 13 Jul2009
To cite this article: Andy Wood(2009): "Original Londonstyle": LondonPosse and the birth of British Hip Hop, Atlantic Studies,6:2, 175-190 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14788810902981050
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they were drawing upon the music's origins as a hybrid and malleable form rather than as an essentially black American one. UK Hip Hop. with its very specific point of origin in the South Bronx. No. socially and economically very separate locations. a number of artists began to produce music that drew specifically upon established black British styles. by the middle of the 1980s it had established itself as a hugely popular youth cultural form in Britain in the shape of graffiti. as one of the first groups to specifically draw upon the traditions of black British music and Sound System culture.co. However. it's where you're aLI A history of the origins of Hip Hop and Rap and its impact and development in 1980s' Britain would have to take into account both the form's diverse cultural roots and its routes of transmission. In the course of this essay I intend to explore the ways in which Hip Hop culture. In so doing. and for. yet is significant in the continuing ability of black British cultures to position themselves at the centre of black Atlantic debates and creativity. London Posse. sought to utilize Hip Hop as a form for expressing a particular position as young black Londoners with cultural resources of their own. New York in the late 1970s and early 1980s. made *Email: firstname.lastname@example.org . one that communicated both the differences and similarities within the US and the UK. break dancing and music. within a Hip Hop framework of beats and rhymes.uk ISSN 147g-~gI0 printllSSN 1470-4649 online "CC 2009 Taylor & Francis 001: JO. This period of intense creativity and innovation has rarely been documented. 175-190 "Original London style": London Posse and the birth of British Hip Hop Andy Wood* Hip Hop culture arrived in Britain in the late 1970s from New York. combined with the form's methods of transmission. was both transmitted and transformed in the very different settings of 1980s' Britain. Keywords: London Posse. but which spoke from.IOgOI14ng~10902nI050 http://www. This dialogue placed black British music and culture as an equal partner in the black Atlantic triangle. and combine it with Hip Hop culture. as opposed to simply mimicking or drawing upon American and Caribbean influences. While black America and Britain are historically. I believe that Hip Hop's multiple influences. dissemination and adaptation in very different sites and periods. in order to develop a highly unique version of Hip Hop. a British perspective. Although largely seen as an African American form. politically. black Atlantic Even other states come right and exact It ain't where you're from. as artists and cultural practitioners drew upon the Caribbean and America while specifically being influenced by and reflecting upon their very unique position in Britain. August 2009.informaworld.A tlantic Studies Vol.2. 6. My essay explores this period through a close reading of London Posse's music and lyrics and an examination of their position as a Hip Hop act drawing upon a black British tradition with roots in the Caribbean and US.
. like Reggae before it. Monie Love and Derek B. latterly. maintained a dialogue between the different sites of the black diaspora. who achieved varying degrees of success and acclaim in the US. In the 1980s the British Hip Hop scene produced a number of home grown "stars" such as Cookie Crew. while drawing upon the inspiration of the US form. with the Indian subcontinent. I would argue that elsewhere it has maintained a multi-directional dialogue with the musical cultures of the Caribbean.176 A. sites of both creativity and consumption. The influence of Sound System culture was a central factor in the development of British Hip Hop for a number of reasons which I will focus upon briefly before discussing London Posse. while also retaining an international outlook and perspective. As Low-Life's history of British Hip Hop notes. Europe. developed its own distinctive variations. Wood possible its absorption and transformation within very diverse sites. Electro and Hip Hop were enthusiastically received by youths in the UK. 3 Hip Hop has simultaneously expressed both a specifically local and a global focus and. in its more commercially successful manifestations. While the contemporary position of Hip Hop may suggest it has. found it difficult to break out of the underground. it was all about the live show and rocking parties". In a similar form to Reggae music and culture in the late 1960s and 1970s. Consequently. 2 The highly malleable and hybrid forms of the raw source materials allowed Hip Hop to become a key resource for a new generation of black British youths who were seeking a sense of identity and representation. Artists and groups often described specific British experiences and developed specific styles drawing upon existing forms such as black British Reggae and Sound System culture. while Britain provided a welcoming environment and reception for visiting Hip Hop performers from the States. with little or no radio airplay and a lack of media and record company interest. Although the mainstream media and record companies were slow to respond to Hip Hop.5 Hip Hop. Although Anthony Marks has suggested that "[b]y 1986 the genre had taken over among urban teenagers as the leading style of black popular music". the British scene developed through a series of highly localized scenes. London Posse." Graffiti and break dancing became popular as well. The first Hip Hop record to have an impact in Britain was the Sugar Hill Gang's "Rappers Delight" which reached number three in the singles charts in December 1979. . particularly. who drew upon these influences as much as they did upon Hip Hop in order to define a recognisably British sound in the mid-1980s. the US. Hip Hop was transformed from a "borrowed culture" to an identifiably black British form that dealt with specific issues pertinent to a generation of black youths born and brought up in Britain. been consolidated as a predominantly African American form. I would argue. with many seeing it as a novelty form with no long-term future. by black British youths. though not exclusively. British Hip Hop developed rapidly from a "borrowed culture" to one that. A British Hip Hop story Like Ska and Reggae in the 1960s and 1970s. in urban areas with significant black populations. the early scene was largely undocumented: "[r ]ecords weren't really released. Africa and. it was able to develop at its own pace in small studios and clubs away from the mainstream and from commercial pressures. This was made explicit in the work of one of the first-generation of UK Hip Hop acts.
through the actions and voices of the New York scene's actual protagonists."g The sleeve credits of the album were dedicated to "Philadelphia and London" with a number of British artists being mentioned. video cassettes. At the same time. The Streetsounds collections were incredibly successful. By 1984 there was a legal Hip Hop radio show. and Cookie Crew. In 1984 Streetsounds released the UK Electro album. and given a warm reception to. visiting black musicians. taking Goldie to New York.Atlantic Studies 177 Despite the underground nature of the various Hip Hop scenes. in 1986. despite their recognized lack of real influence or power. Channel 4 were the cofunders of Style Wars and.6 which were mixed by British DJs. reflected the need for youths to find their own place in the culture and to develop their own styles and original modes of expression in order to make their mark on the urban environment. stated that he had been impressed by British Hip Hop and that "London is becoming the new capital of Hip Hop. including London Posse. Asher D. Goldie. Wild Style and Style Wars (both released in 1982) brought together the central tenets of Hip Hop culture to British audiences. particularly in disseminating the wider aspects of Hip Hop culture to an eager audience. I would . Rupa Huq writes that Gilroy's vision of the black Atlantic "transcends nation-states and rejects the politics of separatism. Both films highlighted the inner city as a multi-cultural. presented by Tim Westwood on London's Capital Radio and a British Hip Hop record. Bombin' followed the Bronx graffiti writer Brim around England and featured a performance by The Wild Bunch and a young graffiti artist from Wolverhampton."? which is. Both films explored the music. the album featured contributions by members of the Manchester-based break dancing crew. giving a sense of recognition and validation to the scene. Central TV financed the documentary Bombin'. break dancing and graffiti. The notion of "style" in these films. DJ Newtrament and the Krew's "London Bridge" single. Public Enemy's Chuck D. although much of the album was subsequently revealed to have been written by a white production team. Broken Glass. dating back to the first tours by the Fisk University Jubilee Singers in the early 1870s to the growing popularity of African and Caribbean performers in Britain in the years following the First World War to Hip Hop's epoch-making Def Jam tour in 1987 featuring Public Enemy.' Interviewed during the 1987 tour. Navigating the flows of the bJack Atlantic Gilroy's vision of the black Atlantic historically reconstructs and recuperates a visible series of black diasporan cultures in the face of mainstream Western thought that marginalizes or ignores narratives that do not fit in with dominant discourses of history and culture. Visiting American Hip Hop performers also received a warm welcome in the UK. multi-racial setting and emphasized the youthful nature of the scene. both commercially and in bringing Hip Hop to a wider audience. fanzines and live performances. including the Electro DJ Greg Wilson. Two major factors had contributed to this scenario. Bombin' explored both the multi-faceted British scene and its links with the US. Britain has had a long-standing relationship with. the form grew in popularity through the exchange of mix-tapes. the growing popularity of home video recorders was an equally important factor. sometimes more so than they did in their own country. rather than focussing upon fashion or pose. Morgan Khan's Streetsounds label had brought together rare and expensive US Hip Hop singles on a series of affordable compilation albums beginning in 1982.
Yet. while The Black Atlantic disrupts and challenges notions of Britishness. in . Gilroy highlights the multi-directional flow of people. the musical and lyrical concerns began to expand to reflect the experiences of growing up in Britain for a generation of youths who had been born or had lived most of their lives in this country. British Reggae had begun to be seen in a wholly different light. particularly those that are identified with specific locations in their formative stages. Although the influences of the Caribbean and the US have been strongly felt within the smaller black communities within Britain. these influences have been translated. a central part of black British expressive cultures including Hip Hop." Music played a central role in defining and asserting a sense of cultural identification and belonging. Mitchell has suggested that Hip Hop scenes outside of the US have flourished in diverse locations. Specifically British forms of Reggae such as Lovers' Rock and the Fast-Talk style have found an audience outside Britain. They also reflected an international diasporan politics in songs such as "Concrete Slaveship" and "Handsworth Songs. Hip Hop is one of a number of British forms that has sought to adopt a musical culture deriving from a specific location within the wider Atlantic diaspora and adopt it to localized conditions in dynamic and innovative ways. having "rapidly developed from an adoption to an adaptation of US musical forms and idioms. hostile society. to be black and British in an often unwelcoming. ethnicity and culture that are essentialized. preferring to discuss the effects and impact of African American and Caribbean artists in developing a sense that black settlers and their children "might ever belong to Britain. words and performances of bands such as Aswad and Steel Pulse unflinchingly described what it felt like to grow up in Britain. While such links have been explored within academic and popular texts over the past two decades."!" Gilroy correctly recognizes in his work that cultural identification and representation are complex. The trading of styles between the different points of the Atlantic diaspora has never been one-directional. as yet. often in radically different forms."12 The music. inferior version of a dominant cultural form from elsewhere. to America and parts of the Caribbean. re-worked and transmitted back. including Reggae and Sound System culture styles that. in Britain. influenced and constructed from a variety of multiple perspectives and sources including those of black America and the Caribbean. changing and hybrid forms that operate as a challenge to groups and nation-states that often portray or imagine themselves as stable. Wood argue. As artists and groups looked closer to home for influences. ideas and cultures in constantly fluid. This has involved an increasing syncretism and incorporation of local linguistic and musical features. limited and bounded by concepts of tradition and whiteness." 11 This is also a distinct characteristic of other musical forms. while still retaining a dialogue with the sources and groups from which the music originally arose. Hall describes this shift from a migrant culture relying upon a borrowed culture to a generation looking to make their mark culturally as being the move from "the Afro-Caribbean presence in Britain" to the "emergence of a black British culture. very little space has been given to a deeper examination of black British musical cultures.178 A. homogeneous and unchanging units. both of which have certainly been an integral focal point for different black British communities at very different points in the post-war period. had to struggle against being portrayed as a weaker. Gilroy along with other cultural critics often overlooks the cultural productions of black British youths.
and with. London Posse member Rodney P.l'' By observing the different roles individuals played within the collective and watching how the DJs and MCs developed their performance skills in front of an audience in a dance hall setting. Although those records still have a Reggae foundation to their sound.. even futuristic. distributors and pirate radio shows. The sound of Fast-Talking foregrounds the MC who becomes the star performer and often the focal point of a Sound System. including members of London Posse. was involved in local Sound Systems. The Sound System. the use of drum machines. unity and communality. operating to form the foundation for fermenting. digitized rhythm. youths like Rodney would learn how performers "worked the stage and talked to the people and got some crowd interaction." the experience acted as an apprenticeship. As with Hip Hop. often based in a specific locale with an enthusiastic. popular culture and gossip and relate them to audiences over a crisp. a form of vocal delivery that Dick Hebdige described as "reggae's answer to rap. Although he had only been involved in local Sound Systems at a low level as a youth. ideas of performativity and individuality. "mainly carrying boxes [speakers] into dances and all that.'>. promoting and disseminating the music and articulating publicly a sense of what it meant to be black and British. The sound of Fast-Talk relied less upon musicians and more upon technology and the skill of a producer.such as London's Saxon International Sound System. record shops. were integral in the development of Hip Hop and other black British forms of music.14 MCs would compose and perform lyrics relating to current events. . synthesizers and the vocal delivery were very similar to Hip Hop with its often minimalist musical accompaniments and rapped lyrics. including Smiley Culture with "Cockney Translation" and "Police Officer" and Tippa Irie with "Complain Neighbour. Sound Systems. With its tradition of combining records with the skills of MCs who would chat or sing over instrumental versions of well known songs or exclusive Dub plates and rhythms to their manipulation of pre-existing sound sources. Sound Systems were also tight-knit crews. built up a team of MCs in the early 1980s who would go on to develop the Fast. having "[grown] up on Jamaican sound tapes" before first hearing Hip Hop in around 1981 82. Both styles play upon.At/antic Studies 179 some cases even outselling Jamaican productions. the Sound System could prove receptive to Hip Hop. as was the case of Papa Levy's "Mi God Mi King" which topped the Jamaican charts in 1983Y Sound System culture Sound System culture was not only a huge influence upon the development of Hip Hop but provided an important role in its reception and dissemination. This was also important for the . loyal following. along with a burgeoning network of small clubs.v'" all vital aspects of the 1980s' Hip Hop scene. Fast-Talking style and Hip Hop both draw upon a long history of black music and performance as well as sound ultra-modern. Younger Sound System. as well as focus on concepts and notions of community. community affairs." all in 1984.Talking style. cheap technology had begun increasingly to alter the focus of Reggae.'> also provided a fertile training ground for many of the individuals who would go on to make an impact on the first wave of British Hip Hop. A number of MCs from the Saxon International Sound System successfully made the transition into making records and enjoyed hits.
felt that. and were still imitating rappers on US recordings. and that. 19 The tour of America made London Posse more keenly aware of their own heritage as black British youths. Sandy and Tippa . The importance of music . while being. "This is for us. merging their Reggae influences with Hip Hops beats and breaks and rapping in a mixture of cockney and patois. radically different from older. often with a Ragga tinge.the whole crew. increasingly.. Tippa lrie and Aswad and the release of a small number of culturally important film. "We're not Jamaican. it wasn't what I grew up with. was not the same as that of the African American rappers. but Saxon sound was the big sound and the Me culture with Levi. 17 For many. Rodney P. Although Hip Hop encouraged Rodney P. with Jamaican heritage and we are going to do it in a different kind of style. It was a whole new scene. a part of a search for a wider youth cultural identity. a large part of the appeal of Hip Hop lay in the fact that it represented a new form of youth culture that. for his generation. growing unemployment and a sense of urban crisis.. it's brand new and it's for us". London Posse found that the American rappers and audiences they met on the tour were taken by their cockney speaking accents and they began to formulate a more unique sound. musically. to begin rapping. which explored the lives of black British youths in contemporary Britain against a background of racism. We were thinking. having only just left school. This was despite the limited success of a number of musicians and artists including Smiley Culture. while related. music was the force that was "representing us [ . Wood early Hip Hop scenes before the movement gained national attention. initially learning lyrics from American Rap records. that their own experience. radio and other platforms associated with British popular culture. could be embraced without rejecting these earlier forms. It wasn't what my brothers were listening to.180 A. London Posse quickly realized they had to find their own style and voices during a tour of the US supporting Big Audio Dynamite in 1986. Unity Sound and Young Lion. The influences were drawn both from the American Hip Hop records they loved and the culture of Reggae Sound Systems: I grew up with reggae music so we took the idea from Saxon sound [ . more established forms such as Reggae and Soul. they were like heroes at that time and they had the philosophy that..'>such as Horace Ove's Pressure (1975) and Franco Rosso's Babylon (1980). Other sounds as well. For Rodney.18 The crew had been hurriedly thrown together for the tour. Hip Hop became another resource to be used in the search for a black British identity. We're English bom. it wasn't what my sister was listening to. And that's when American hip hop came along. you're looking for your own thing.20 Black British youth cultures throughout the 1970s and 1980s had little impact within the mainstream.. In songs such as "Original London Style" and "How's Life In London?" they began to assert a very English identity. twenty years ago. Hip Hop was important in gaining a sense of identity as a youth growing up in London in the early 1980s: You know when you're at that age." That was the attitude and we started to pick up on that. where a black British or other black identity were rarely positively represented. but also. . though one that they felt was not part of the mainstream. J that our culture was different to the mass culture.. including television. J we were big fans of Saxon sound. and others like him. there was little sign of black Britons in the British media unless it was negative. Linton Kwesi Johnson.
Wee Papa Girl Rappers and Silver Bullet in the second half of the decade. Although a grassroots. a subsidiary of Island Records dealing specifically with black British artists. a black British musician. 1990's Gangster Chronicle. the Cookie Crew. in part due to the lack of record company and media support. If they were discussed at all.. black youths rarely received much in the way of positive exposure. While in New York they were given their moniker "because we were the only group of English black kids in New York. Gangster Chronicles was succeeded by four singles on a small independent label run as a collaboration between London Posse and their manager Ed Bull. dangerous and given to criminality as were the urban inner-cities that were identified with black settlement. put together as a tour support for Big Audio Dynamite. and Bionic. discussed the different ways that record companies and radio stations approached black and white artists. Yet.. and Mango was brought to an end along with London Posse's contract. with only Cookie Crew releasing a second album. disproportionate under or unemployment. and in many cases gaining. Spartacus R. none of the artists or groups from this generation of British Hip Hop artists were able to sustain long-term mainstream careers. including in the US. a lack of real opportunities. a wider audience. underground scene was developing. London Posse found themselves struggling financially. London Posse recorded for four different labels in four years. which was released on Mango. and the release of their debut single. a fact that highlights both the instability of the British Hip Hop scene of the 1980s and the inability of major recording companies to understand." London Posse had became a duo of Rodney P. Leeds and other areas of significant non-white settlement as communities reacted to a sense of being continually under siege by a combination of heavy handed policing. London Posse failed to chart. London Posse only released a handful of singles and a solitary album. In total. while . Manchester. despite the fact that black British cultures were reaching out to."22 By 1987. a decaying infrastructure and racism. He felt that. and growing acclaim and interest abroad. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s relations between black Britons and the police had deteriorated. London. In Babylon the culture of Sound Systems formed a central part of the focus and narrative of the film.Atlantic Studies 181 as a source of identity formation and as a means to assert such identities in the face of invisibility or marginalisation was integral to the lyrics of the artists as well as the films. very few of the independent labels and pirate stations had the financial clout or reach to promote the music nationally. By the time the 1990s had begun. Birmingham. it was as problematic. It's a London 'ting: London posse and UK hip hop London Posse initially began as a quartet. In an interview for a feature on black British music with Paolo Hewitt in June 1986.i! These were all topics of the lyrics of British reggae acts and would form an important part of the discourse of black British Hip Hop artists including London Posse. leading to urban uprisings in cities such as Bristol. Despite a number of chart hits with singles by the likes of Derek B. Between their formation in 1986 and an aborted recording session for Tricky's Durban Poison label in 1997. Despite reasonable sales. the Tim Westwood-produced "London Posse. develop and market the music in this period.
he felt strongly that both his experiences as a Rapper and the influence of early UK Hip Hop acts such as "London Posse.. as with many other British Rappers.P Hewitt's article revealed how few black people worked in a position of real influence or power in British record companies and the media. the Wild Bunch. by the mid-1990s. as Acid House grew in popularity. having himself been involved in Hip Hop prior to writing novels and plays. Hijack and many others" gave him the confidence to write fiction. .. seeing no value in keeping the releases on catalogue. black artists were treated as the producers of "novelty records": That is the key to what's happening. United Ffava a/British Rap. many critics and commentators were confidently predicting that British Hip Hop's time was past. J I wanted to be a rapper.. at least as a commercial concern with any claims to the mainstream. It also highlighted that a lack of serious insight and knowledge of black British music was prevalent as well. J to chronicle accurately the life and times of black people in this country.28 For a generation of black British writers in the 1990s and beyond. innovative form. US Hip Hop had consolidated its position as the dominant form. J When you've finished buying that product. while the author Courttia Newland included the original version of the song as the opening track on the compact disc that accompanied his second novel..'>. which was published in 2000. The desire stayed with me for the next ten years. Newland has described his initial experience of hearing Hip Hop in the early 1980s as being one which left him "mesmerized by what I heard. utilizing the skills they had learned from Sound Systems and Hip Hop in new. having dabbled with Hip Hop. They will sell the artist if they're white but not if they're black [. found that his musical career never really took off However. The compact disc was included in part as an actual soundtrack to the pirate radio station that was a part of the narrative strncture of the novel and. By the end of the 1980s. the work of artists such as London Posse gave them the confidence to look closer to home in . then shied away.. in 1995. along with much of the media focus and record company interest.i" The recorded output of the first wave of British Hip Hop was. Demon Boyz.'>that still retained aspects of the stylistic traits of those music styles. retired or moved into new genres of music. due to the limited numbers of records pressed by small underground labels or by being deleted by the major labels that.. And that was it [ . London Posse's Bionic would resurface in the Jungle/Drum 'n' Bass scene while members of the Bristol collective. would operate in a number of different guises with great success throughout the late 1980s and 1990s. A Ragga remix of "How's Life In London" was released on a compilation.. By the end of the decade. "to recreate the world around me [.27 Despite appearing on the radio and at a number of Tim Westwood's Hip Hop Jam. largely unavailable.182 A.25 Many of Hip Hop's earlier practitioners on both sides of the Atlantic had returned to the underground. it also drew a number of artists and fans away from Hip Hop. Society Within.. That is the traditional way of selling black music. Yet London Posse remained a potent influence despite failing to break into the charts. 24 This was a common scenario in the British Hip Hop scene at the beginning of the 1990s.. particularly with the advent of the Los Angeles-based strain known as Gangsta Rap. to pay tribute to some of Newland's musical influences. you're finished with the artist. in part.Newland. Wood white artists were encouraged to develop careers over a period of time.
a scenario described by London Posse as being an "inability to know your own roots and culture. drawing not only upon the influence of the subject matter addressed in their lyrics but also using the language.. London Posse's longevity. in terms of influence. but centrally. which was all the more remarkable given that the album had made no substantial commercial impact when it was first released seventeen years earlier. Authors such as Newland and Alex Wheatle draw upon musical cultures such as Reggae and Hip Hop in their work. often in technically skilful ways. they did critique British artists whom they saw as simply mimicking American accents. diction and lyrical tropes and themes. lyrics or performances were in any way inferior to that of their American counterparts. along with a number of their contemporaries. voices and settings around them in order to portray a picture of contemporary Britain that resonated not only with black British youths but also with a wider audience. They drew upon an existing tradition of black British Reggae.. Certainly. but without giving any real sense of their own experiences. In turn. malleable form that could translate globally had rapidly become a hegemonic form of black American culture which looked down upon other Hip Hop scenes as being both artistically and culturally inferior. lives or identities. In August 2007 the British magazine Hip Hop Connection published their list of the fifty best British Hip Hop albums ever. London Posse. This combined a sense of appreciation for and respect towards the impact of its influence in articulating a sense of cultural identification along with a sense of disappointment that what had felt like an inclusive. for London Posse and a number of their contemporaries.At/antic Studies 183 their writing. there was no sense that their music.3o London Posse drew explicitly upon Hip Hop and Reggae cultures as strands of their own heritage as part of the black Atlantic in a way that Gilroy has suggested places the black British experience not in the margins. in the mid-80s it was still common to hear British rappers adopting American accents and lyrical nuances. lacking a sense of authenticity. Gangster Chronicles was number one and the magazine gave both the album and London Posse extensive coverage. used Hip Hop as a template for their music while drawing specifically upon their own experiences. stems from a number of factors. rarer still in British Hip Hop. Sound Systems and Hip Hop explicit while rapping about their own experiences as black British youths growing up in south London in the 1980s. While they were not the only rappers to do so. vocal styles. they developed their own voice. It is worth noting that such negotiations of influences are often paradoxically accompanied by an implicit sense of the rejection of cultural dominance. While American culture has a long history of opera ting as a vi tal source of articula ting and developing a sense of identi ty and cul ture it was only one of a number of resources drawn upon by black Britishyouths and artists looking to develop their own voice and identity. While London Posse did not reject or resent the influence of US Hip Hop upon the British scene. style and themes while remaining firmly embedded within the wider Hip Hop milieu. they were a rare phenomenon in Hip Hop. portraying the diversity and influence of black British cultural productions and their important role in many forms of British popular cultural forms of expression. They were one of the first British Hip Hop acts to make the links between Reggae. British Hip Hop artists often articulated an ambiguous set of feelings towards American Hip Hop. 29 In 2001 Gangster Chronicles was reissued along with extra tracks on the British Hip Hop label Wordplay. with its roots in the . While reissues are a common event in rock music.
though. highlighting the ways in which it points to the fluidity and provisional nature of identities. Funk. London Posse and their contemporaries inspired a period of intense creativity and innovation that would prove to have a lasting influence in Britain and further afield. not to overstate the influence of Reggae and Sound System culture to the detriment of the role of Hip Hop in London Posse's work. As Dick Hebdige shows in Cut 'N' Mix. In "Original London Style. creating an aural range of voices which point to the polyglot of hybrid sounds and voices found in London and other major cities that have experienced large scale migration and settlement. but in the way that they represent the voices of those around them. However. "Woman Of The Ghetto. An England Story.184 A. influences and crossovers were not uncommon. Equally. the extensive sleeve notes." British Hip Hop developed its own voice." a Reggae cover of a song by the American Soul singer Marlena Shaw. many distinctively British groups such as Cookie Crew. A small but important clue to the multi-directional flows of the black Atlantic lies in the last track on Gangster Chronicles. Part of London Posse's influence lies in the way they represent not only their location in London and Britain. cockney and standard English.)33 . performative role as well. Accompanying a recent compilation album. they rap: I come from London So when I put up the twang Some just can't understand the slang and the lingua The wicked lyrics we fling to your 'ead They say the records sounding ruff [good] But what was that he said. 32 London Posse's lyrics often deal with the performativity of language. while intelligently and insightfully excavating a comparatively neglected area and period of black British popular culture. such journeying. The acknowledgment of the originality of their contribution to Hip Hop culture by American artists such as Chuck D. over-emphasize the role and importance of Reggae and the Caribbean at the expense of a wider examination of the part played by Hip Hop and African American cultures in black British musical forms. It is important. "Tell Me Something. musical and distinctive linguistic styles to the mix." a song about their experiences of touring in the US. Skitz and Skinnyman. Garage and Grime. London Posse's influence can be heard in the music of a later generation of Hip Hop artists such as Roots Manuva. taking in Reggae. often within individual verses. The language slips easily between patois. Overlord X and Three Wize Men displayed little influence of Reggae in their music. Soul and Hip Hop. Blak Twang. As one of the first Hip Hop acts to incorporate a distinctive Reggae influence into Hip Hop. one which in the second half of the decade was recognized as being unique and innovative. rapping in distinctive accents that give the songs a sense of immediacy and authenticity. Rather than operating as a "borrowed culture. While the UK scene only enjoyed limited success. London Posse is highly conscious that language also has a playful." The chorus borrows from a Phyllis Dillon record. helped reject criticisms that Hip Hop was an essentially African American fornr" and foregrounded Hip Hop as a hybrid and highly malleable genre that could be widely adopted and adapted in multiple sites and locations. adding their own lyrical. Wood Caribbean as an equal part of their heritage along with Hip Hop. as well as in black British forms such as Jungle. London Posse's music was made up of a combination of multiple sources and influences.
not only in Brixton but in other locations . roughneck An' I'm on the front. In these ways. cockneys. London Posse understand well the pressures and resentments that led to the uprisings in 1981 and 1985. now. as they shift between different voices and dialects. "Original London Style" reworks Smiley Culture's earlier song. "Cockney Translation.)35 The main part of the verse directly addresses the constant media misrepresentation of black youths as criminal and suggests that this issue is closely tied to police attitudes. While the majority of the verse is addressed at an audience who may implicitly understand the story. As Brixton youths. London Posse point out that. as both are workingclass languages. London Posse. whether in Brixton or the Bronx. from East End gangsters to black muggers and drug dealers. the journalists. The lyrics relate a collection of stories of the negative experiences of black youths in their dealings with the police: I'm like a newspaper Known as a daily." However. never remaining static.At/antic Studies 185 The line. a calling card that sets them aside from other Hip Hop artists. "Live Like The Other Half Do" directly addresses the dominant media representations of black British youths along with racist police attitudes and behaviour. the final two lines are targeted at an entirely different constituency. both cockney and patois are closely linked with images of criminality and class. The female voice that introduces the song and is sampled throughout. suspect When 1'm in the vicinity of a robbery Radics with lobotomies doggin' me 1 say it wasn't me They say it musta been your brother Well one looks as good as any other So you're nicked. commentators and critics who ask why youths resent the police. describes the ways in which languages change and evolve. in part. asks: "They're always turnin' out with these new words. in't they? What's the new one?". "So when I put up the twang" suggests that London Posse play upon their outsider status: while the music is recognizably Hip Hop.i" For the mainstream media. or have similar experiences. both are intertwined: This is how we talk down south Creating friction Using the gangster diction. while "Cockney Translation" interrogates and reveals the similarities and differences between Jamaican "yard talk" and cockney slang and underlines the similarities in class and status. claim cockney as part of their own heritage. the language engenders confusion and individuality and their use of language is. Then they rough me up an' cuff me An' stuff me in a patrol car So far they called me every name in the book Except crook 'Cos they know 1 never took nish And now you're asking me 'bout yout' Why them want to trip police Up.
37 "How's Life In London" argues that Hip Hop culture is an international phenomenon. it seemed as though the British Hip Hop scene put the black British experience at the centre of the black Atlantic diaspora. partly picaresque. borders and cultures. but their London is a city that is not known to outsiders. while speaking of specific sites and experiences and speaking to specific groups and situations.36 Throughout the 1970s and 1980s black youths' relationships with the police had become increasingly fraught and full of tensions. is capable of traversing the different destination points in the black Atlantic. established images and sounds of the city have been defamiliarized: this is London. For a period in the second-half of the 1980s. often in different dialects. The song is a humorous. a multi-racial. adding to and developing a dialogue between the black communities of Britain. Within a few seconds. multi-cultural city. In the song black London playfully becomes the centre of the Hip Hop world: Check my grammar The girls in Japan love the slang And the ones in Manhattan love the chattin'. spreading out from localized initial points of creation to be disseminated and remade in far-flung. the . and in common with other black Atlantic musical forms. even languages. always changing and shifting. It opens with a close up of Big Ben and the familiar sounds of the chimes before cutting to a white presenter who announces in an authoritative voice. comingof-age tale that discusses youthful enthusiasms. not as a one-way journey from a static parent culture or source. one that. London Posse also revel in their status as Londoners. often from a personal point of view which held a great deal of resonance for audiences. "BBC World News presents 'This is London'" as the camera reveals a group of black youths staring unflinchingly at the camera. "Money Mad" also deals with this closely linked with post-war Issue: Young your's getting treated like monsters by the beast Or should I say policeman and his truncheon See a black man an' you put him in a cell and beat 'im. is an international sound. indiscretions. but in multi-directional flows. drawing upon. often unexpected places. Combined with the fractious nature of these dealings was the continually negative portrayal of blacks within the media. the familiar. Wood black settlement. as with Reggae before. aware of its roots. fashions and influences and contrasts them with their experiences as a touring Hip Hop group in various locations around the world. but always adapting and evolving. The issues raised in songs such as "Money Mad" and "Live Like The Other Half Do" carried on a tradition in Reggae of critiquing such issues. one that translates across locales.186 A. "How's Life In London" came with a low budget video. even if the language of the lyrics causes confusion: In Japan they say I talk like Damian The Yanks said I sounded Australian But 'ear me nahl " Hip Hop.
styles and focus on the individual.V Hip Hop records were a rare (and expensive) commodity and mainly circulated through mix-tapes and affordable and highly coveted compilations on Morgan Khan's Streetsounds label. The music and the surrounding forms captured my imagination. enjoyed a great deal of success and fame in Britain and Europe. tied in with a brief biographical reference to my own initial interest in Hip Hop." originally published in 1991. It is perhaps in the sounds of those early Streetsounds compilations. single voice or position. and might be something that youths could "appropriate as tools of their growing identity. Having discovered the music via exposure to a Streetsounds Electro compilation. Hip Hop offered a sense of something very different. In its earliest forms it represented both the site of a fantastic party and a medium for articulating a sense of identity and discussing experiences and problems. J in the mid-'80s?. as it did with many others. In his travels Neate comes to learn this and suggests also that Hip Hop." possibly one of the most oft-quoted lines in Hip Hop. or from the Rocksteady Crew who. he found himself thrilled by the "nascent electronic" and "its urgency and aggression. ever-changing fashions. Importantly. it's Where You're At. In his book. white. nation or specific ethnic group. as a universal form.. Rakim's line offers a reading of Hip Hop as a global form. middle-class. youths would unroll patches of linoleum and ghetto-blasters would pump out electronic dance music as kids practised complicated dance moves learned from second-generation video cassettes of Wild Style and Break. As a teenager in the 1980s in Britain. including Paul Gilroy's essay. These records sounded both alien and familiar to a generation of youths growing up with computer games and music.. Where You're At: Notesfrom the Frontline ora Hip Hop Planet (2003).Atlantic Studies United States and the Caribbean. global sound. "It Ain't Where You're From.39 As Neate begins his journey he initially finds this a difficult question to answer. In choosing to quote in the epigram to this essay from Eric B. I wished to gesture towards several readings of the lines. suburban.in'. given his sense of Hip Hop as the voice of black America. with its diffuse. . English adolescent [. in the early to mid-80s. particularly the Electrosounds series. & Rakim's 1987 song.. compelling hybrid style. can create "a bridge between cultures" and can be utilized as a . break dancing and graffiti.. but was multi-faceted.. but a curious. It embraced a sense of group identity that also allowed for individual expression and creativity. Scottish adolescent growing up on a predominantly white housing scheme. Neate felt that Hip Hop was a form that was youthful and new.41 This is a question that I have asked myself at various points: as a working-class..40 Like Rodney P.. "You Know You Got Soul. On patches of grass around the estate. the author Patrick Neate. where did I fit into Hip Hop? It's a difficult question to answer satisfactorily The music and its corresponding cultures. continually asks the question of where he fits into Hip Hop "as a white. 187 it was a dialogue that privileged no innovative and forward moving. that Hip Hop and Electrofunk was able to translate from being a musical form born in the black and Hispanic areas of New York to a crossover. This was not the sound of an essentialized black America. . Where I was at . while exploring the impact and importance of Hip Hop among different groups in locations ranging from Johannesburg to New York. one which cannot in fact refuses to be tied to a single locale. seemed to appear from nowhere as it colonized public spaces around Britain.
4. Qtd. African and Latino rhythms. For more on the Fisk University Singers. 405. Mitchell. Barrow and Dalton. 20(6). The site also contains a fairly in-depth historical account of British Hip Hop along with artists' biographies and discographies. For a more in-depth reading of the role of Reggae and Sound System culture in Britain see Wood. See http://www. Alongside European Electronic music such as Kraftwerk. 8." Follow the Leader. 13. 15. in Gates. with whom they produced the single "The Escapades of Futura 2000." The cross-influences of Hip Hop. Low-Life is a Hip Hop website mainly focussed upon the Low-Life record label. We Are Here To Stay': Popular Cultures and the Formation of Asian and black British Identities" at the University of Dundee in 2008 where he also taught undergraduates as part of the English programme. Wood form of protest in localized situations. untitled sleeve note in Various Artists. The Clash had met and collaborated with a number of Hip Hop artists. Hall qtd. "Young.low-life. 12. 13. "Public Enemy. Gilroy. Eric B. Marks. Huq. 20. "A reporter at large. "Design for Social Living" and Bradley. "You Know You Got Soul. and the DJ and filmmaker Don Letts. 19. 10. "'Come What May. A hlack British Canon? and The Routledge Companion to blue]: British Culture. Interview with Rodney P. Alienation and Resistance to be published later this year by Cambridge Scholars Press. see Stapleton. De Wilde and Myddleton. "African Connections. Notes 1. Global Noise. British Hip Hop embraced all these aspects while asserting a sense of identity that was neither American nor Caribbean but. 5. Ibid. film and music and published chapters in a number of collections and journals including Wasafari. 7. Hip Hop series ran to 27 releases between 1982 and 1986 when Streetsounds went bankrupt. 16. The Black Atlantic. London is the Place for Me 2. maintained a multi-directional flow of dialogue. in Westwood." 114. For the rising popularity of African and Caribbean performers in the UK after the First World War. particularly the graffiti writer. 3. 236. 18. Reggae and Sound System culture and Rock music are just some of the main identifiable strands present in Hip Hop. Reggae and Punk are an important factor both in the US and in the UK and are also deserving of an article. Mick Jones. uk/ukhiphopstory/early . Ibid. ideas and influence between Britain and the other sites of the black diaspora. Ibid. Rough Guide to Reggae.43 Throughout the 1980s and beyond.htm (accessed September 22. Gifted and Black. Big Audio Dynamite was the Rock-Hip Hop hybrid band put together by a former member of The Clash. 17. & Rakim. doors. He has written on a number of aspects of Asian and black British fiction." 9.188 A. Notes on contributor Andy Wood completed his PhD thesis. Bass Culture. 14. He currently writes music features and reviews for the online magazine Is This Music? and is currently in the process of co-editing a collection of essays." 171. Beyond Subculture. Interview with Rodney P. instead. Cut 'N' Mix. The Streetsounds Electro and. Futura 2000. De Wilde and Myddleton.fsneLco. latterly. 151. 11. . 6. 8. Bradley." 87-102. see Gilroy. Hebdige. Bass Culture. 2. 87-96.
" Various Artists. London: Viking. ed. 169-80." 28." The Guardian. Eric B. See Hebdige. Tho·1' Ain't Nu Black. Kickin' Ballistics. 2000. Dartnell. For an extensive discussion of the criminalisation of black youths in Britain see Gilroy. Whl'rl' }'(m'rl' At. 2001. Follmv The Leader. there must be a point of view. "Money Mad. 22." 117-58. Formed in the mid to late 1970s they appeared in a number of films and had a hit with "Hey You. 1993.1' nd More. For an in-depth reading of this critique of UK Hip Hop see Gilroy. and James McNally." Various Artists. 3. Gervase." Hip Hop Connection 226 (August 2(07): 61-86. Kwesi Owusu.1114088. Guide to Reggae. DeWilde. London Posse. 43. London Posse. 12 "1'. Helon.co. A number of these would go on to achieve critical and commercial success including Massive Attack. 23. For a detailed reading of Gangsta Rap see Kelley. Celluloid Yi:'ars. 31. London: Routledge. Hebdige. OOhtm (accessed July 12. "There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack": The Cultural Politics I~f Race and Nation. and Gabriel Myddleton. Qtd. 202. 35." Gangster Chronicles. 25. "Courttia Newland on Himself. Newland. London: Verso. Neate. 1986. Bradley. 146-8. London: Rough Guides. Neate. Paul. London: Routledge. London Posse. "Original London Style. "Kickiu' Reality. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Small Acts: Thoughts on the Politics uf Black Cult ures. California: Uni Records. & Rakim.. 39. a 2006. Gilroy. London Posse. TVhl'rl' }'(m'rl' At.guardian. Futura 2000 (with The Clash). "Sleevenotes. Gilroy. The Rock Steady Crew" in Britain in 1983. The Rock Steady Crew was a group of pre-dominantly Hispanic break dancers from New York. Lloyd. 37.. London: Soul Jazz Records. Popular Music and Identity. "How's Life In London. Rough. Tricky and Nellee Hooper. References Barrow. Directed by Henry Fontaine. 2008. An England Story: From Dancehall to Grime: 25 Yi:'ars I~f the M'C in the UK. New York: Celluloid/Subharmonic. Habila and Newland. 33. .. Tom. "Contemporary black British Urban Fiction. 36. 40. Ibid. "Live Like The Other Half Do. Gates Jr." Gangster Chronicles. "Escapades of Futura 2000.At/antic Studies 189 21. 2002. "A reporter at large: Black London. The single reached number 6 in October. Gilroy. and Peter Dalton. "50 Best UK Albums Ever. Steve. For a closer reading of the influence of London Posse and British Hip Hop on Newland's work see Wood.." 30. http://books. "Telling A Story. 24." Gangster Chronicles. London Posse. Manchester: Central TV. 38. 41. 27-8. Dick. Ibid. 1988.uklgeneralfiction/story/0. 204." Gangster Chronicles. "Slaves To The Rhythm. 42. in Hewitt. "Oversized Idiot. 84-145. London: Routledge. Ibid. Small Acts. Cut 'N' Mix: Culture. Bass Culture: When Reggae TVtls King." Gangster Chronicles.2(04). 2. A Text Reader. "Telling a story is not enough . Ibid. 27. Paul. Paul. 1993." 29. Artists such as Manchester's A Guy Called Gerald and Wolverhamptou's Goldie began as Hip Hop and Electro enthusiasts before becoming involved in the Acid House and Jungle scenes. Identity and Caribbean Music." In Black British Culture and Society." 27. Bombin'. 34. 26. Cut 'N' Mix. Ibid. and Courttia Newland. Henry Louis. 125 and Mitchell. London: Serpent's Tail. Habila. 1990. 2000. 32.6000.
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