UZZEE ‘Evolution EP’ Released 8th September 2014
When the mainstream finally caught up with the phenomenon of the UKs homegrown Hip Hop in the late 80s and early 90s, the underground scene had more or less dissipated or progressed into other genres. Though a lineage has always existed, carrying on regardless but under the radar completely, UK rap suffered the same fate as its US counterpart, a victim of its own success, embraced by the established media but slowly disarmed over time.
Jumping the rails and fluidly morphing into garage, jungle, techno, R&B and grime, rap mostly diversified, breaking away from its origins and finding a uniquely British voice.
As with every generation, since the post war baby boomers, past events, especially music, are constantly revisited and recycled. Either in pure revisionist style or from nostalgia, we’ve recently seen a small revival in this country’s own golden age of Hip Hop, enthusiast extraordinaire Mark McDonald’s Splendid Magnificent: The Top 100 UK Rap Records 1987 – 1993 tome is about to be published, and the B-boy flygirl apparel of that period has filtered through to present street trends.
Which brings us to the MOBO and beyond recommended MC, UZZEE – who somehow softens the infamous cold machine gun’s moniker with some extra vowels and a Z -, a blossoming urban polymath, bridging both music and fashion: a second-year fashion design student at the London College of Fashion, who can be found bedecked in a mix of Afro futurist jazz cat and a metaphysical heavy stick carrying front man of a moon base Jungle Brothers.
His new psyche trope Evolution EP sounds like a lifetime of collected memories, both lyrically and musically from the last two decades. In fact, it could be regarded as an evolutionary chronicle of rap itself; going as far back as the initial Kraftwerk futurism of Bambaataa’s electro blasted Planet Rock and Afro space age jazz influence of the Pharaoh, Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra. UZZEE’s rise and momentary stumbles on the travail towards some kind of enlightenment are laid bare over a metallic neon fuse-lit backing track of gleaming, buffed chrome, modulating beats. The production, an amalgamated group effort by UK producer Jelacee (Stooki Sound), the Hawaiian based Mr.Carmack and Texan musician Erik Dingus (one half of Hip Hop duo, Drone), is crisp, bouncy and suitably forged with an electronic futurist sheen.
But it begins, at least, with a Edan style throwback collage of kitsch Hammond show tune pomp and esoteric, B-movie chamber psych; UZZEE delivering in a third person style announcement, the preamble to his life story: ‘Bare witness as he faces his most daunting task yet: welcome to the evolution!’
Later on the announcements and lead-ins, which break up the EP’s tracks into a trio of chapters, arrive courtesy of an unidentified honey-dipped female android, over a space station tannoy. After that set-up introduction the 60s vibe fizzles out as an early 90s cyclonic Detroit sponsored techno buzz takes over. Launching into a peppered and repetitive dance electro rap hybrid.
That UK rap lineage seeps into the next track, ‘UZZEE’s Lament’, recalling such long lost notable blasts from the golden era as The Krispy 3 and the more commercially successful Stereo MCs, whilst the hazy somnambulist induced ‘Insomnia’ wanders freely through the first Massive Attack albums. The final three-act finale, ‘The Statement Outro’, even fluctuates on the sweeping Zen like trance of 808 State, before pumping out A Tribe Called Quest ‘quasi-Rhythm (Devoted To The Art Of Moving Butts)’ era warped esoteric funk – though there is penchant for the UK, you can’t help but hear touches of that Native Tongues, Afrocentric and Nas vibe.
UZZEE’s burr is a purposeful Lost Poets style mix of narration and rhyming couplets – could do with far more of this -, a vocal that seems to fit a myriad of rhythms, from the lo-rider southern drawl warble of ‘The Return’ (back in grime country) or the string-led grandeur of the urban pop symphony ‘Maxine’, with an equally attuned flow.
That ‘evolution’ or rise from the concrete sink to the London College of Fashion and a mixtape collaboration with Long Clothing/BOY, is a diligent and spiritual trip of an album, handled with confidence: setting in motion the blossoming of a polygenesis artist, adapt at slickly moving between musical genres.
This seems as good as any a time to once again share our own list of choice UK Hip Hop tracks from the golden era…