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Saturday, 15 January 2011

Griff says; The Odd Angry Shot

Prepare to be amazed. Not just by the excellent music that I'm about to unleash on you but by the fact that I'm about to write about a hip hop band. Yep, a 'Griff says' piece about hip hop and not a mandolin or ukulele in sight; whatever next? Still, it is a Scottish hip hop band so it's not quite going to be NWA, thankfully. But before I begin I'd like to just establish my (ahem) hip hop credentials. 'What credentials?', I hear you snigger as you mentally run through the Griff back catalogue of 'the whitest music imaginable'. Well, although I concede that my musical tastes now seems largely to consist of twee-pop and indie-folk it wasn't always thus. You see, Gordon and I were young and happening during the 'Golden Age of Hip Hop' in the late 80s and naturally we did take an interest in, what was undoubtedly, the most creative and influential music form during this period. Like most music fans at the time we were at first intrigued and then excited by the angry and cerebral street-music of Public Enemy with its overt political, social and cultural themes. At the other end of the scale I, in particular, loved the psychedelic, jazz influenced music of De La Soul, which was gentler but no less intelligent. Hip hop at that time was so innovative and and creative that it looked like it was going to sweep away all before it. So what happened? The crass violence, homophobia and misogyny of Gangsta rap happened and any wit, quirkiness or earnestness was suffocated under a tide of exaggerated, comic-book, thuggery and sexual boasting. Goodbye art, Hello commerce. The intelligent and discerning music fans were, thus, largely lost to the genre and have never returned.

So, why am I telling you this? Well, lately I've become aware of a Scotish hip hop band 'Stanley Odd' (pictured) whose music reminds me of all that I liked about hip hop around about 1989. The rhymes display the sort of wry humour and clever wit that I would associate with a band like The Just Joans. That's not surprising, I suppose, when you consider that lyric-writer and rapper, Solar Eye, hails from the same gritty Lanarkshire heartland where, I suppose, a certain cheeky gallusness is de rigeur. The band also diplay a refreshing sense of being 'outsiders', which is well summed up in this short 'manifesto' from their Youtube channel:

"Music for people that get tongue-tied talking to girls; clumsy people that dance awkwardly in their bedrooms; people that are generally uncomfortable in social situations; those for whom fashion-sense is an oxymoron; avid readers of science fiction and comic books; girls who drink tonic wine; anyone who prefers literary figures to viewing figures; disciples and architects of counter-culture. Stay Odd. "

Ah, yes; they're definitely talking to me. This droll, dissident attitude can be found too in their lyrics. Here's a sample from the brilliant 'Ten to One', track 1 of their debut album, Oddio, released last year in the UK on Circular Records:

"I make rap hits for fat kids
And awkward cats with bad skin
And no sense of fashion.
I rap for asthmatics
with hand me down gym-kits
and NHS glasses"

Oddio really is very good; fresh, playful and stimulating by turns; and I suggest that you purchase a copy of it to see what I mean. If you need further convincing, you can download an MP3 of the song mentioned above, Ten to One, 'here' courtesy of The Streetlamp. I'm making this available for promotional purposes as the Stanley Odd free downloads on bandcamp, which I intended directing you to, seem to have reached their limit. I hope you'll like it enough to support the band by purchasing the music or going to see them live. They gig regularly in Scotland and are playing within the next week at both King Tuts in Glasgow and Duke's Corner in Dundee. See 'here' for more details.
The other appealing aspect of Solar Eye's lyrics, which is continually bubbling under the surface, but which I'd love to see made more explicit, is a vein of social, and dare-I-say it political, commentary. I mentioned in a previous Streetlamp blog 'here' that perhaps the music which was really documenting the social and political unrest in the country at the moment was happening away from my gaze in the world of hip hop and other urban music forms. I'm beginning to think that I may have been correct in that assumption. To see what I mean check out this cracking video, a parody of a news report, made for their song 'The Oddyssey', a track from the band's forthcoming EP 'Pure Antihero Material', out February 2011. Check out the band website for more info.

Stanley Odd have strayed into this sort of territory previously. Here's a sample of the lyrics from 'Get Out of Bed', track two from Oddio:

"Anyway, until my shelf-life expires,
I'm gonna do my best to help light some fires.

All those corporations think that they can buy us,

Seems to me this country's being run by low-lifes and liars.

Change gonna come let me tell you this,

I'm gonna raise my fist and stay rebellious,

I need to get up, get out and do something,"

I may be barking up the wrong tree here but I get a sense that it's precisely music like this; contemporary, street-smart, invigorating and a little bit unconventional that could provide the perfect soundtrack to 2011. And if the worst happens, well, we won't have a revolution but we will get to dance. Brothers and Sisters, prepare to mobilise!


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