What's new in the land of royals and Radiohead? The editors of Britain's NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS whisk us their monthly report.

By EW Staff
Updated November 22, 2002 at 05:00 AM EST

Britain isn’t exactly an obvious haven for hip-hop. Over here, our idea of a gangster is an elderly gent called Mad Frankie Fraser, and the bored-looking topless ”crumpet” on our newspapers’ Page 3 is as close as we get to bootylicious. Just as well, then, that the hip-hop currently emanating from the U.K. is far from obvious. In fact, in taking weird new shapes, it’s the best it has ever been. After years of dour kids moaning, over a plodding beat, about life on a council estate, the form has been invigorated by a new generation that rejects such dreary purism. They are melding ragga, electro beats, and U.K. garage (known in the States as two-step) into something fascinating.

Strange things are happening at every commercial level. Innovative young acts like the Streets and Big Brovaz are having top 40 success. The older guard — like Roots Manuva, Blak Twang, and Ty — is getting critical acclaim after years of toiling thanklessly in the underground. Then there’s bouncement, a term popularized by Will Ashon, head of U.K. label Big Dada. It is a uniquely British combination of American Southern bounce and bashment (Jamaican dancehall), as well as techno, Afrobeat, roots reggae, electro, and soul. Cult bouncement acts like Fallacy & Fusion, Blacktitude, No Flesh for Old, and Gamma rap about everything from women to psychotic monkeys. ”The only things they don’t rap about are the four elements of hip-hop,” says Ashon, referring to graffiti, break dancing, rapping, and DJ’ing — the mind-numbing mantra of most traditionalists, ”or ‘my depressing life on the dole.”’

The new hybrids, says Alain Clapham of F&F (whose 2002 single ”The Ground Breaker” lived up to its name), are a product of a ”PlayStation generation” that grew up listening to Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Deep but danced in U.K. garage clubs. They’re not yet duking it out with Nelly, but their imaginative efforts are putting U.K. hip-hop on the map. (Note to U.S. rappers: That’s just to the left of Amsterdam.) — Alex Needham, NME Associate Editor




BLAK TWANG ”So Rotton” (Wall of Sound) Fresh and plaintive U.K. hip-hop from one of the genre’s prime movers, this disc boasts an abrasive, garage-tinged remix from Birmingham boy wonder the Streets.

LEWIS PARKER It’s All Happening Now (Melankolic) Intelligent, eloquent, and, in places, extremely funny, the second CD from Brit-hopper (ouch!) Parker ranges promiscuously from ballroom dance music to jazz.

LADYTRON ”Seventeen” (Emperor Norton) Not hip-hop at all, just cool European disco from the band that could turn out to be a 21st-century New Order. An unheard-of four tracks from Ladytron’s first album, 604, became NME singles of the week; this is the first cut from their second.