It’s an unusual introduction to Speaking from Xperience, the fifth offering from one of U.K hip-hop’s founding fathers which asks many more questions than it answers. The over-arching question being ‘why?’: why choose now to re-enter the foray and battle with the new-school and have to compete with the likes of Kano and Sway, who the nation’s ‘yoof’ have so taken to?
Legends goes someway to illustrating Speaking From Xperience’s purpose: it proves Blak Twang’s longevity and contemporary relevance. Sharing a mic with Sway suggests that this album is about showing his own quality rather than battling with the artists Twang undoubtedly helped pave the way for.
Unfortunately the line that springs to mind on hearing Sway’s bars is Nas‘ from the Jay Z diss Ether: “Eminem murdered you on your own shit”, a reference to the track Renegades where Eminem (arguably) relegated Jay Z’s rapping skills to the shadows.
The album’s most critical element emerges slowly but clearly throughout and that is its orbit around the old-school core of British hip-hop. This isn’t urban, grime, two-step, or any other subdivision of the genre. Speaking From Xperience takes the listener back, without it sounding archaic. But it does at times sound cheap – the soulful So Hard is let down terribly by its overly tinny snares contrasting not at all well with the clarity afforded to the brass band that underpins the track.
The bedroom studio thing can have a quaint authenticity but only where there’s consistency. Instead, here it feels a bit like tinnitus – for an hour and a bit. Don’t let that take away the diversity that Speaking From Xperience offers – there’s more than occasional nods towards a Jamaican vibe, but Help Dem Lord and Rolling Stone evidence it’s British-Jamaican. The calypso rhythms bubble under the surface having been overwhelmed by the cold brashness of Blak Twang’s voice.
The album’s most accessible track couldn’t be more appropriate for the credit-crunched world as Champagne Lifestyle may remind you of one or two people who’ve been living the high-life on a �Coca-Cola budget’ . Even Nu N’uh (with Estelle doing an admirable Mary J Blige) impression is a challenging listen.
Part of that challenge is the fact there’s 24 tracks on Speaking From Xperience – an epic that requires dwelling on, which needn’t have been the case. There’s two decent albums worth of material here, but what we’re given is an exhausting journey that starts in a focussed manner but ends without direction. There could be no better metaphor for Blak Twang’s career (to date at least).