British hip-hop is having an exceptionally strong year. With Thunderheist’s Jerk it featured in award-winning film The Wrestler and female emcee Speech Debelle up for the Mercury Prize, the latter’s Big Dada labelmate and New Flesh and Gamma front man Juice Aleem pushes things forward further with the unveiling of Jerusalaam Come.
But the very mention of UK rap is enough to tighten purses, set spines shivering and teeth chattering amongst the global hip-hop community. Why? Because Brithop as it stands now has developed from grime and, as such, has a delivery unlike that of traditional rap. Artists from this pool include Sway, Lady Sovereign and Kano, and though Juice Aleem’s been around for longer than any of them, it seems that the only UK rapper from the ‘old-school’ still swimming mainstream is Big Dada’s own Roots Manuva.
With that in mind, we venture on directly to the First Lesson of Jerusalaam Come which features an ascending, grinding bassline and distinct dub reverb on snare hits. “Somebody better be running and telling the brothers that they can’t flow” comes the hook. It’s an energetic beginning but one that belies the rest of the album’s contents, as becomes clear the moment N.W.A.-inspired Straight Outta B.C. kicks in. As the rolling sub-bass rubs up against the electro claps and kickdrums, Juice, Moorish Delta’s Cipher Jewels and Gamma’s Blackitude rep the glamorous ends of Birmingham City with a healthy slice of gangster attitude.
Though it would be simple to bypass the slower, ‘soulful’ tracks such as The Fallen, which simply serves as a vehicle for Juice to preach, and the sexless, salacious U4MI (surely there’s something in the Qur’an about describing your sexual appetite and methods on record?), they are jarring indicators of Juice’s shortcomings as an emcee. It’s just as well that Who Is He slips betwixt the two as the double-time verses give Juice ample opportunity to flex his verbosity.
Unfortunately he tries to flex mental on the heavily flawed KunteKinteTarrDiss, which seems driven by some whacked-out philosophy and insight earned off the back of a discarded matchbox and certainly not from watching ’60s TV show Roots: “Now the whitest of the whites trying to act all black, they got African cats all Yardie in the chat / I’m too weighty, bring your blue-eyed Jesus / make me take off the safety (gunshots) / blue eyes didn’t exist in 10,000 BC / Negroes and white Sambos / Asian kids acting like they don’t have a culture of their own / I don’t buy champagne cos it’s only fizzy wine.”
Quite what it is to ‘act black’ is unclear. Is it something Daily Mail readers say? For an appropriator of what is primarily an American art-form to claim that there are other people who don’t have their own ‘culture’ to draw from… Well, it’s just self-deception, isn’t it? What would Asian Riz MC would have to say about it?
Ignoring historical accuracies, Juice takes to the skies on club-friendly Higher Higher before he comes a cropper on the Wu-Tang inspired The Killer’s Tears, where he fails dramatically to deliver visual poetry. Both Church Of Rock and particularly Blues Block Party are musically daring, but they merely punctuate a mixed up album of awkward, British sentiment and misplaced, anti-colonial passion.