Rap’s a genre obsessed by location, location, location. Few can forget the infamous East Coast/West Coast ‘beefs’ of the 90s that pitted Californian gangstas against their Big Apple brethren. The biggest noise in mainstream hip-hop the last couple of years has been ‘crunk’ – a lewd and loud rap hybrid from
But tales of street-life in Stepney can’t hope to compete with the grimy glamour of Brooklyn or South Central, and the British accent remains too alien for American rap-fans to embrace (even though seminal 80s rap legend Slick Rick was born in South Wimbledon). Since British rap-fans mostly follow the American trends, even success at home can elude the most deserving Brit-rapper.
TY is aware of all of this. The Vauxhall-based rap perennial hosted the Lyrical Lounge club-night at this venue in the 90s, where young rap talent performed with live musicians to electrifying effect. His third album, ‘Closer’ (on the unimpeachable Big Dada label), matches droll wit, fiery verbals and an inventive, futuristic funk sound that should be swamping the radiowaves. If it vexes him that he’s unlikely to achieve the limos’n’Cristal lifestyle, he’s keeping it to himself, saving the space in his lyric book to mull over grander themes like love, frustration, and the numb horror of the Damilola Taylor murder.
Like his erstwhile labelmate Roots Manuva, TY’s music rejigs the hip-hop template to reflect local sounds like reggae and British R’n’B. Similarly, he doesn’t fake an American accent (like some of Brit-rap’s sorrier forebears). He speaks in his own voice – loudly, clearly, wisely. And that, more than the glitz, the guns, the glamour, is what hip-hop is truly about.(c) 2007 Stevie Chick