If there are two obstacles that white boys in hip-hop who haven’t had an especially hard life must surmount it’s that they are white boys in hip-hop who haven’t had an especially hard life. Consequently, if they are to make any credible impact in hip-hop they’d better be both witty and good. As luck would have it, Elemental and Tom Caruana are very witty and very good and I have no hesitation whatsoever in pronouncing Rebel Without Applause flames.
Stylistically, it gives a nod to De La, or perhaps more accurately The Pharcyde (rather than the P.E. you might be expecting from the title), in it’s ‘fonk’iness, sample-packed production and the way it’s dotted with skits that are actually funny – a quality of humour that, indeed, pervades the whole album. At the same time there’s a ‘knowing’-ness that brings this bang up to date and the humour is unmistakeably British. Cup Of Brown Joy is a hilarious illustration of exactly what I’m talking about. When I first heard it I thought Edan had teamed up with Noel Coward. Consider for a minute that only a UK hip hop crew would ever make a track about tea and then piss yourself as Elemental delivers lines like, “Using a teapot and mug of fine china/ Been hooked up to IV for constant supplies/ I know a drip for my urges might verge on perverted/ But for earthy brown tea, I’m certain it’s worth it.” A stand-out moment of psychedelic neo-Victorian rap genius. Fuck me – there’s a soundbite! But while this is perhaps the most overtly comedic track on the album, don’t even think about mistaking the pair as some sort of comedy-rap novelty act – the beats and cuts on offer are top-notch and the rhyming superb. The track that immediately precedes it, What’s/ Where’s The Action rests on a dusty funk break and makes use of an early Jurassic 5 soundbite, showing Caruana’s knack for dancefloor bump. Elsewhere, this dynamic duo get a heavyweight seal of approval in the form of the presence of Count Bass D on Pay Me A Visit. When I saw he was featured I was expecting some sort of ten second phoned-in couplet but, no, the man is very much in effect over large swathes of a beat that Doom would have been glad to have on his latest LP. Used To Say’s chilled vibe demonstrates Caruana’s ear for a fine sampled vocal hook which in this case sounds like it was plundered from sixties psychedelia. Elsewhere, Town Called Nowhere is an acknowledgment of the Elemental’s small town origins, referencing rural drug use, poverty and crime, Livin’ In The 90s gently takes the piss out of 90s hip-hop while downbeat gem 0800 Sickie provides textbook guidance for bunking off work.
Rebel Without Applause is a rarity in these latter days where the facility to download individual tracks is seeing off the dominance of the album as the punter no longer needs to tolerate filler or indeed anything that fails to cut the mustard properly. This is a hip hop album that you’ll still be listening to as an album long after other LPs have been reduced to a couple of tracks on an iTunes playlist. Procure yourself a copy without delay!
Out now on Tea Sea Records