Various Artists
Channel U Presents: Underground

Long Lost Brother

on't know a thing about hip-hop, you virgin
Except what you see on MTV Base
And that gets shitter by the day”

Those wise lyrics were dropped by Pitman at the arse-end of last year, and, as usual, the big man hit the nail on the head. MTV Base’s attempts at representing urban music in the UK seem to extend no further than a reliance on Mis-Teeq to up the T&A; counts on the videos, and as such, people started looking for change. The hegemony was finally challenged recently by Channel U, an upstart video station operating out of Soho, with an ethos taken directly from the world of pirate radio (see also: 1Xtra; indeed, the Venn Diagram of artists the two cover is nearly a single circle). With bullet-ridden whitey Tim Westwood on board as a spokesman, it’s obvious that they weren’t playing around.

The big thing for Channel U is that, alongside the standard fare of urban video stations like Jay-Z, G Unit, and Outkast, there’s also homegrown flavours. And this is where this celebration of the current British black music styles (the hippity-hop and the grimmity-grime) comes in.

So, there’s two CDs: one mixed, one non-mixed, and consisting of exactly the same songs, just in a different order, and given T-Money’s unique approach to mixing, which mainly consists of looping the first five seconds of the song until you’re sick of it, and then going into the track proper. This is the same effect used on “In Da Club” for the football scores on Grandstand.

As for the tracks themselves… the usual suspects are turned out from both camps, so Dizzee Rascal’s bouncy castled voiced shoutathon “I Luv U”, which nowadays seems like a rough sketch of Frankee and Eamon’s post-relationship diss-merchantry, lines up alongside Roots Manuva’s seminal “Witness (One Hope)”, and Blak Twang’s dancehall revival gun-jumping “So Rotton”. And herein lies your first problem with the album: if you have any interest in British urban music you’ll already own these tracks, and, if you don’t, you’ll have no interest in this album or Channel U in the first place. It’s like when “Shook Ones” keeps turning up on cheap hip-hop compilations, just unnecessary.

Also on display is Klashnekoffs “Murda”, HHC readers’ poll single of the year, and one of the most overrated hip-hop singles of recent times. Klashnekoff, whilst undoubtedly the possessor of some talent, has a weedy voice, standard issue flow, and basically sounds like a slightly angrier version of TaskForce, which isn’t a good thing. On the other hand, Ty, a rapper who repeatedly ruins his albums by insisting that he uses his own Oxfam beats, finally gets improved here by being sped up and having a glitchy, skittish beat shoved underneath him.

Akala’s “Banger For The Streets”, whilst suffering from the usual grime issues of unappealing vocals, at least brings back memories of 1997 style orchestral doomsday hip-hop beats, whilst Jehst turns up to confirm that he belongs to that pile of rappers who will never live up to the standard they set on “Countryman”. Elsewhere Karl Hinds delivers nice, hooky oik-hop, Asha D (remember him?) proves that there may be things to do post-So Solid other than sign on with “The Message”, Phi Life Cypher reveal that it’s impossible to mix them into grime tracks, Iceberg Slimm represents England by rapping in an American accent and The Endz still has a very very annoying voice.

The problem is that it’s hard to see what Channel U were trying to prove with this album. A lot of these tracks aren’t even new (“Witness (One Hope)” is over three years old at this point), so it isn’t as if these album properly represents what’s on the station, and some of the newer stuff here pales when played alongside Tony Rotton et al. However, what is good here is great, and at least it isn’t MTV: Base and Fifty Thent. Which can only be a positive. Long may they broadcast.

Reviewed by: Dom Passantino

Reviewed on: 2004-06-07

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