Run The Road Volume 2
he first Run the Road compilation was an event. It was the first easily accessible documentation of a range of grime artists (the Rephlex Grime compilations are MC-free dub step.) Before it was released there was much anticipatory chat about it on internet message boards and it was widely reviewed. I went and bought it on the day of release during my work lunch hour. I was excited. The second Run the Road compilation is not an event. Message boards have been quiet, reviews unforthcoming. Even the most dedicated scene boosters, like the mans at the Dissensus forum are sounding weary and having to force a smile. Although I knew that it was coming, I hadn't bothered to check out release dates and so was surprised when I saw it the shops (displayed nowhere near as prominently as the first volume.) In short, grime, or the idea that grime can cross over and have mass cultural impact—be POP!—is dead.
What happened? Was it that the scene didn’t have a long enough gestation period before it was exposed to the harsh exposure of broadsheet splashes about a new sound from London's towerblocks? This was a music that was on the front cover of The Independent before it was possible for most people to hear it, unless they went to the trouble to buy mixtapes and eight quid a pop twelves from independance-records.co.uk. Until the first Run the Road there weren’t any grime compilations readily available in shops on a national level, and, shamefully, there haven’t been any more until Run the Road Volume 2. Grime entrepreneurialism has kept strictly yardish and short-term, based on white labels and appearances at raves; compare the paucity of grime compilations with the amount that jungle or UK garage had generated in a similar time frame. Barring Dizzee and, to some extent, Roll Deep grime albums and their associated singles have stiffed both commercially and artistically. The proto-grime of More Fire Crew charted higher than any of the real deal has managed (they got to number 8 with “Oi” in March 2002) and it must have stung that at the end of 2004 3 of a Kind scored a number one single with an underproduced but gorgeous slice of summery retro 2-step called “Babycakes.”
So what can we hear now, the morning after the rush has worn off, now that we’ve feeling ratty and irritable? In his review of the first Run the Road in the Observer Music Magazine Simon Reynolds wrote, “grime is our hip hop, the final coming of a Brit rap that's not merely a pale reflection of the original”; the tracks on volume 2 sound even more like hip hop than the first and more in thrall to modern American rap production both in the synth sounds used and, especially, the beats. The plain wrongness, the awesome, baffling counter-intuitiveness of beat placement and drum sounds that characterised earlier grime is gone. The wilfully perverse, wonky but bravura, challenge to the MCs—dare you even take on these beats?—has been exchanged for an easier to ride swung take on rap and dancehall drum patterns which leads to a straightening out of the MCs flow. The spindliness and revelling in cheap and artificial sorta-string sounds is also gone as the music has become denser, more muscular and consciously anthemic, mirroring the increased gun talk (and it’s equally dull conscious flipside.) Tracks like Kano and Low Deep’s “Get Set” try too hard to be rousing, with guest MCs straining to sound tough over treacle toffee synth trails at the expense of their personalities.
However, it’s not all bad. Even if grime lost its nerve, even if it saw what it could be and flinched, there’s great some great music here, often from the lesser known players. On “Saw it Comin’” Mizz Beats produces a fog of backwards, glitchy synth through which loping beats flare like car headlights. The space left in the track means that we can hear the grain in Wiley and Jammer’s voices, for once no one has to SHOUT. “They Gave Him an Inch” by Trimbal (the polite name for Taliban Trim) with its ape/man metaphors is queasily touching like not much else and it also boasts a killer chorus that has producer Mike Skinner’s fingerprints all over it. Female MCs No Lay and Lady Sovereign impress as they did on the first volume and Bear Man gets in some goofy and energetic shout outs to beer that are like Lil Jon after four cans of Special Brew.
Oh, and in keeping with the increased emphasis on MCs over producers there are a couple of UK hip hop tracks on here, one of which is by the highly touted Sway. You can comfortably ignore them.
Reviewed by: Patrick McNally
Reviewed on: 2005-09-23