Filed under: Album Reviews
Founded in 1991, Ninja Tune has long been the record label of choice for the UK head interested in straight up rap music as well as more abstract beats. I have little concept of how much of the label’s catalogue has been exported, but if you’re feelin’ hip hop then trawling through their discography is well worth the effort.
Some of their releases are a little too leftfield for me, delving into the realms of electronica and downtempo beats that have grown away from the label’s foundation in hip hop. However, The Herbaliser are a UK crew that have managed to stay firmly rooted in the culture whilst adding interest that takes them beyond some of the more superficial rude boy UK hip hop that I have discussed before (see my post on Lewis Parker). ‘Very Mercenary’, the group’s third studio album saw the outfit find their feet, combining elements of hip hop and more left of centre influences that also features some tasty guest spots in the form of What What (now Jean Grae), Blade, Roots Manuva, Bahamadia and The Dream Warriors.
Core members Jake Wherry and DJ Ollie Teeba clearly pay their respects to the foundation of the culture with this release, particularly with tracks like ‘Wall Crawling Giant Insect Breaks’ which mashes together various breakbeats and features a vocal sample from ‘Style Wars’. Elsewhere the album focuses on straight up hip hop that has a spacious and atmospheric vibe. Both of the cuts featuring What What are excellent, the relatively slow tempo and warm basslines complementing her flow well. Ollie Teeba also demonstrates his ability on the ones and twos in the outro sections to both of these cuts with some tight scratching that completes the tunes with genuine style. I also highly recommend ‘Starlight’ which features one of my favourite UK MCs Roots Manuva. Manuva’s voice is relatively unique and the content of his rhymes is well thought out and exceptionally well delivered.
The album also has a choice selection of instrumental tracks which are complex enough to stand alone without the need for rapping over the top. ‘Goldrush’ has a drum track that drives the song forward with real momentum, and the string and guitar loops work well together to create an eerie yet relatively upbeat vibe. ‘Shattered Soul’ is along a similar line, but is more laid back than the aforementioned track featuring some more of those atmospheric strings as well as a dope horn track that was arranged by a live orchestra. There are in fact several tracks that utilise live instrumentation, the effect being a sense of warmth and depth to the album that is sometimes missing in more contemporary hip hop.
To wrap up: ‘Very Mercenary’ will not necessarily blow your mind, but it is a complete album that rarely warrants you reaching for the skip button. If you’re in the mood for something rowdy then look elsewhere, but in my opinion this is a fine example of how soulful and intelligent UK hip hop can be.