Skitz : Countryman

What's most impressive is the producer's casual mastery of styles...

Though not quite yet a reason to throw away your passport and hoist the Union Jack, the recent surge in British hip-hop's profile and status does mean that many new and

not-so-new homegrown MCs should finally get the exposure

they deserve. But for an immediate introduction to these future stars - and for fresh verses from Roots Manuva, Rodney P and Reprazent keystone Dynamite - best turn

to 'Countryman', the debut album by benevolent Westcountry-bred beatsmith Skitz.

A respected figure on the UK scene since the mid-'90s (and prescient: he worked with an unknown Manuva back in '96), Skitz has used his well-thumbed contacts book to fashion a kind of British equivalent to New York's all-star 'Lyricist Lounge' outings, though the wordplay is typically more high-rise than high life.

While there's no denying his mercurial crate-digging talent, Skitz' lightness of touch, his mild flava, tends to be overshadowed by his guests' welfare-state-of-mind rhetoric. To brilliant effect, admittedly, on tracks such as 'Domestic Science', wherein feisty rapmistresses Wildflower, Tempa and Estelle discuss single-motherhood and shifts at Asda,

and 'The Killin'', enlivened by Supernatchlus' throaty toasting.

But over an hour of well-meaning social service can become overbearing.

What's most impressive is the producer's casual mastery of styles: from the sweet summer soul of Roots Manuva's 'Inner City Folk' to the digital reggae of 'Double Reds', Dynamite's tale of dog-eat-dog urban nihilism, 'Countryman' reveals Skitz to be far more than Brit-hop's unsung ambassador.

Piers Martin
7 / 10

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