Oxide & Neutrino know how to balance grit with glamour...
Two and a half years ago, Oxide & Neutrino were releasing ‘Bound 4 Da Reload (Casualty) ’, feuding with the Dreem Teem and generally getting up the UK garage establishment’s nose. Last week, they were photographed with their arms around Fergie, the former Duchess Of York, at a party in the Tower Of London for snooty jewellers Garrard. Garrard obviously invited them to provide a bit of bling bling (after all, even Missy Elliott advertises diamonds now) but what did it mean for Oxide & Neutrino? An Oliver Twist-style triumph of the street urchin, or a sure sign they’ve lost touch?
It’s a high-wire act that American hip-hop artists have struggled with for years – trying to keep it real while ostentatiously enjoying their wealth as all the while the hatas circle, waiting for a fall. Oxide & Neutrinoare the first urban British artists for years to be successful enough even to get in that position. Their debut album, ‘Execute’, sold over 250,000 copies, which while it doesn’t exactly put them in the Dr Dre league, is probably more than the combined sales of every UK hip-hop record to date.
They’re a genuine, self-made success story – which ‘2 Stepz Ahead’ seems bound to continue. Aware that in 2002 the word ‘garage’ once again evokes rock bands rather than raves, O&N’s record company have taken pains to state that this is an ‘urban’ record rather than a UK garage one. In fact Oxide, the producer, uses garage as a stepping stone to other sonic areas – lush drama in ‘AC & Ox’, Kraftwerky riffs in ‘Dem Girlz (I Don’t Know Why)’ and elephantine hip-hop in ‘Amsterdam’. The whole album whiffs deeply of weed, but the hair-trigger paranoia of the long-term toker rather than the placid self-indulgence spliff tends to wreak on rock music.
And perhaps encouraged by the success of [a][/a], Neutrino’s raps are funnier and more personal than before, if a whole lot less compassionate than Mike Skinner’s. ‘Zig & Zag’ is a grim revenge fantasy, ‘Hard To Get’ a battle-of-the-sexes face-off and ‘Dem Girlz’ a tale of kiss-and-tell woe straight out of the ‘Daily Star Sunday’. And this being a So Solid-affiliated production, there’s a whole lot of stuff about hatas – fortunately the frantic pop of ‘They Think It’s Easy’ offsets the dourness of the lyrics. Destined to be big chez Fergie and their new celebrity fan Brett Anderson alike, ‘2 Stepz Ahead’ shows that Oxide & Neutrinoknow how to balance grit with glamour.