So Solid Crew, you might say, got a bad rap. Bursting out of Battersea, south London, in 2001 with a host of brilliantly raw snare-and-bass productions topped by a clamour of MCs, they got a reputation as “the Sex Pistols of UK garage”, topped the charts and graced the cover of NME twice. Before long, though, they fell foul of a number of issues that so often befall young black musicians. Live shows were marred with gun violence, and following a deeply unpleasant event in which one peripheral MC, Skat D, was convicted for assaulting a female fan, their label, Relentless, went bankrupt. The brighter stars – notably Romeo and Asher D – distinguished themselves by their extra-musical activities but the So Solid name became a bit of a lazy punchline. There’s, like, 20 of them! Some with funny names! So Solid Poo! Ho ho.
Nonetheless So Solid changed the landscape of UK urban music, and tonight is a reminder of why. It’s a wiser group at their first show in 10 years, but there’s little sign of cobwebs. A white-suited Romeo, being very much the don on ‘Oh No (Sentimental Things)’. A buff, tattooed Neutrino delivering peerless fuck-you ‘Up Middle Finger’. Lisa Maffia bringing it to the boys on the Beyoncé-like ghetto-R&B slammer ‘All Over’. And it’s not hard to see how the raceway proto-grime of ‘Ride Wid Us’, fronted by So Solid leader Megaman, paved the road for Dizzee, Wiley and Tinie’s later success. They remain a group full of contradictions. The portentous lurk of ‘Rap Dis’ – in which Neutrino fantasises about paying his enemies a visit in the night with a gun – sits oddly next to ‘Broken Silence’, an R&B number about bringing peace to the ghetto.
Perhaps So Solid lacked the sharp commercial acumen later displayed by Dizzee – too many songs dwell on guns, and feuds and haters, topics hardly ripe for long-term crossover success. But a ferocious ‘Envy’, featuring Ms Dynamite, single-handedly makes the current post-dubstep/future-garage thing sound awfully bland, and as the whole group reconvenes for their mighty break-out track ‘21 Seconds’, it’s clear So Solid’s group chemistry is still explosive.
They could have been the UK equivalent of Wu-Tang Clan. Instead, So Solid will have to make do with the status of trailblazers, the group that made grime possible. Unless, of course, this is the start of a whole