The supposed novelty of GLC shows no sign of wearing off just yet
Confession time: about a year ago, bored one afternoon, a few of us in the office sat around and worked out what each member of the Goldie Lookin Chain would do next. Dwain, the production whizz; Eggsy, on T4; Maggot, the sitcom star; Mystikal, the master pornographer; Billy Webb, the community poet; 2Hats, the catalogue model; Mike Balls, the ‘grime artiste’; Adam Hussein, the international skunk baron… you get the idea.
We were all for them of course, but the thing is, ‘novelty’ acts aren’t supposed to last, and after about 15 months on the treadmill, they’d make their money and then fuck off. The wheels would fall off the whole thing. Right? Wrong actually. For starters, the GLC have succeeded where, say, The Strokes failed, in making a second album that’s significantly better than their first one. Better still, it’s actually great. Still as funny, but this time, a bona fide hip-hop record that stands up. We can’t believe it either.
And there was plenty of reason to be suspicious of GLC. Through no real fault of their own, they were lumped in with the ridiculous ‘chav’ phenomenon, thus tarring them immediately with the same brush as the fools who thought it would be funny to spend most of 2004 doing little else than take the piss out of working-class people. No matter that they’ve never even used the word chav. GLC celebrate the ‘clart’; in other parlances a ‘dude’, ‘geezer’, or even ‘homie’.
If the GLC are a skit on anything, it’s the curious phenomenon of middle-class white boys cluelessly aping the thug life despite living in Slough, fawning and slavering over the surface of hip-hop without ever experiencing any of the situations themselves. At first glance, they looked like a gang of comedy chancers. It meant them getting bottled at the ‘proper’ hip-hop heavy London United festival that followed the bombings. But this was never Morris Minor And The Majors: the truth is the eight full-time members of GLC, plus the 30-some footsoldiers back in Newport, are as serious about hip-hop as anyone else. Probably more so, because in their own strange way, they’re one of the more authentic British crews around right now. It’s like this: 50 Cent spent his childhood in slums, his teenage years dealing crack, has nine bulletholes to show for it and now rides round in a roller with ‘bitches’ hanging off his every grunt. The GLC, on the other hand, spent their childhood at roller-discos, their teenage years smoking weed, have a loss of short-term memory to show for it and now run round after a string of increasingly psychotic girlfriends. Don’t know about you, but I know which one says more to me about my life.
And that’s as clever as you need to get when with the Goldie Lookin Chain. There’s no smoke, mirrors, art stunts or wider cultural statements going on. It’s not a load of smart kids playing stupid because they don’t actually play stupid. It’s just a gang of mates making the music they love, telling the stories of their own lives as truthfully as NWA ever did. It’s just that, because those lives aren’t dangerous, they know they have to be funny.
Mind you, Dr Dre obviously doesn’t feel that way, because he refused to clear the sample of ‘The Next Episode’, which means you won’t get to hear the proper album opener ‘Newport In The House’, and thus are denied the genius couplet, “We’re the Goldie Lookin Chain, safe like Windsor Davies in Never The Twain”. It’ll be on the net before long.
Instead, we begin with ‘Your Missus Is A Nutter’, easily their finest (if not quite funniest) single to date. Rolling about from side to side on the elastic riff from Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘Cannabis’, it deals with the twin evils of binge drinking and demented girlfriends: “Fighting with bouncers and flashing her bits/After two flaming sambucas she don’t care who she hits…” Next up, ‘Bad Boy Limp’, an instruction in the first step to the thug life, Chain-style. Injure yourself at work, get a packet from the telephone insurance: “You get over a grand if you cut off your balls… ring now: no win, no fee/ It’s gotta be true ’cos it’s on the TV”. ‘Charmschool’ sees Adam Hussein dispensing pulling tips over the theme from Grange Hill. ‘R&B’’s satire is in its music, riffing on the Rodney Jerkins acoustic guitar as our heroes try and learn about the genre because the girl who works in the shoe shop prefers it to hip-hop. ‘Maggot At Midnight’ gives the spotlight to their tallest, most naturally comic member, while ‘Another Shit Song’ – a disarmingly accurate skit of most modern radio pop – is a better Eminem tune than most of ‘Encore’.
So far, so funny, but ‘Safe As Fuck’ is ultimately more effective than its predecessor by not being played so much for laughs. Only ‘Monkey Love’, Eggsy’s genius vocodered-up slow-jam seduction of a monkey, is from the same school as ‘…Penis’ or ‘Half Man Half Machine’. If there’s a dark side, it’s the glut of tunes that deal with the dark side of the doob. ‘HRT’ relates a cautionary tale of smoking too many spliffs and growing tits, while ‘Short Term Memory’ bounces on a trumpet riff and slide guitar chorus that skits on DJ Jazzy Jeff that bemoans having “the memory of ejaculated sperm”. But it’s ‘Paranoia’ that really impresses; a genuinely menacing tale of trying to psyche out the bizzies walking a few metres behind when you’ve got a pocketful of pills. It’s paid off with a sample from ‘Walking In The Air’. It ends with a boyband piano ballad, though thankfully, one whose chorus goes, “If you leave me now… can I fuck your sister?”
So ‘Safe As Fuck’ is as funny as ever. What might be harder to swallow is that in its subject matter, and in the genius choice of samples, it’s also something close to a hip-hop record that accurately reflects regional Britain in 2005. Binge drinking, claims culture, bestiality… it’s all there.
Props to Dwain P Xain for pulling it off (and managing to clear most of the samples), for while the GLC were before a fun festival turn and a band you didn’t switch over MTV for, they’ve now actually made an album you can listen to at home. That you will listen to at home. If your indie sensibilities are allergic to fun, you might still find it hateful and puerile. But one accusation you won’t be able to level at them is being shite. So apologies, the GLC. In true Wu-Tang style, the sitcoms and action figures are probably already in the pipeline (after all, they’ve already outlasted So Solid in the bid to be a British Wu-Tang). But what nobody really thought was that they might have a serious future as a proper hip-hop collective. ‘Safe As Fuck’ proves otherwise.