OPEN SEASON ON BIG BEAT, THEN. The genre that marked rock and dance’s most salacious clinch so far is hurtling towards its sell-by date with alarming haste.
And on paper, at least, the Freestylers hardly top the list of likely survivors. The London collective were hopelessly late arrivals at the whole shindig and lack the universally recognised stamp of approval that bolsters Skint and Wall Of Sound’s squads.
At a time when all big beaters are hastily disowning the tag – even the Boutique has dropped its prefix – the Freestylers seem only too happy to clasp its block-rocking, party-pleasing principles to their bosom. Just check the title of this, their debut album, for proof. Subtlety? Never heard of it…
But that doesn’t mean that a certain amount of wily manoeuvering isn’t at work here. ‘We Rock Hard’ gives sussed nods to almost every other trend currently doing the rounds, from old-skool hip-hop to electro. Dancehall has been mashed in somewhere, too.
Neither do the ‘Stylers shy away from rampantly pillaging heaps of great but already-caned-to-death records. Theirs is clearly not a quest for groundbreaking originality. But by plundering the classics (Kraftwerk, Public Enemy, James Brown) they brew a familiarity sure to put the most casual of listeners at total ease. In spite of this, there are times when it spills over into downright laziness. ‘Here We Go’ is so heavily based around the Ultramagnetic MCs’ ‘Give The Drummer Some’ (the infamous rap track from which the Prod nicked the phrase ‘Smack My Bitch Up’) it’s hard to see how they can justify calling it their own.
‘Freestyle Noize’, on the other hand, borrows half of Public Enemy’s back catalogue but welds it to Orb-like dub and jangling guitars with infinitely more vibrant results. Similarly, superlative if undecipherable guest MC Tenor Fly transforms ‘Dancehall Vibes’ into the kind of flared-nostril shenanigans Beenie Man would get up to if he enlisted the help of Bentley Rhythm Ace and 187 Lockdown. Its downright diversity, above everything else, is its strength.
But it’s still ‘B-Boy Stance’ that remains the ‘Stylers’ crowning glory. With its blazing air-raid sirens, lewdly cavorting basslines and Tenor Fly’s chestbeating ragga vocal, this is the anthem Jon Carter’s Monkey Mafia have been trying to make for the previous 18 months. They must have been pig sick.
Sure, the big-beat party’s finally over. But the Freestylers prove there are still rich pickings to be found somewhere in the resulting debris. Come share the booty.