Chattabox & Rick Fury – Masta Blasta (hip-hop)

Killamari, 2011, CD album, 38m 27s


I’ve had a lot of fun listening to this album. I’m still having a lot of fun, and I expect to be listening to it for a good while yet. There’s little of the overt social commentary found on Dialect releases (or other releases this duo can be heard on), although they can’t help being political, by virtue of their fierce independence and regionalism. There’s not much that’s more subversive than musicians from socially deprived backgrounds swaggering like gunslingers, and firing off bullets they made themselves from the cast-off materials they were left with.

Their targets are perhaps a little indistinct, but they lock onto them precisely with a devastating firepower that always has a strong sense of the everyday: ‘open fire at these cocks and wankers/ because they’re more annoying than an empty box of Lamberts’. This album is full of combative assaults on rival MCs, but they’re present because that’s the genre they want to work in, providing as they do so many opportunities for head-spinning wit and verbal agility: I don’t recall hearing the names of any of their musical enemies, and I harbour a suspicion that they’d probably be more likely to offer some friendly advice to up and coming rappers who haven’t quite got their shit together yet.

It’s that sense of the ordinary that makes their wit so dangerous: everything refers back to something real, holding up the banality of the daily grind as a talisman against the bullshit of wannabe hard men and gangstas. These two MCs, and their guests on Masta Blasta, don’t need to resort to any such pretensions when they have weapons as lethal as their mouths.

If there is a specific target in their sights it’s mediocrity: when Chattabox and Fury trade lines like ‘trash amateur rap/ this is masterclass man/ he’s a skinny twat/ and he’s a nasty fat lad’, they make their aim clear, and nail it down hard with their gleefully humorous self-deprecation. Every line on this album combines a well chosen phraseology with an irresistible flow, once again leaving me dazed: if these lads have skills like this, how come they’re not huge? But then if they were, they’d probably be shit by now.

Rick Fury was the first of the Dialect crew to make a real impression on me: he can write poetry so powerfully evocative of powerlessness, that for me it ranks beside Shameless, as the sharpest expression I’ve heard of the personal experience of being poor in modern Britain. He doesn’t tend toward that kind of poignancy on this release, but he exploits the frayed edges of mental health to sound dangerously unhinged at times, playing Joe Pesci to Chattabox’s Robert De Niro. Chattabox sounds more centred and more angry, laying it down hard, always letting you know what he means, where Fury might ‘have you wondering whether this is a rhyme or a threat’.

That line from the beginning of ‘Poetry’ comes from a verse revived from an old Dialect cut called ‘Stand Up Or Sit Down’ that still rates as one of my favourites, for all that they’ve released a lot of new stuff since then, and keep on honing their skills. They were superb back then; they’re even better now.

peta max and A.D.S. look after the beats here, and if I’m talking about them less than the MCs, that’s a reflection on the quality of the latter. I generally take a lot more interest in the sonic than the verbal components of music, but here I seem to have flipped. Which is of course a token of the DJs’ skill, in making a setting for the rap that enhances and foregrounds it so effectively. They are very important participants in the making of these tunes however, and particularly in the overall concept of the album, with all of its well chosen and cunningly deployed samples from Beyond Thunderdome (and other places). There are a lot of places where the rapid fire back-and-forth interplay between the MCs and the DJs is just jaw dropping, but even when they’re not doing anything ‘clever’ the beats are consistently creative, sonically adventurous and deeply funky.

I may be biased. I’m predisposed to like independent music, but then I genuinely think it’s usually better than most famous music, for reasons directly related to the circumstances of its production; I’m also a fervent localist, and anyone who makes an effort to showcase and exploit their own native dialect (as do all the MCs on Masta Blasta) scores points with me straight away. But all that notwithstanding, there is a level of wit, groove and sheer wordcraft here that just blows me away. If you want to know where the real quality hip-hop is happening today, it’s right here in the UK, flying below the radar like a stealth bomber. This album is not a one-off: it comes from a vibrant and active underground that all hip-hop fans should know about. You won’t hear better.

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