Being themselves

I reviewed this album in 2013 when it came out, but I didn’t spend a huge amount of time with it then. I dug it out more recently when I was looking for some hip-hop to throw into my heavy rotation pile—this was the fourth album I tried on for size, the other three all rejected for casual misogyny or homophobia. All credit to Skrufz that they didn’t resort to that kind of language at a time when hip-hop at large still saw it as acceptable. It was only seven years ago, but a lot’s changed since then…

This wasn’t exactly music of its time, even then, but belongs to a strand in British rap that stays loyal to the 90s boom-bap sound. Re-reading the one-paragraph review I wrote at the time, it summarises the record pretty well:

No-nonsense, kinetic and very funny this long-standing Newcastle crew combine superb, irresistibly funky beats with side-splitting northeastern wit and dazzling verbal dexterity. The album as a whole is built around a tale of the shambolic relationship between Skrufz and the (hopefully fictional) eponymous publicist; a series of meetings are presented by way of skits or sketches, in which it becomes clear that Keith has some trouble with the arse/elbow distinction. Funny as this schtick is, there’s a lot more than comedy to this record, and there are even a couple of reflective moments. Tyneside produces an unfeasible amount of top quality independent hip-hop: Keith Champion Presents… is some of the best.

Spending a few weeks with this album on repeat has afforded the opportunity to hear a lot of detail I probably missed first time around. The bars are dense with wordplay and references, the choice of samples erudite—both in the beats, and in the movie and TV extracts that punctuate the album. My favourite, and the most unexpected, is Bertrand Russell’s moral advice to future generations, from an edition of the BBC’s interview show Face-to-Face, broadcast in 1959. You may recognise it: it begins ‘love is wise, hatred is foolish’.

Another thing I came to appreciate, despite the limited capacity of a single set of skits to entertain on heavily repeated listening, is the quality of the acting in them. It sounds like the members of Skrufz are just being themselves, but that’s no mean feat when the tape is rolling and you’ve a script to follow—and other characters are clearly fictive. There’s a naturalness that’s reminiscent of the bantering delivery in American crime movies, which are also referenced here. My extended return to this record was a question of happy serendipity, and I wouldn’t say it turned out to be a masterpiece, but it’s very well-made, and it kept me thoroughly entertained.

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