4. ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME 1990 - 1994

 

    The years before I hit 30 were easy to document, those years of glorious youth we all remember, one long trip played out at a million miles an hour with drug fucked dreamers and right on fist punching communists. But as soon as I returned to normality everything changed. Work-Home-Kids-TV-Sleep took some getting used to, my boundaries constricting to become insular and routine much like everyone else’s. I remember the early 90’s as a time of change and upheaval, for me, for music culture and the country as a whole. While I knew my youthful marriage was a cul de sac I had to get out of, the countries union with the tyranny of Thatcherism was granted an unexpected decree absolute in November 1990, the sight of the Ice Maiden’s tears as she left Downing Street glorious to behold.

   Music culture was undergoing a similar period of transition as previously recognisable forms began to splinter into sharply defined sub genres. Rave, a matrix of lifestyle and ritualised behaviour forged from Acid House, had already begun a retreat from the dancefloor, the sound of darkness shadowing its swoony delirium, while Hip hop, with the rise of gangsta rap, was becoming a nasty, sexist, homophobic, gun toting, malign force celebrating rebellion without responsibility and sensation as truth. And yet, no matter where they were heading, both Rave and Hip Hop were at least evolving, and at an incredible rate.

   The same can’t be said of Indie Rock. Like a knackered old limo in reverse, it had become synonymous with a mass retreat to any number of styles from rock history, the musical equivalent of reproduction antiques. Worryingly, it was also not just permissible but mandatory for groups to grow their hair long, use a wah wah pedal, play solos and indulge in all kinds of crap seventies excess. Rock returned with a vengeance, albeit with a ruinous twist, and even though Kurt Cobain would mastermind one glorious last hurrah, most of it sounded quite ridiculous.

   Disconnected from the Indie experience I ignored the abundance of desperate, media generated styles. Only shoegazing held my attention and that was because it came from the anodyne, provincial hinterland of my hometown and the Thames Valley. My only direct contact with it came when I was dragged along to a Chapterhouse show by ex Criminal Damage photographer Pete Rowe whose brother was a member. Maybe it was because I had barely ventured out for almost two years but I thought they were rather good despite their supposed acid experience clearly coming from large record collections rather than genuine drug excess. They were just too nice and sensible to be drug fiends like Shaun Ryder and his scallies. It was equally obvious that Chapterhouse and their college chums were in the minority. Most everyone else was getting completely off their face, a lost generation if ever I saw one, sucked into a hedonistic void and cast adrift deep in their own bewilderness, the overriding sadness being that they could all see far enough ahead to know that the future held no place for their hopes and dreams.

    Lost in my own bewilderness, I knew how they felt and yet ironically, just as getting wasted became de rigueur, I turned away from all the druggy shenanigans and settled down to a quieter pop life of full on fatherhood and self imposed responsibility. With most of my time spent in the company of my seven and four year old, it was no surprise that I found myself adrift from youth culture, a mere observer on the wrong side of 30. Consequently, as the nation’s youth raved on, I was in a different place altogether, working a job with the naïve notion that the nobility of everyday life and the dignity of labour would somehow get me through.

   Thankfully I had moved on from the cliquey, bigoted grip of her majesties postal service to drive a council lorry. And yet while it was more money and no exhausting night shifts, I found nothing noble in digging out miles of weeds only to return a couple of weeks later to repeat the pointless exercise. And there was absolutely nothing dignified in picking up dog turd's from the pavement or collecting road kill cats on a shovel, their guts and brains splattered all over the tarmac. I admit I did occasionally revel in the sweat and the stink of it all, amused at the horrified reaction in pubs when we walked in reeking of fish guts after a night on the bins, but in the main I was just happy to get through another day. And predictably, despite the bonds of brotherhood forged as we battled the petty bureaucracy, incompetence and bullshit, once the novelty wore off I realised with an awful sense of clarity that I had relinquished my dreams to buckle down to a life of terminal mediocrity. 

   As it had so many times before music came to my rescue, an escape route from the humdrum days. I started listening to Peel again, still a beacon of diversity. I stopped buying the music press and as a consequence became the arbiter of my own good taste, free of influence from outside forces and much more personal; The Orb nestling next to Nirvana, the Jesus And Mary Chain next to the Wu-Tang Clan. It was still prophecy as it always had been but it was no longer dictated by notions of cool, lazy nostalgia or cynical marketing.

   Then, quite by chance, I reawakened a teenage passion for motorcycle sport and football. I bought a motocross bike and started racing, the adrenaline rush far more intense than any chemically induced high I’d ever known. I hooked up with my brother to travel all over the South most Sundays before taking the kids to speedway in the week. As my sons got older, football made a comeback too following years when the televised FA Cup Final and World Cup were about as far as my enthusiasm stretched. We spent every home game on the tumbledown terraces of Readings old Elm Park ground with a couple of thousand die-hards, tatty and crumbling for sure, but a whole heap more exciting than the characterless, concrete monoliths that pass as football stadia these days.

   My wife never seemed to be around much. She had banished me to the spare bedroom and taken to sleeping with a hammer under the bed. I had grown used to her non communication but at times the loneliness and lack of physical contact ached so unbearably that when the odd chance came along I took it. In fact, when I became friendly with a similarly isolated married woman we began a lengthy affair via discreet lunchtime liaisons in parks and woods. It suited us both fine until everything came crashing down in the Winter of 1993 when, not for the first time, I began to suffer from the most agonising bowel pain. 

   When you hear about the inner most torment of a Nick Drake, an Ian Curtis, a Kurt Cobain or even Stephen Fry, depression can sound like the coolest affliction in the world, much like drug addiction does to those who know nothing about drugs. Of course, in reality it is absolute misery, totally exhausting and so so scary. I was convinced I was going to die and even though my disease wasn’t diagnosed as life threatening, I couldn’t rid myself of those thoughts despite knowing full well that they weren’t based in truth. Indeed, my paranoia and the awful, awful pain that was only relieved by pills and potions for a few measly hours at a time, dominated my every waking moment. I felt disgusting and worthless and what could be more disgusting and worthless than shit. And I was seeing plenty of that. It would take years of counselling over 15 years later to unravel that complex mental web.

  There is no doubt that my sons were my saviours. They had become my whole reason for being, the reason I got out of bed in the morning, and the reason I still managed to crawl into work. Even though I struggled on for as long as I possibly could, in the Spring of 1994 I was signed off sick for my own good and as luck would have it, I was able to spend the whole Summer holidays at home. Miraculously and quite unexpectedly my deep depression gradually lifted to become just a mild pissed off funk. I remember apologising to both my sons for my illness and its affect on them, but as they touched my arm to say ‘That’s OK Dad, you don’t need to apologise’, their unconditional love was so overwhelming it bought tears to my eyes then as it does now.

   In the end we had the greatest Summer, wandering through the fields, woods and country roads surrounding West Reading, day long trips exploring second world war bunkers, derelict farms and forbidden woodland paths  returning home exhausted yet triumphant. It was a magical time and one we instinctively knew we would remember for the rest of our lives. And that one Summer proved to be the Damascus moment from which I rediscovered an inner strength and purpose I thought I’d lost, a determination to at least try for the possibility of a happier future no matter what. It was crazy really because I had no great plan or even the slightest idea how I was going to achieve it, and I knew absolutely that there would be many painful twists and barriers along the way, but at least I had regained some hope and belief and that was enough. 

 

1.1 PUBLIC ENEMY / Welcome To The Terrordome / Fear Of A Black Planet LP /  April 1990

   How ironic that less than two years after the masterpiece of It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back the most radical hip hop group of all time were being written off as nothing more than an exotic black Clash, token rebel rockers full of nothing more than revolutionary rhetoric and hollow gesture. But then came Fear Of A Black Planet to rewrite the book again, a complex, confrontational, political album that musically, with its dense textures and wall of noise, was more akin to high art than a hip hop record.

   As for Fear Of A Black Planet, it was true then and over two decades later its true now, a cancer eating away at the very soul of white consciousness. Even in the suburban affluence of my blinkered Southern town I regularly hear intelligent, quite reasonable, god fearing citizens spouting crap like ‘Spot the white face’ or ‘Where are all the white British singers on X Factor’. Nothing has changed no matter how much we may like to think it has.

 

1.2 SONIC YOUTH / Kool Thing / Goo LP / June 1990

   Sonic Youth had been New York’s most celebrated avant-garde noiseniks for almost ten years before they shocked everyone by signing to a major label. They were one of those groups I really tried to like but they were just too, well, avant-garde and noisy. Miraculously their big move confounded all expectations as they toned down the noise, upped the melody quotient and ended up with Goo, their best record by a mile.

   The almost pop of ‘Kool Thing’ is the best song on it, despite or maybe because of Chuck D’s odd guest appearance. I think it’s safe to say that ol’ Chuck’s heart wasn’t truly in it as he muttered the usual cliché’s but he unknowingly played straight into Kim Gordon’s hands as she twisted his non engagement around to make him sound like a bit of a sexist arse. Still, it’s reassuring to know that even the righteous Chuck D can be a twat sometimes.

 

1.3 THE KLF / What Time Is Love (Live At Trancentral) / Single A Side / August 1990

   You’ve got to admire Bill Drummond. In 1990, the rave scene was jammed with vintage punks who’d seen the light and traded in their guitars for new technology. However, old Bill had beaten them all to it four years earlier when, at 33 years old, he decided his life was ripe for revolution and began dabbling in early sampling. But it was as The KLF that his adventure really began.

   ‘What Time Is Love’ had already been an underground trance hit and an entire album by the time this version became a massive pop smash. And yet, despite their obvious populist appeal, The KLF were still infused with Drummond’s original punk on E spirit, their art terrorism, ceremonial robes, pagan rituals and blasting of the music industry genuinely subversive even if the man himself preferred to think of it all as a clever, clever art joke.

 

1.4 DEEE-LITE / Groove Is In The Heart / Single A Side August 1990

   Together with the likes of our own Betty Boo, Deee-lite took the trashy, kitsch aesthetic and turned it into pop art, an addictive mish mash of street groove, sample-delia and dollops of psychedelic strangeness that made even me sway in appreciation and revel in its one off genius.   

 

1.5 HAPPY MONDAYS / Kinky Afro / Single A Side October 1990

   ‘Son, I'm 30 / I only went with your mother 'cause she's dirty / And I don't have a decent bone in me / What you get is just what you see / Yeah’. So said Shaun Ryder and while I would never dream of telling my sons such a thing, even if it was partly true, it doesn’t mask the fact that ‘Kinky Afro’ was the Mondays last groovy blast of greatness before their final written in the stars descent into drug induced slumber. 

 

1.6 YOUNG MC / I Come Off (Southern Comfort Mix) / Single A Side / March 1991

   While gangsta rap had already turned hip hop into a bit of an embarrassment, it was still way ahead of everything else sonically. ‘I Come Off’ was one of those records that kept me transfixed. Reconfigured from a nothing album track by British dance wizards C.J. Mackintosh and Dave Dorrell, it was magically transformed into a loping, funk fuelled exposition of black pride and intellect.  

 

1.7 REM / Belong / Out Of Time LP / March 1991

   In the mid 80’s R.E.M. were nearly always mentioned in the same breath as The Smiths, two groups supposedly giving us all hope for the future of rock. Even more than Morrissey, Michael Stipe was a master at making us believe we should rise above the banality of pop to reach some kind of philosophical heaven, a place to ponder on theories, hypotheses and the meaning of life, as if there really is one. I was having none of it and with the increasingly annoying jingle jangle of Peter Buck’s retro guitar I barely gave them the time of day. That is until Out Of Time, their huge leap into the mainstream. Steering well clear of the worthy alternative rock they helped create, it was a thing of beauty and wonder, strings and harmonies, Stipe laying bare his humanity, humility and knowledge of life’s agonies to provide a healthy dose of medicine for the lost and the lonely. In 1991 I needed as much of that as I could get.

 

1.8 SAINT ETIENNE / Nothing Can Stop Us Now / Single A Side / May 1991

   Saint Etienne were one of those groups who always seem to slip through the cracks. A strange 90’s anachronism, their songs were filled with musty little samples from musty Olde England set to beats straight off the dancefloor. But it was the overwhelming sense of melancholy that dragged me in, Sarah Cracknell singing with wide eyed enthusiasm to a backdrop pieced together from the gentler side of pop history. The musical embodiment of late 20th century London, Saint Etienne were the forerunners to all that would become Britpop.

 

1.9 SON OF BAZERK / One Time For The Rebel / Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk LP / May 1991

   ‘Whole Lotta Love’ Revisited Part One. OK, so I was suckered in by ‘One Time For The Rebel’s mash up of Led Zeppelins most famous riff but Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk, the best hip hop album no-one’s ever heard of, stood at a key moment in the genres history. Following its extraordinarily creative and commercial golden age from 1987 to the first months of 1991, there was a strong belief that the new disciples would accept almost anything, the more out there and experimental the better. But then this album bombed and it became clear that in reality the cutting edge was no place to be. How could it when gangsta rap’s right wing misanthropy had brainwashed young hip hop and rock fans into believing that all they really wanted was bullshit fairy tales of black men dying and black women being abused all over a beat sounding exactly the same, track after track after track. The avant-garde modernity of Son Of Bazerk never stood a chance. 

 

1.10 UNDERGROUND RESISTANCE / Riot / Riot EP / June 1991

   The sound of faceless techno ‘never mind the’ bollocks, Underground Resistance were a kind of techno Public Enemy fighting the power. It wasn’t all bullshit either as they organised themselves with military precision, hardcore sonic guerrillas at war with the music industry, ‘Riot’ the lead track on a double 12 inch of nihilistic, anarchistic anger that trampled techno’s hallowed past underfoot.

 

1.11 THE ORB / Little Fluffy Clouds / Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld LP / August 1991

   Famously using Rickie Lee Jones blissed out description of the skies from her Arizona childhood (actually she just had a cold), ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ was the harbinger of a veritable deluge of dub infected ambient techno re-christened chill out. I used to whack it on my new, horrendously expensive Technic’s system, stick on my XXL headphones, pump up the volume, shut my eyes and fuck off to the Sonoran desert for a bit of cloud busting.

 

1.12 NIRVANA / Smells Like Teen Spirit / Nevermind LP / September 1991

   Teen rebellion 90’s style, full of self loathing and resignation, knowing what it doesn’t want but not knowing what it does. Nirvana never came close to matching this, their best pop moment and one of the greatest rock’n‘roll singles since the dawn of punk. Fact.

 

1.13 REVOLTING COCKS / Beers, Steers And Queers (Drop Your Britches Mix) / Single A Side / October 1991

   This obscure side project by Texan industrialists Ministry was a hilarious swipe at inbred, cross eyed, banjo playing hillbillies based around Deliverance’s unsettling rape scene. Musically it was surprisingly ahead of its time, drawing on a Southern white boy rap drawl, snatches’ of dialogue, barking dogs and spaghetti western guitar to underline the serious point being made amongst the laughs.

 

1.14 BELTRAM & PROGRAM 2 / The Omen (Psychomix) / Single A Side / December 1991

   ‘Whole Lotta Love’ Revisited Part Two. Unlikely as it may seem, for 18 months Belgium techno ruled the world. Whiter than white with riffs and dirty noise replacing the clinical blips and beeps of its UK counterpart, suddenly there was much talk of techno as the hard rock of the future. The seeds of the new sound actually germinated somewhere between Belgium and New York when Brooklyn wonder kid Joey Beltram, who had already revolutionised techno twice on ‘Energy Flash’ and ‘Mentasm’, consciously recreated the feel of his teenage favourites Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. The third in a magnificent trilogy, ‘The Omen’ went even further by sampling Robert Plant’s screams and sighs from ‘Whole Lotta Love’s spacey middle bit. Infinitely better than any old indie rockers playing their own pastiches of the seventies, it was the real deal, reconstructed for the future.

 

1.15 MESSIAH / There Is No Law / Single A Side / May 1992

   By the spring of 1992, rave as a youth phenomenon was dead and buried. For a generation 10 years or more younger than me, it had been their revolution, their punk, but with ecstasy as its whole raison d’être it was only ever going to lead to a smiley, hippy hell hole, a woozy, junked up alternative reality. It was inevitable that the constant hunger for a heaven on earth would end in a black hole of excess, paranoia and gun violence as the movers and shakers came down with a shuddering, sickening crash, unable to cope with the reality that the rest of their lives would never match the past. Of course, none of this had much to do with Messiah although ‘There Is No Law’ did foresee one way out, musically at least, by blending classic rock and Belgium hardcore with jungle riffs at least two years ahead of their time.

 

1.16 LUSCIOUS JACKSON / Daughters Of The Kaos / In Search Of Manny LP / June 1992

   New York’s Luscious Jackson were the white, bohemian, female reaction to hip hop. An ignored gem, In Search Of Manny was a shining light in the bucket of crap that was 90’s indie. 

 

1.17 DAS EFX / They Want EFX / Single A Side / August 1992

   A few flashes of individual brilliance still managed to penetrate the juvenile delinquent sleaze of guns, bitches and bling. Kicking off with a triumphant ‘Bum stiggidy bum stiggidy bum!’ before name checking Pinocchio, The Sound Of Music, Dem bones, ‘Shiver me timbers’ and countless nursery rhymes, Das EFX managed to make their gobbledegook sound other worldly and somehow very important by signposting a long lost route back to Little Richard and ‘A wop bop a loo bop.’  

 

2.1 2PAC / Holler If Ya Hear Me / Single A Side / February 1993         

  No matter what the media leeches would have us believe, Tupac Shukar wasn’t always the gangsta thug supreme. Born of Black Panther parents, his childhood was not only steeped in the civil rights movement, black pride and black consciousness but also Shakespeare plays and British invasion 80’s pop. So, it should be no surprise that ‘Holler If Ya Hear Me’ is not standard gangsta fare, despite being a venomous, free flowing, anthem of resistance it has a political awareness most of Tupac’s rivals were either too self obsessed or dumb to care about.      

 

2.2 KRS ONE / Sound Of Da Police / Return Of The Boom Bap LP / April 1993

   Speaking of rhymes of resistance, there surely aren’t many angrier than ‘Sound Of Da Police’. Kris Parker was the original South Bronx gangsta until his Boogie Down Productions partner Scott La Rock was shot dead. Turning his back on negative rage he began to follow a more positive path of teaching and preaching , ‘Sound Of Da Police’ his masterpiece of righteous protest, shot through with the weight of history, detailing generation upon generation of institutionalized racism, from the slavery of old to the right wing police state of the early 90’s.

 

2.3 JESUS AND MARY CHAIN / Snakedriver / Sound Of Speed EP / June 1993

   Apart from The Cramps, the Mary Chain were always the greatest at epitomising dumb rock’n’roll. ‘Snakedriver’ screeches, howls, hollers and moans with the best of them, while as ever, the haunted spirits of Brian Wilson and Chuck Berry fight to escape the cacophony before being dragged back in kicking and screaming.       

 

2.4 MANIC STREET PREACHERS / From Despair To Where / Single A Side / June 1993

   My relationship with the Manic’s has been a long and complicated one. In the beginning it was their naïve raging against the dying of the light that made them so compelling. ‘A speed band in an E generation' they gleefully rained down alienation in a time of hedonistic disengagement, coming on as painfully passionate yet wonderfully unfashionable in their leopard skin and make up. You had to admire their courage, even if you were a 33 year old ex independent label owner still struggling to adjust to work, a miserable marriage and life itself.

 

2.5 STEREOLAB / French Disko / Single A Side / October 1993

    One group Nicky Wire and Richie Edwards loved beyond reason were Marxist indie poppers McCarthy, who in truth were no better or worse than a hundred other cutie pie C86’ers. By 1990 they had become Stereolab, who retained the same honorable principles but added a suave, European, easy listening air to their politicking. ‘French Disco’ is the rough diamond in their worthy, sophisticated milieu.

 

2.6 A TRIBE CALLED QUEST / Oh My God / Midnight Marauders LP / October 1993

   As hip hop became big enough to support an underground and a mainstream, A Tribe Called Quest became prime movers in giving that underground a place and meaning. They did it with an understanding that rhyme culture was all about intelligence, and rising above rather than revelling in the shit by boasting about the size of your gun or your cock. It was a template for musicality that dismissed the reliance on familiar hook lines stolen from well known songs, and discussed sex without demeaning or patronising women. In the mid 90’s that was revolutionary in itself but also let us know that Cypress Hill, Dr Dre and Snoop Deputy Dawg weren’t the only option.

 

2.7 AUTECHRE / Basscadet / Incunabula LP / November 1993

   I bought this purely on a whim for 'Basscadet', the only track to feature a human voice and one of the few to stir me from my ambient slumber.

 

2.8 WU TANG CLAN / C.R.E.A.M. / Enter The Wu Tang (36 Chambers) LP / November 1993

   Although rap had been born and bred in the streets of New York, all the serious action had shifted to California before the Wu Tang Clan dragged it back east with Enter The Wu Tang (36 Chambers). A cocktail of street tales and RZA’s surreal, menacing soundscape of hardcore beats, eerie piano riffs and minimalism, it was far removed from the gangsta G-Funk of Dre and his Death Row bozo’s and upped the anti to inspire a brand new generation of New York rappers.

 

2.9 DJ SHADOW / In Flux (In Tune And On Time) / Single A Side / December 1993

   In the end it took a white Californian kid to find a way out of the west coast gangsta malaise. Josh Davis, aka DJ Shadow, was the first to create seamless, instrumental music from the bits and pieces of discarded, long forgotten vinyl and transform them into something informed solely by its own sense of tempo, time and texture. On first hearing I was genuinely astounded, convinced I had heard the sound of a future that only required a sampler, a bunch of obscure second hand records and the imagination of a classical composer to re-construct them into something special. Piece of piss!              

 

2.10 TRICKY / Aftermath / Single A Side / January 1994

   ‘Aftermath’ arrived just as I became lost in a cycle of destructive pain and anguish. As I wallowed in the terrifying grip of impending doom, even listening to music became an effort, but when I was able, it was always a title, a phrase or sound reflecting my despair that hit home. While the sombre mood of ‘Aftermath’ can be interpreted any number of ways, it was the simple ‘Let me tell you about my mother’ line lifted from Bladerunner and Tricky’s eerie dread that connected.

   Spoken by Leon, a replicant humanoid with no parents and only false memories of parental love, in my blackest hours I always thought him fortunate to at least have false memories, because I had none at all. Like many children of my generation raised in an emotion free zone, my parents never told me they loved me or demonstrated any affection. Someway, somehow, they just expected us to know, thereby absolving themselves of any responsibility for the damage they may have caused.  

 

2.11 UNDERWORLD / Cowgirl /

Dubnobasswithmyheadman LP / January 1994

   Before the non Britpop, Britpop classic ‘Born Slippy’ came Dubnobasswithmy-headman, a mad celebration of confusion and alienation that confirmed the futility of my miserable existence, a moment of clarity I didn’t want or need but couldn’t keep avoiding. Stuck in a self made prison, Dubnobasswithmyheadman encouraged me to keep breathing and start searching for an answer.

 

2.12 BLUR / End Of A Century / Parklife LP / April 1994

   So finally they came, tumbling over Primrose Hill, swarming onto the streets of Camden Town with their swinging 60’s obsessions and hatred of grunge ready for indie guitar pop’s last desperate attempt at the big time. Even though Parklife wasn’t the Britpop hordes first attempt at the summit, Damon Albarn’s paen to a country that had clearly gone to the dogs was the one that kick started a new era.

   Mapping out a disappearing world of Doc Martins, London street markets, darkened arterial roads, the subtle magic of the shipping forecast and the mundane routine of suburban living, it followed the spirit, if not the sound of typically English pop: The Kinks, Small Faces, Syd, The Jam, XTC, The Smiths. Of course, most of what followed replaced those artful influences with moronic, get rich quick, laddism, but that was hardly Blur’s fault, and Parklife remains one of Britpop’s rare highlights.

 

2.13 MAZZY STAR / Fade Into You / Single A Side / April 1994

   Very often it’s easy to forget what a daft, wonderful thing pop music can be. How it can suddenly skip unexpectedly into your life and make the world a happier place. I knew nothing of Mazzy Star in 1994 as I know nothing now, and guess what; it really doesn’t matter a bit, because ‘Fade Into You’ does everything a dreamy pop song should by brightening my day every time I hear it.

 

2.14 NAS / Halftime / Illmatic LP / April 1994

2.15 JERU THE DAMAJA / Come Clean / Single A Side / May 1994

   Two very different milestones from hip hop’s short history marking a creative peak that would never be equalled. The legendary debut of one Nasir Jones from Queens, New York was hailed as the second coming and in the wake of the Wu Tang Clan steamrollered all before it. With its articulate, politically aware reportage tripping over dense, scratch reviving beats, Illmatic was everything hip hop was meant to be. Listen to the battle rhyme, ghetto testimony of ‘Halftime’ and you’ll know exactly why it influenced the world.

   As Nas built a lucrative career from a debut he never bettered, fellow New Yorker Jeru withered and waned despite ‘Come Clean’ being an extraordinary one off. One of the first rappers to pronounce himself anti-gangsta, he bought verbal sparring and imagination back to rapping. From this point on hip hop became the black equivalent of middle of the road country music, albeit with the odd genius desperately trying to stay afloat in the sea of shit.

 

2.16 DAWN PENN / You Don’t Love Me / Single A Side / May 1994

   A 60’s lovers rock classic, remade and buffed up by digital ragga producers Steely and Clevie to transform Dawn Penn’s original lament for a lonely break up into an ecstatic dancehall celebration of being free and single again.     

 

2.17 PORTISHEAD / Glory Box / Dummy LP / August 1994

   Once upon a time, a haunting melody began running around my head I was convinced came from the French Robinson Crusoe theme that dominated kids TV through my childhood. Then suddenly there it was in all its magnificence on Portishead’s ‘Glory Box’. Except no it wasn’t, because I soon discovered that the ghostly, ever circling strings I loved so much actually came from Isaac Hayes ‘Ike’s Rap 2’, a track on his 1971 album Black Moses, a record my old man had buried in his collection but never seemed to play. Spooky! So now, when I hear ‘Glory Box’, I immediately think of Robinson Crusoe, Isaac Hayes and my Dad. It’s funny how things work out sometimes.

 

2.18 LAIKA / Coming Down Glass / Silver Apples Of The Moon LP / October 1994

    Just before Britpop hit big with Parklife, Laika were thrown headlong into the artsy, bohemian post rock pot despite Silver Apples Of The Moon focusing obsessively on rhythm and groove which wasn’t post rock at all. Instead it was actually rather great.

 

2.19 METHOD MAN / Bring The Pain / Tical LP / November 1994

   In the mid 90’s I was still listening to loads of hip hop including Method Man, one of the more visible members of the Wu Tang collective. Tical with its roots reggae feel, mooched along at a bass shaking amble with ghostly shards of liberating rhetoric cutting through the dope fuelled plumes, stoned immaculate.