Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Hip Hop goes back to school, again


Hyped by The Guardian as one of the acts to break big this year, the first we heard of The Kidz In The Hall was a 12" from Fat Beats, accidentally dismissed as a simple rip-off of Souls Of Mischief's lost classic "'93 To Infinity". Happily their debut "School Was My Hustle", released on the recently relaunched Rawkus Records, delivers much more. In fact, it may be the most consistent hip-hop record since Spank Rock's "YoYoYoYoYo".

Spank Rock it ain't though. The title's probably enough to give that away. The group's Naledge and Double-O met at the University of Pennsylvania and, whilst their vision is expansive enough to reach out to thugs and graduates, they're not trying to hide their roots or reinvent the wheel. This is deeply nostalgic rap in the vein of 9th Wonder and Little Brother, incapable of hiding its longing for a return to the golden mid-nineties when the samples twinkled over a bed of boom-bap and smart rhymes flowed in a seamless union.

No bad thing. And, in some cases they even ramp up the formula with some of the rabble-rousing euphoria of Jay-Z and Just Blaze in full flow, hinting at broader appeal. But, it's a surprise that anyone expects this to truly break out of the independent hip hop ghetto just yet. As well as the nods to Souls Of Mischief and the Heiroglyphics crew, "Ms. Juanita" re-imagines A Tribe Called Quest's daisy age classic "Bonita Applebum" and throughout the LP familiar samples from the old-school canon - Gil Scott Heron to Johnny Pate - abound. Futurism, unfortunately, stays strictly off the agenda.

A fine album then, but a fine album in the same way that, say, The Strokes' debut was a perfect re-imagining of a golden era for rock. Even if "School Was My Hustle" has as much impact as those still lamenting the decline of Rawkus Records first time around are clearly hoping, its unlikely to offer any more of a route into brave futures for rap than "Is This It" did for the guitar four-piece. Where the record which does is going to come from is anyone's guess.

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