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Blak Twang

The Rotton Club
Yahoo Music (May 2002)

After genre-defining albums by Roots Manuva and Skinnyman, up steps Tony Olabode, aka Tony Rotton (after Johnny Rotten apparently), aka Blak Twang for a slice of that freshly cooked UK hip hop credibility. Whereas once small children in the street would point, laugh and throw stones at anyone claiming to represent UK hip hop, now - post Dizzee, post lyrical reference to pints of bitter and cheese on toast - things are changing. There's more confidence in homegrown rap these days, from the artists to the crowds and back again. And, four albums into his career, Blak Twang's clearly ready to collect on what's long been owed - a bit of respect and a whole pile of cash.

He does a good job too, to begin with. If you want to hear the confidence of the current scene made manifest, just listen to Twang go. On the opening title track, Olabode combines a cool dancehall chorus with rhymes that sound like a lifestyle manifesto - setting out the rules for 2005. "Beef Stop", a retort to an unnamed rival, fronts with style, spitting out hilarious lines like "your arms are too short to box me/like a hairy dwarf". "Stop And Search" wryly tackles unwanted police attention. And "Prayer 4 The Dying" is tender and straightforward, a self-explanatory hymn to fallen comrades.

But the focus drifts slightly elsewhere. "My World" - potentially the album's masterpiece - is a response to the demonisation of rap following the shooting of two teenagers at a New Year's Eve party in Birmingham in 2003. Some solid points are raised but Twang doesn't take them anywhere - "it's not a level playing field", he says, talking about social inequality, but that's about it. "They make So Solid scapegoats for what they wrote/they hate to see us rich so they won't stop til we're broke" is clearer, but the assertion that "as long as there's blacks attacking blacks it's our problem" is nonsense. It all seems vague and muddied and you soon start to wonder where the anger is on this track. In Skinnyman's hands, this subject would have burned with righteous ire.

Which brings us to Blak Twang's main problem. He really doesn't have much to say. "Travellin'" is little more than a list of countries he's been to, showing off about his trips overseas like a teenager. He certainly has an eye for the mundane. "I once thought about quitting Britain because of my hay fever," he reveals on "Carry On". In "Lady", he decides that woman are better at doing the washing-up than men, but then men are better at driving, so fair's fair. Even worse, "Soldier", another beef-type track, features a Gollum skit that loses its bite by renaming the character Gunnem. Considering he rails against gun use in "The Rotton Club" and lazy stereotyping in "My World", it's a thoughtless mistake.

Twang's headed in the right direction - his musical blend of hip hop, ragga and dancehall is never less than infectious and his lyrical targets are worthy ones - but in his haste to seize the prize, he's skipped over the hard work required to make a spectacular album. Compared to "Council Estate Of Mind", "The Rotton Club" is fun but lightweight. "I've got plans and visions/I'm not just fancy living," Olabode claims on "Position". Well maybe it's time he started taking that promise a little more seriously..


Ian Watson
Music, film, comedy and travel journalist based in London

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