Every year we have the predictable furore surrounding the purpose of the MOBOs, that’s the music of black origin awards to those who don’t take too kindly to acronyms. Rather than merely playing into the hands of the powers that be, those who decide what is considered ‘urban’ or ‘black culture’, the whole point of the awards is being called into question as the complexion of most of those nominated slides towards the paler end of the spectrum and more of the music gets the club/pop overhaul courtesy of Calvin Harris, David Guetta and fellow audio prostitute Pitbull. I’m not averse to a bit of latino reggaeton and some Daddy Yankee but this euro club chart invasion has got to stop somewhere. I digress.
Far be it for anyone to complain about the purity of ‘black culture’ and music or the supposed evolution of music of black origin as opposed to the dilution of it. Does the term really have any relevance at all if the folks currently making this music are all the colours of the rainbow? Again, I digress.
The very same could be said for the Brits, another irrelevant musical institution that is suppose to act as a leg up and exhibit the best that we’ve got to offer yet fails to do that on the most monumental scale imaginable. Having seen the South African Music awards it’s probably safe to say it’s the same for most countries. I digress.
So, the review: Rodney Smith’s latest gift for the world is a mish-mash of electro, ‘wonky reggae’, garage, hip hop and funk that despite that description doesn’t really slot into what one’s neatly formed preconceptions of black and British music might be.
Having confessed to being more about the subtleties in his music these days, his Witness the Fitness on this album comes in the guise of a none too very subtle dancefloor number. Those who haven’t heard the radio edit of Toddla T collab Watch Me Dance have obviously been living under a very accommodating rock this summer. Working some 80’s synths and syncopated claps, the track fits well with Smiths’s off key and (purposefully) lazy delivery. The accompanying music video also reminded me of watching the Pet Shop Boys live show at a Belgian festival.
Skid Valley is the antithesis of Watch Me Dance- the Ghost Town to Watch Me Dance’s version of Bowie’s Let’s Dance. Bleak, overcast broken Britain, ‘birth place of the gentleman- who aint gentle when- he wants to gentrify’, is dissected as Smith discusses the perils of gastric bands and the irony of immigration- ‘Get off the boat and chase the dream’. The climatic, string accompanied chorus is provided by…Skin from angsty 90’s Britpop/rock band Skunk Anansie who I think once won a Kerrang award.
Wha Mek is a slightly more sombre ballad about the frustration of not living up to the expectations of others. The upbeat, distorted steel drum effects offset Ricki Rankin’s evangelical warblings quite nicely actually.
My personal fave Here We Go Again features a pulsating, ominous bassline that gives a nod in the direction of George Clinton’s Atomic Dog and remains on the right side of wob wob, without a drop. Phew.
Smith’s deep and, for want of a better word, creamy tones provide a distinctive stamp on his own and other’s releases without any sign of waning or irritating. In terms of cameo vocals, Banana Klan member Ricki Rankin can be heard all over the shop whilst The Path features youthful Gamelan mistress and fellow Big Dadaist Elan Tamara.
The album plays host to a number of disparate elements in terms of both guest appearances and influences, all of which come together to create a very bri-ish commonwealth dish, one that is itself deep and creamy. I digress. Just give him the Mercury music prize or something.