This is a review of "Time To Change Time? (Walk)" recorded by The Lab. The review was written by Sam Saunders in 2002.
Urban black speech patterns and street styles in the US and Caribbean lend themselves to snappy call response mutual name calling, bragging and story telling. (trust me, I'm an anthropologist). It's a cultural thing going back a long way. Versions are still massive in pop music. So Solid Crew do a sparkingly alienated English version. Mark B and Blade do the polite concert version. Tim Westwood is the UK's self-appointed Radio High Priest. All sorts of names get used but basically its improvised musical speech with a rhythm and maybe some decoration. It's great.
But take it out of its social context and there's a danger that you lose the resonance, the irony, the street wit and cultural resistance, the dignity and the self parody. The crackling natural splutter of rhythmic slang from a real community becomes pastiche and parody. The form is appropriated but the substance is lost. Rebellion becomes ritual. (trust me, I'm a cultural theorist)
So my jury is still out on the Lab. Something in me reacts in a negative way against their recording. The rapping voices don't sound natural, they don't fizz and snap and they don't make me smile. Accents swerve around from Ali G to John Cooper Clarke via Benjamin Zephania and though Yorkshire to the Tetley Tea men. There are too many words to keep the rhythm tight and the social conscience is too far down the audience's throat for my comfort. A "collective" from Cookridge? It doesn't make any sense to me. What are white boys on the comfortable side of town doing with words like "bitches and hos"? Whose piss is being taken in "Gangstas ina Getaway"? The question isn't a new one, but there's a case to answer here and I'm not excited enough by the music itself to let it go.
The beats underneath it are Nile Rogers Chic-style guitar and related funky stuff. There's some good muscular bass and some eclectic additions. But it's roughly plundered and it doesn't have the ring of authenticity that I'm looking for.
A second opinion is needed. Your own. Don't take my word for it. The Lab are obviously sincere about their project and there will be plenty of people getting excited with them. I can hardly bear to listen.