At the turn of the Millennium, British urban music began to burgeon into the mainstream in a new form. No longer content with emulating American hip-hop acts in a myriad of guises, a new generation of street-based philosophers began to serialise life on the streets this side of the pond. With a blend of UK garage, dancehall and hip-hop, grime disseminated out of East London’s underground scene, with the height of its success, cultural significance and originality being critically bolstered by Dizzee Rascal’s 2003 Mercury Music Prize win with ‘Boy In Da Corner’.
A stalwart of the brotherhood and genre, Lethal Bizzle has made a name for himself not only with his candid lyricism, but often as not dipping his toe into political arena whether he likes it or not: his debut solo single, 2004’s “Pow (Forward)” caused concerns from a number of political and pressure groups due to its controversial lyrics about gun culture in the UK. The single was banned from airplay on numerous radio stations despite reaching number 11 in the charts, and was even cut from the club circuit due to its tendency to provoke violence amongst punters. Again, he found himself speaking out against David Cameron’s comments about Radio 1’s Tim Westwood choice of music in that it encouraged people to carry guns and knives, calling the Tory leader a “donut”.
We are in a time of change and struggle, and with the release of Lethal Bizzle’s third studio album ‘Go Hard’, a sense of this has been encapsulated. Somewhat esoteric and absurd to the average listener, grime and its cohorts have given those of us who are measurably distant and purblind to the agitations of “life on the streets”, an incite to gang culture and hardship.
From the opening aggressive beats and mantra of “Money Power Respect Fame” to “Can You See Me” we see Lethal’s roots firmly flourishing from the instantly addictive 2-step breakbeats that nurtured his name and career; however, the Walthamstow MC venture into UK funk with title track “Go Hard” and its horn-led rhythms produced by Donae’o, punk as he collaborates with Gallows on “Rockstar”, and dub-step inflected beats of “Push It” and “Don’t Run Up”.
Time and talent has been invested into ‘Go Hard’ in order to keep abreast with the likes of Dizzee Rascal as he storms the chart with three straight number ones, but there are points of argument where Lethal loses touch, almost deracinating himself from his roots, in order to make a name for himself commercially in the same way that Dizzee has. Stepping on toes with tried and tested samples in the form of House Of Pain’s “ Jump Around” (“Jump”), Busta Rhymes/Wu-Tang Clan sleaze (“Flap Your Wings”), and self-aggrandising nonchalance (“Who The Fuck Are You?”) are a number of hip-flops that less lock downs and more turn offs. There are also moments when you question the artist’s integrity, as he hypocritically bounces from tune to tune spouting that he is ‘real’ and still at one with heritage, to creeping on the untouchable side of fame and fortune. As is the arrogance of hip-hop one might guess.
Bizzle may be a voice of the streets and a cultural movement that many of us cannot resolve into or seek solace, but the true outcome of this record will give the likes of Cameron and his cabal of middling men enough fodder for arguments of their Broken Britain strap line in the form of the verbal bullets that are acerbically spat during ‘Go Hard’ to strike further fear into disenfranchised voters.