Posts Tagged ‘Rap


Hip Hop: A Way of Life: The Fire Beneath the Sea

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To quote legendary MC Rakim “it’s been a long time” since I last wrote, but I have not been idle. Over the past few months I have been getting to know members of the Liverpool based Hip Hop group The Fire Beneath the Sea. The key members of this group are MCs and producers Armen Starfish and Sea Eagle Tradstool and MCs Kyle E Unlikely, Lleraf Zafgir and Scuba Fly Jesus. However, under their umbrella come a host of other MCs, horn players, bassists and DJs. What interests me most about this Hip Hop collective’s style is their position of positivity, their take on collaboration and bringing hip hop to the streets, all of which I feel are essential elements in the creation of “true” hip hop.

The Fire Beneath the Sea itself is a metaphor for the groups’ views on creativity in a capitalistic society and its ability to unite people under positivity. The sea represents the world, with some as the fish, lost in the giant ocean facing the pressures and danger of the “sharks”. The fire represents creativity and its impossible location, beneath sea, is a metaphor for the difficulty in producing heartfelt, conscious, high quality music in the current climate of X-Factor and marketing led popular culture.

In reaction to these ideals The Fire Beneath the Sea takes to the streets donned in crazy hats, wigs and fancy dress. Delivering a shock of colour and sound made up of funk, beat boxing and rhymes with a positive message, they draw large crowds, from children to older citizens. Having been present at a number of these impromptu street gigs, they call to mind the original New York park jams of Hip Hop’s early history in the 70s. When I asked them about the importance of street performance, they told me of how they wanted to use their music to bring people together. They went on to say that they want to bring their message of positivity and fun to a larger audience. They view this position as way of broadening Hip Hop’s horizons, particularly in Liverpool, and as a move away from the sometimes-insular nature of the scene.

In reference to collaboration, The Fire Beneath Sea views their work as “an open source project” where anybody is welcome to join and contribute ideas, free from judgement on skill or ability. They say that collaboration is key to what Hip Hop is, but expressed concerns over many peoples’ lack of recognition of this fact or an understanding about the true nature of Hip Hop as opposed to rap. They added that they wanted their music to express diversity, and while they are centred on a Hip Hop ideal, they welcome influences from across the board.

On positivity the members say that they are reacting not only to negative images in Hip Hop but also to those in the wider world. In their words “there is too much negativity in life, when there should only be positivity. Negativity doesn’t solve anything”. On one of our joint adventures I was able to witness this ethos in action.

In late September the British National Party were protesting in Liverpool that their leader, Nick Griffin, was not allowed to take part on a televised political debate, due to his far right rhetoric. The Fire Beneath Sea came out in protest to this, along side the left wing activists in Liverpool. However, rather than simply join the anti rightwing chanting, the group provided a beatbox, rhythmical backing followed by conscious, philosophical acapella rhyming on the subject of racism. I asked group member Jay Taylor about this approach to the protest. He said the he felt that you couldn’t “shout logic at idiots” and that the classical approach to these rallies, fighting negativity with negativity would get us nowhere.  When we were at the rally I was struck by the demographic make up of the anti BNP protesters: they all seemed to be white, middle class people (such as myself), with very few black or Asian people present. Now, I am not going to say that their protest is not valid, any opposition to fascism is good, but why were so many of the BNP’s targets absent from the protest? Is that the styles of the Socialist Workers Party or similar left wing movements have no relevance to their lives? The Fire Beneath the Sea really did bring something different to this protest, an air of creativity and humour that seemed to undercut the tension present. Hearing Jay Taylor’s booming voice deliver his polemic on racism, my mind was cast to the conscious lyrics of MCs such as KRS-One, with Sound of the Police or Abdominal on Cumbersome Trinkets. These songs, like those of the Fire Beneath Sea, show not only that Hip Hop really can be a force for good, through its examination of injustices in society or observations on human nature, but also that these analyses can be couched in a framework of fun and creativity.

As I have got to know the Fire Beneath the Sea better, I have come to see them as embodying many of the ideas I value most in Hip Hop: positivity, creativity, collaboration and fun. I have included a video made by the group of their action against the BNP. I believe that it demonstrates, along with the photos, much of what I have said here.



Hip Hop: A Way of Life: Scratch and Spit

This weekend in Liverpool saw the Five Elements Festival taking place in Django’s Riff, Liverpool. This was a three day event with live breakdancing, djing, MCing and graffiti.

I went along to meet as many fellow hip hopper as possible, but also to get a flavour of what is happening with the Hip Hop scene in Liverpool. I am glad to say that while small, Hip Hop in Liverpool is quality. Everybody there, as either performers or audience was having an extremely good time and there was not a negative thing to be seen. Even when the breakers were battling it was good hearted and it was clear that all involved knew each other and enjoyed showing off their skills.

In terms of the work I am doing, this festival was an opportunity to show how much fun Hip Hop can be, and also to show that when people are doing their thing they’re all in it together.

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Hip Hop: A Way of Life: Derby

In my original post I said that I felt many people see Hip Hop as a wholly negative art form, focusing on violence, greed and misogyny. In his foreword to That’s The Joint! The Hip Hop Studies Reader edited by Foreman and Anthony Neal, Hip Hop academic Michael Eric Dyson says that while critics like to focus upon Hip Hop’s obsession with materialism, stereotypes, offensive views and hedonism “… this argument demands little engagement with Hip Hop; these views don’t require much beyond attending to surface symptoms of a culture that offers far more depth and colour when it’s taken seriously…”

This week I went to Derby to meet MC Reggiimental (see picture) and he took me to meet some of the people involved with the Hip Hop scene there. At Baby J Studios I met producer and rapper Rukus. He had this to say when I interviewed him: Rukus on Hip Hop I think his comments on the the different levels of  rap are very interesting. I can think of many MCs such as KRS-One, Nas and Kool G Rap who, while making hardcore records have also made some of the deepest, most philosophical tracks. Nas’s I gave you power and Kool G Rap’s Streets of New York spring to mind. It seems that many critics are quick to jump on the records that portray a negative image, while conveniently ignoring those songs that convey more enlightened observations.

This trip to Derby also gave me the opportunity to begin to get the type of pictures and subject matter I am looking for with this project. Reggiimental was kind enough to invite me into his home, meet his daughter and her mother and cook me dinner. Throughout this whole experience I was struck by his humanity, open-mindedness and generosity. For me this again confirmed my view that Hip Hop is so much more than the its critics would have us believe. No where in my discussions with Reggiimental, or during our tour of Derby, did I hear any indication that he bought into any of the more commercial aspects of the culture. I hope the pictures associated with this blog can begin to convey some of my message, that of humanity among Hip Hoppers.

Flickr Photos

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