The increasing popularity of UK hip-hop has been one of the foremost trends in the music scene in recent years. A scene that perpetually lived in the shadows, with the exception of a few flag-bearers like Roots Manuva and some risible attempts at mainstream success from the likes of the So Solid Crew, has now become immensely popular. You only have to look at recent UK number 1 singles (although frankly I haven’t known what was number 1 for a few years now) to realise as much.
Dizzee Rascal made the leap from critical acclaim to the big time with the likes of Holiday and Bonkers, Tinie Tempah gobbled up 2010, while the trend has been continued by the likes of Tinchy Stryder, Chipmunk and Professor Green. In fact the latter’s excellent Read all about it, which is every bit a UK version of last year’s Eminem/Rihanna chart monster Love the way you lie, has only just been knocked off the top spot after 3 weeks.
The holy grail, however remains breaking the US. Not merely in terms of the hugely expanded market that you can appeal to, but also one suspects it is a matter of professional pride. America is the home of hip-hop, they have more rappers than a tin of Quality Street (I’ll get my coat…), so in every way exporting our finest across the pond is a case of coals to Newcastle.
Which is an apt idiom to introduce, as it is on the banks of the Tyne that we will find the true point of this article.
A while ago, in an interview for Q magazine, Dizzee Rascal (who at the time had merely the 2003 Mercury prize as reward for his endeavours) was asked if he could see rappers emerging from further afield than London. His response was, naturally, very positive although it did carry the caveat of “well, maybe not Yorkshire”. It would have been interesting then to have gauged his reaction when confronted with the idea of Geordies, who have undoubtedly the most unique accent in the country, having a crack at it.
I first encountered Baron Von Alias on youtube, via a remix he did of Katy B’s seminal dubstep hit Katy on a mission. It was an extraordinary mix of the original and perfectly-suited rapping that left you wondering what had just happened. I was hooked.
Hurriedly typing the name of the song into google to download it, I immediately discovered that, along with his performing partner MistaBreeze, he had made an album of remixes called the “Magnificently Great Remix album”. This album, presumably due to immense levels of copyright infringement, is available to download for free here. I would advise you with every bone in my body to do so.
Dance hits such as Lovekick, Acceptable in the 80’s and best of all We no speak Americano are attacked with layers of heavily-accented Geordie. The end result is one of the most enjoyable things you will ever hear. The flow is flawless and the tunes, on the whole, are instantly recognisable, but what really sets this apart from pretty much everything else in hip-hop is how much fun it is.
The po-faced attitude of hip-hop in general is a strange one. For all of the endless opportunities afforded by the story-telling nature of the genre, it seems that a vast majority seem to spend their time either bragging about how successful they are, or bemoaning how shit their upbringing was. Perhaps this is merely reflective of the areas they hail from? I mean London is a pretty unfriendly and dysfunctional place at the best of times, so is it any surprise that people like Plan B and Professor Green had difficult childhoods?
Newcastle, with it’s famous cheeriness and community spirit (was there ever a chance of any rioting in the Toon in August? I sincerely doubt it) has no such issues. It is therefore no surprise that the Baron and Mista never slump into such self-obsessed pity. They are in the studio for one reason and one reason only, to have fun.
You only have to look at the image they convey to realise that this is not an entirely serious operation. The Baron takes to the stage looking like a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Fred Astaire, while his official website describes him thus:
“Born in the early 1800’s, Baron Von Alias began his journey in the North of England. Armed with a family heirloom Von Alias was granted a gift so rare; the powers required for time travel.”
This is not normal. But then neither is hearing a Geordie accent rapping. And on the basis of this, more’s the pity. Original tunes like Superheroes and the excellent Get Wild Gan Mental (a title that couldn’t be more Newcastle if it was stuffing pease pudding into it’s mouth and burning an effigy of Mike Ashley) burst forward at you, lift you up and make you feel unbelievably happy.
In these times of austerity and financial woes, the world needs a bit of fun. Are Baron Von Alias and MistaBreeze the people to provide it? The answer, from where I’m sitting, is resoundingly “wae’aye man!”
by Harry Harland
Some of Baron Von Alias’s music is available on iTunes, while the vast majority is downloadable at http://baronvonalias.bandcamp.com/