“The Gospel (1994 – 2011) – The Missing Gems Of MCM”
In the same way that New York and Los Angeles have, until recent years at least, always been viewed as the two major cities on the US Hip-Hop map, London has long been considered the epicentre of the UK rap scene. In the 80s acts such as London Posse, Demon Boyz, Hijack and MC Duke not only stood as sonic representatives of the UK’s capital city, but also defined the entire British rap scene of the time, with very few artists from outside of the London area being viewed as credible, regardless of their talent. All that would change, however, when a trio from High Wycombe recording under the name Caveman dropped their classic 1990 debut single “Victory” through the UK arm of Profile Records.
Not only did the crew of MCM, DJ Diamond J and producer The Principle open people’s ears to the fact that there was Hip-Hop of note being made outside of London’s urban environment, they also brought with them a shift in musical direction from what was considered to be the traditional British rap sound. Prior to Caveman, UK rap was largely known for what became tagged as the ‘Britcore’ style – hard, dense production, fast-paced lyrics and militant imagery (think Hijack, Gunshot, Killa Instinct). But when the Buckinghamshire-based crew dropped, they brought with them a jazzy, funky edge that had more in common with popular Stateside groups of the time such as Gang Starr and A Tribe Called Quest than it did with the most of the music being made by the group’s peers just some thirty miles away in the Big Smoke.
Early Caveman singles such as the aforementioned “Victory” and the brilliant “Fry You Like Fish” caught some unfair criticism from staunch UK rap supporters who felt the crew were simply trying to emulate the sounds emanating from New York, but by the time the group’s debut album “Positive Reaction” dropped in 1991 it was clear Caveman’s musical identity was very much their own. The album was packed with tight, sample-heavy production, deft cuts and witty, often personal lyrics that came with a conscious, uplifting element. The crew even caught a little mainstream attention for their lively Jimi Hendrix-sampling single “I’m Ready”.
Although Caveman’s sophomore album (1992’s “The Whole Nine Yards…”) wouldn’t receive the critical acclaim of its predecessor, with the group splitting soon after, the impact “Positive Reaction” had on the homegrown rap scene was clearly tangible and is perhaps even more evident in hindsight than it was at the time. Although MCM would go on to release some stellar solo singles throughout the mid-to-late-90s, one of the UK’s best-loved rappers largely dropped off the radar, another name seemingly destined to be confined to the annals of UK rap history. Until now.
Taking its title from the shelved mid-90s album MCM was due to release via a deal with BMG, “The Gospel” is a mammoth 32-track collection of full-length joints and instrumental interludes spanning the last seventeen years. The trick here is that the album hasn’t been sequenced in chronological order, so although it’s possible to spot a few of the older tracks due to MCM’s youthful delivery, for the most part it’s easy to forget you’re listening to a body of work work covering almost two decades. The remastering quality of the older cuts contained here is on point, bringing them inline with more recent work in terms of their overall sound, so until the High Wycombe wordsmith shouts out a “2003” here or a “1998” the album plays as one cohesive project.
MCM’s love of soulful breaks and samples ties “The Gospel” together, and it’s this passion for all things funky that informs all the tracks included here, both old and new. Largely self-produced but also featuring musical input from a handful of like-minded collaborators, “The Gospel” basks in the warm sonic glow of golden-age boom-bap and jazzy vibes. Building on the musical blueprint set out on Caveman’s “Positive Reaction”, “The Gospel” showcases an artist whose creative direction has never been influenced by the trends of the time, with MCM’s love of true-school Hip-Hop evident throughout.
The beginning of the project finds MCM going back to the future, with a re-vocalled Rinse Dog-produced remix of the previously mentioned Caveman track “Fry You Like Fish”. Rattling drums and huge bass kicks are almost enough to set-off involuntary demonstrations of The Running-Man, whilst MCM delivers his witty rhymes of twenty years ago in an obviously more mature tone. The self-explanatory “Jay Dee Tribute” finds M dropping conscious rhymes over a Dilla-inspired track which also features a dope verse from newcomer Magical.
On the DJ Nappa-produced “Came Into My Life” MCM uses the well worn metaphor of Hip-Hop as being a woman with whom he’s shared a rocky yet passionate relationship with over the years. But rather than sounding tired and overused, the sincerity in M’s rhymes brings new life to the oft-heard comparison (“A lotta new jacks and industry cats, wanna get up in your thighs, try you out for size….90% of your rappers on some fake G shit, don’t know how to caress the steel when it’s time to spit”).
The hypnotic Maverick-produced “Blow Your Mind” is easily one of the album’s high points, as MCM faces the stresses of life over a beautifully crafted backdrops of soulful vocal samples and gentle pianos. Meanwhile, Demon Boyz member DJ Devastate increases the album’s head-nod quotient in no uncertain terms with 1995’s “You Can’t Fade Me”, a potent blend of jazzy Buckwild-esque boom-bap and forceful social commentary.
“The Strength” is a hauntingly mellow track which finds MCM explaining the importance belief in a higher spiritual power holds in his day-to-day life, whilst the previously-released self-produced banger “Power Moves” stills sounds as humongous today as it did back in the mid-90s, thanks to its obese beats and timeless samples. “On The Spot” is a dope, stripped-down pass-the-mic cipher jam featuring TKO and Da Verse dropping some punchline-heavy bars alongside their brother-in-rhymes.
Considering the length of “The Gospel” the quality levels remain high throughout, with even the Pete Rock-style instrumental interludes being worthy of your time. This project isn’t merely an excuse to release a heap of archived tracks for the sake of nostalgia that wasn’t considered good enough to be heard the first time around, instead it’s the sound of an artist finally being given the opportunity to share good music that circumstance and finances prevented from being released when most of it was initially recorded.
There are some who will consider “The Gospel” to be a comeback of sorts for MCM, but in essence, the likeable emcee from Bucks never left, as evidenced by the wealth of quality unreleased material included here.
So the question now isn’t about what MCM has been doing for all these years since Caveman split, it’s what is he going to come with in the future now he’s planted himself firmly back on the UK rap map?
On the strength of “The Gospel”, whatever MCM does next, it’s going to be something worth waiting for.
“The Gospel” will be released in June 2011.