Tag Archives: dave mckean


Two of my heavyweight heroes have passed this week, and it breaks my heart. The retrospective reels depicting Joe Frazier’s greatness are a stark contrast to the sorry state of the heavyweight division these days (though Kirkland and Angulo’s Super Welterweight bout at the weekend was a throwback to a happier time). Anybody blinded by Ali-mania and some salty exchanges of words is a clown. Frazier’s vicious style and heavy hitting makes him a god. It’s a tragedy that he seemed to spend the last few years of his life in a different place to a formerly demonised Ali opponent like George Foreman who came out the other side (after a period of depression) a happy human being. This 1973 Playboy interview is worth a read ahead of any eulogies and the forthcoming documentary ‘When the Smoke Clears’ about Joe, Philly and the closure of his gym is promising too.

Then there’s Heavy D.

It was surreal watching the onetime Overweight Lover on Westwood.tv, pondering the excellence of ‘Blue Funk’ and thinking about how ‘You Can’t See What I Can See’ was up there with ‘Dwyck’ in the b-side stakes, only to hear of his passing. Hip-hop loves to wail and shout “whyyyyyyy?” to the heavens via social media and rap tribute during any passing, but Heavy D deserves a substantial mourning period — see that Drake album that’s been weeping salty tears from your iPhone screen since monday? That mix of macho bars and the soul stuff is the byproduct of the big man’s work, where a Teddy Riley production settled alongside the hardest of Premier beats without a single murmur of complaint. And that was during a time when Wreckx-N-Effect’s boys got vexed at Phife’s anti swing sentiments and EPMD were decrying R&B crossovers. Heavy helped make Puffy the man his is today, and Puff’s influence — regardless of your opinion of the Ciroc wielding ego — on pop culture as a whole is gargantuan.

Heavy D knew early on that there’s no such thing as selling out, provided that you do it right and that Sprite campaign pre-dates a slew of multi-national flirtations with hip-hop. Better that that, ‘Nike’ on the ‘Living Large’ LP in 1987 is an early ode swoosh with a Teddy Riley on co-operation that’s so shameless that Heavy even apologises at the end before angling for a promo deal. On the ‘Chunky But Funky’ cover, the Jordan IIs quantities are on the level of Heavy D’s scrawny opposites, the Skinny Boys. It’s a shame that one of the Boyz forgot his Italian-made classics on the morning of the shoot.

On a loosely related nostalgia note, Trevor Jackson and Richard XL’s live Ustream video construction of a UK rap mixtape the other day plus this 1986 DJ Mek footage of London Posse in Dublin as highlighted by the Hot As Balls crew brought back some memories of Mr. Jackson’s Bite It! work under the Underdog alias. Had his Playgroup album dropped in the MP3 blog era, the world would have collectively ejaculated tweet plaudits about it and the new generation of quasi-artistic MCs would hop on the productions for their Mediafire mixtapes. But the world wasn’t quite ready for that one and his Output imprint closed in 2006. Under his Underdog guise, Trevor dropped some bangers, at a time when the UK re-rub was a reason to skip a track. It’s interesting that he frequently downplays his musical ability at that time, indicating that treating the sonics the same way as graphic design, with a patchwork approach was the key to his sound.

While some Underdog work might have been lumped with the post-Muggs, THC-haze there’s an ambience and knack for psychedelia in the mix that could be fully appreciation when it was free from the distraction of comparison with beloved originals. On the Brotherhood’s ‘Elementalz’ it was out there. Some of the album might sound a little naive now, but the little gothic touches and lavish yet abstract art from Dave Mckean indicated that someone had taken their time putting it together in contrast to the graffiti fonts and barely Pentel tag fonts of rival British releases. It never set off a movement and as a nation, few lessons were learned and UK rap moaned and stagnated. Now the real appeal is in a hastily recorded road rap sound that’s too agitated to bother with lavish inlays.

This interview with Jackson is brutally honest at a time when many swagger around as one-man brands on a Klout score mission. He downplays a little too much of his work, but it’s clear that the graphic design and typography is still his first passion (check out Cynthia Rose’s ‘Design After Dark’ for some sleeve and clubland designs that typify the late ’80s to early ’90s, including some of Jackson’s Champion and Gee Street work). His site has a good cross section of his works so far, but Bite It!s street-level take on the Suzuki rhino and the attention lavished on some otherwise forgotten 12″s with Donald Christie’s photography.

Little Pauly Ryan EP’s been on here before, but it deserves a second appearance alongside Scientists of Sound and 100% Proof releases too. Who else was doing anything like that in 1992? He still works with Donald on video projects like this. That sloganeering should be memorable to ‘Phat’ readers too. I can’t help but think that that one-man, money’s-no-object (rarely the key to longevity in the recording industry) crusade against mediocrity deserves inspection from a wider audience as we champion some right old sh…actually, to honour Hev’s ‘Don’t Curse’ plea, it can get censored…shameless rubbish.


When it comes to the UK hip-hop look and sound, someone’s changed their tune in a major way. I wrote the following in 2008-

“It’s one thing being harassed by charity muggers on the hunt for your sort code on a busy shopping street or having a long distance phonecard thrust upon you at every turn, but the enterprising characters trying to get their Percee on and shift a CD-R because you look like a likely hip-hop consumer (at the age of 30, a massive insult) are the new menace. It’s not even a mixtape. It’s just some UK bloke in beat shoes with hotrock burnt tracky bottoms on with tired bars, recycling Heatmakerz instrumentals. The British rap scene absorbed itself, slowly dissolving, eroded by its own weak attitude while grime kids grafted, battled and shamelessly self-promoted.

Feeling liberated by the joy of feeling absolutely nothing when someone dressed like Barry George demands that we support “the homegrown” — stripped of eccentricity, humour, originality and a deeply dull preoccupation that rhyming off the noggin is the be all and end all (see also, Skillz and Supernatural) it simply devolved. The sense of obligation, that “putting in work” meant pressing up complete shit, sulking, sitting in a bedsit, sick with the bitterness of decades spent practising tags, backspinning and writing rhymes with deliberate references to Pat Butcher and Blair to assert UK status is over. As far as rap goes, keep on outsourcing.

To the angry local lyricists—speed up those rhymes, study Hijack, mention more sorcery and exorcism and fuck off to Germany. Your Britcore sound might earn you a Euro and floor to sleep on. Meanwhile, across the pond, those effortless Parisians can merge rap and graf with no trace of corniness. Extra points for the double time flows and nice jackets.”

Call me shallow, but beyond some tinny sonics and a small-minded worldview that hindered the sound of hip-hop, the look alienated me too. Raised as I was on rappers posing outside the Gee Street offices in head-to-toe Troop and Reebok (back when Reebok was aspirational), or Hip Hop Connection shots of UK crews in Chipie, Air Max Lights, Africa pendants and pinrolls, things just seemed to get squalid. Local rap just became an embarrassment, split into two factions – the night where grime was slightly slowed to a half-arsed mulch of screwfaces and attitude, and the dogs-on-strings, balding with a beer belly beneath a faded Stones Throw fun-free student-friendly headnod, no hint of populism evenings. I never felt either scenes. To truly conquer, I wanted to hear kids on the street listening to UK rap, and for cohesive long-players that weren’t just bought out of sympathy for the scene’s bedraggled patrons. When I saw the atrocious artwork for Blade’s ‘Guerilla Tactics’ I just walked away. I didn’t look back.

Years prior, London MCs looked aspirational. They might have been skint, but they didn’t have the spliff-yellowed forefingers or stretch-necked tees. Unless you’re really good, I don’t want to see a rapping tramp. Album covers were lurid but not lurid good. I don’t hold US rap up as a hotbed of superior design, but there’s weak, and there’s a friend from the call-centre day job’s desktop publishing software. Bar the fine work of Big Dada, and superior mixtape artworkers with international clients like Deftone, great UK rap covers were a ’90s thing. ‘Horns of Jericho’s over-literal underground with punk rock cut and paste, ‘Gangster Chronicle’s newspaper and (the overlooked) ‘Elementalz’s Dave McKean art. An extra mention for Bite It! records’ Little Pauly Ryan sleeve.

It could’ve been amazing. MC Duke’s semi-famous stately home ‘Organised Rhyme’ photoshoot, draped in tweed and gold was some Andre 3000 antics long before ‘Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik’…even on that debut ‘Dre was a Jordan man. Of course, the Krown Rulers ‘Paper Chase’ album sleeve in chainmail with a castle behind them  was marginally more gentrified, but to a young ‘un, a presumably underpaid (from rap anyway) Duke seemed as flossy as Big Daddy Kane. He also turned up a few years later in a full Burberry suit. A few decades later? Shabbiness reigned supreme. Then UK rap went pop with the appalling N-Dubz, Tinchy and Pro Green, Plan B got wacker. In 2010, the F64 era brought the faith back. All blacked-out in their attire, at least Strapzy, Giggs, Skanx bring a certain swagger where desperation once ruled the scene. I even like SAS’s work more, shorn of that Dipset affiliation. My expectations for the Trident-baiting Giggs’ new album (and XL debut) ‘Let Em Ave It’ are high, but I’m undecided on that artwork. A garish blend of 2000AD, naivety, and akin to a cautionary government-funded pamphlet handed out in an upper school, at least he tried. Any unexpectedly odd touch like that warrants a celebration. Long may this momentum continue.

However, my Gallic preoccupation still remains. Despo Rutti is that dude. This is hard too –