Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Personal or Political: Hip Hop Lyrics in Manchester

It could be true to say that all lyrics will fall on either the personal or the political side of the fence. Popular interpretations of the personal often grow around strong emotions; love, hate, friends, enemies, ambitions, memories; introspection generally. Whereas the political song challenges the world around us, from immediate society to global issues; interpersonal, if you like. After all, it is a distinction found throughout society and life, so to find it in music can only make sense.

The two styles are evident within a pair of Manchester’s more prominent hip hop groups, Broke’n’English and The Natural Curriculum (TNC).

The former opt for a personal touch, reminiscing fondly or with tongue placed firmly in cheek about Life on the Costa Del Salford. Either way, they’re inclined towards experience, like rapping raconteurs dramatising their own lives. This interpretation of their music writing style is encapsulated in the line “I’m doing this for my family and the rest is just bonus,” bringing to a close ‘Kill Em’ from Broke'n'English MC Strategy's Pre-Season Training digital album.

Compare this with TNC who, on paper, on video and on record, are the more socially aware. Certainly through the Dayse & Aver splinter group, backed by DJ Omas, they point out dystopian aspects of society and rasp viciously about the double standards of the status quo. They enter dialogue with the world’s uncomfortable truths ringing in their ears from sci-fi films and Moondog epigrams (“Machines were mice and men were lions once upon a time, but now that it’s the opposite it’s twice upon a time”), bringing a barrage of metaphor (“You live your life like a white rat behind glass / Trapped by the dread of what could happen if you bite back”) and messages for us all.

Conversely, it is Broke’n’English who rise to the occasion of performing to and with a crowd. Their shows are more of a spectacle, sharing inward looking lyrics with the utmost external confidence. Their audiences are encouraged to participate by choosing words or topics for them to freestyle around, which adds a jocular entertainment that Dayse & Aver avoid.

The latter tackle the grim with gusto and the real with relish, enshrouding the listener in a darkness of supposed sci-fi just beyond the looking glass; the sort found in A Clockwork Orange or Nineteen Eighty Four that sits a little too close to home, while staying arm’s-length enough to leave many readers thankful for small mercies and oblivious to the puppet strings. It doesn’t lend Dayse & Aver's music to an uptempo outlook.

There’s no doubting that Broke’n’English have more renown both in Manchester and beyond but you’ve seen Dayse & Aver as well, I guarantee it. It’s hard to miss them when walking around Manchester; past the city’s streetlamps, bars, venues, signposts. Their paraphernalia is peering back at you in mugshot poses, waiting for you to take note. And take note you will.

The recently released video for one of Dayse & Aver’s debut EP’s standouts ‘No Exit’ brings the images to life, with Dayse donning his trademark ski goggles in untypically apt, snowy terrain. While other members of the TNC collective have their own distinct styles, it is the political voices currently shouting the loudest. And those voices, of Dayse & Aver, are there to proclaim more than entertain, so the contrast with Broke’n’English continues. By comparison they’re static, stoic and standoffish, visibly waging verbal wars by facing each another with words fired back and forth, but letting lyrics rather than gimmicks do the work.

This isn’t to say their performances are motionless. Past gig costumes have included CCTV camera heads leering at them – a nod to the video for ‘Human Zoo’ – and a string of future shows will fill stages with instruments as part of a live collaboration with former members of The Mind On Fire Band, beginning with Antwerp Mansion on Thursday 22nd March. It is just a case of what they say more than what they do being the cause for movement, which is an apt contrast with Broke'n'English given the lyrical dichotomy.

Words: Ian Pennington
Dayse & Aver album art from Dayse & Aver EP
Strategy album art from Pre-Season Training
Photos #1 & #2: Ged Camera
Photo #3: Gary Brown (GB Multimedia)
Flyer design: Hattie Lockwood

Dayse & Aver headline Antwerp Mansion on Thursday 22nd March. Support comes from Mothership Connection and Krankit.

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