SCLWN – Everything is OK (Hool-A-Hop Records)
It’s an odd task reviewing foreign language Hip Hop. The genre is built upon its lyrical qualities at least as much as its musical ones and trying to rate the value of what’s being said in a language you have absolutely no understanding of is really rather pointless. But then again, both in the world of freely distributed music and in the Hip Hop world in general a vast amount of the good stuff which is going on is going on in non-English speaking countries where the conventions of a genre which is habitually dominated by cliched traditions are being corrupted and subverted by local styles and oddities. So you can’t do it proper justice and you don’t want to ignore it, which leaves you stuck in the middle unfortunately. The only way I can see to look into this vast world of new Hip Hop is to alter expectations completely, the vocal side of things needs to merge into the musical, becoming just another layer to the sound rather than a seperate and distinct stream above or within it. It’s unfair, to a great degree, because where an English speaking act might get away with an average beat by balancing it out with original, interesting lyrics these new objects of interest don’t have the choice. Then again, better to be judged and heard on an unfair playing field than not to be judged or heard at all I suppose and I cede without hesitation to any native speaking reviewers when it comes to evaluating the quality of what’s being done on the MCs level. And the blade of the unbalanced opinion cuts both ways because, as I’ve been rapidly learning with my recent adventures in the darkened corners of the foreign internet, (where us English chaps tread carefully and with great trepidation, terrified as we are of those damnable exotic types) sometimes an average beat and very possibly average lyrics can be counterracted by the simple sound of a foreign language working as a musical tool to the the mind of the ignorant.
But, as if that lot wasn’t pretentious enough, I’ll head even further into tedious muso obscurity and start talking about ‘SCLWN’, a Russian Experimental Hip Hop group who I really don’t know a fucking thing about, if only because everything I can find about them is, unsurprisingly, in Russian. This album, only recently released as best I can tell, is made up of dark, heavy beats and an indecipherable wall of Russian lyrics and it really does work well. Musically there’s a clear intent to create something slightly unnerving and dark, even industrial and with the vocal layer on top it I’m finding it hard not to start imagining abandoned concrete wastelands, decaying Soviet era grandeur and post-apocalyptic landscapes. Of course this could just be over reading on my part, based on all the cultural baggage which is attached to mixing the Russian element with this sort of production but there’s joy in the lazy Western imagining, even if for all I know they could be rapping about how many Ho’s they’re aquainted with and what kind of BMW daddy’s going to buy them (although I rather doubt that they are).
It’s by no means a unique style though, the Industrial path is a well trodden one and even if I’m finding a certain amount of interesting novelty here I’m not going to wax too lyrical about it all just because of that. It’s a good example of what it is though and even if I am sitting here listening to it in the full light of day I do get the feeling that it’d be wise not to stick it on the MP3 player as I walk through the empty streets of London late at night and if music can threaten to scare you or make you feel uncomfortable then it’s certainly got something going for it. As a side note to that qualification though, the alternation between those not uncommon heavy beats and the occasional section of more ethereal, at times almost Jazzy instrumentals makes for an interesting shift in the nature of the album without abandoning the overall style.
So listen, then get lost in the world of Russian Hip Hop, be sure to tell me what you find in there.