Village Voice, July 6th, 2004
by Simon Reynolds
For years the pathos of Brit-rap as a pale and slightly off
reflection of the Real Thing was summed up in the name Derek B. He was
pretty good, actually. But in the gladiatorial realpolitik of rap more
than anywhere, "pretty good" don't cut it. All through the '90s, at
regular intervals, you'd hear the cry go up: "British hip-hop finally
comes good with ____." But to be honest, none of the names that've
filled the blank ever got further than Derek-level decency. Which is why
you never hear your Mike Skinners and Dizzee Rascals name-dropping
Gunshot or Ruthless Rap Assassins or the Brotherhood; no, it's always
Nas or Raekwon or Ludacris they cite. And that's not inverted
patriotism, not really—-that's just genius responding to genius.
recent years, the most convincing case for British hip-hop (not
counting grime, which is really a totally different animal: nowt to do
with UKrap, it evolved out of dancehall via rave's shouty MC'ing) has
been mounted by London's Big Dada, the sister label to rap-less trip-hop
imprint Ninja Tune. The British backpacker scene is even more
insufferable and self-stifled-by-cool than its American undie-hop
counterpart. But as heard on their excellent 2002 comp Extra Yard,
Big Dada's acts (Ty, Gamma, Roots Manuva) injected some real and
long-overdue rudeness into the U.K. sound—albeit mostly production-wise,
as U.K. MCs on the whole tend to remain low-key. All that changes with
Infinite Livez, who dominates his own records in a way few non-grime
Brit MCs do.
The first thing that distinguishes Livez
is his in-yer-face voice (or voices—he has several comic alter egos,
some of them quite Monty Python–esque). He saunters through the tracks
of his debut album, Bush Meat, with a sort of loutish elegance.
One of his trademarks is extending the last syllable of a line into a
great bleary smear midway between yawn and yowl, insolently slackjawed
and somehow saucy. This man is larger than life; his imagination's
equally outsize. Standout track "The Adventures of the Lactating Man"
puts a whole new twist on "flow." After squirting his girlfriend in the
eye when she's fondling his nipples, Livez visits his doctor. But when
the nurse tries to take a specimen (expertly—"she was twiddling my
nipple like my radio dial") the man-milk just won't stop gushing. The
population has to stay "afloat in boats" as the entire U.K. gets
inundated "with fresh milk well pasteurized" (past your eyes, geddit?).
Livez's languid lasciviousness as he raps about girls "making me feel
all frisky" by "chewing on my tit like it's made of Wrigley," and his
delirious moans of "bit more . . . oooooooh . . . little bit more" as
the "white gravy" gloops out introduce a Princely polymorphous
perversity I've never heard in hip-hop before, apart from maybe OutKast.
(Who might be a reference point, or even influence, although former art
student Livez's favorite André is actually Breton).
a rapping Rabelais, or Bataille with a beat, Livez's mind's eye is
magnetized by that ripe zone where the appetites (erotic, gastronomic)
intersect with animalism and scatology. "White Wee Wee" is a moist
miasma of sex-as-food and lovers-as-beasts metaphors ("ejaculate honey
for you," "my snout in your wet wound") while the skit-ish interlude
"Brown Nosh" features Bouncement Queen demanding a rim job as her fee
for appearing on the album. "Worcestershire Sauce" redefines flava in
terms of U.K. potato chips (or, to put it proper, crisps, which come in
exotic flavors like "ready salted," "cheese & onion," et al.).
And "Drilla Ape" tells the story of a man cheating on his partner with a
The music, mostly produced by people from
Livez's crew, Shadowless, totally fits the lyrics. It's a bit like
"Atomic Dog" if produced by Rembrandt Pussy Horse–era Butthole Surfers: bulging and Bootsy-elasticated, hyper-gloss cartoony (Livez did a comic book called Globulicious
and used to design Game Boy graphics), wriggly with funkadelic detail.
The Afro-future funk of "Claati Bros" (lyrically a droll if slightly
opaque spoof on Brit Art, painters daubing canvases with elephant
doo-doo, etc.) might be Groove of the Year; like "White Wee Wee," it's
slinky yet ruff. And some of the best bits are the interludes—for
instance, the Animal Collective–weird romp of "The Forest Spirit Sings
the Bush Meat Song."
Only toward the end does Livez's
shtick gets a little fatigued—"Pononee Girl," from its punany pun on
down, belabors a not hugely amusing sex-as-horse-riding metaphor. But
then Bush Meat rallies with the brilliant "Last Nite." Over an
apprehensive xylo-bass riff, Livez unfurls a panic-attack panorama of
bad stuff, the mindscreen of a man unable to stop contemplating all the
sadness and terrible goings-on in the world: stillborn babies, abused
wives, teenagers scarred by a face full of shrapnel, murders in forest
clearings, a Massai warrior losing all of his cattle. The chorus, nicked
from Indeep's hymn to life-saving deejays, goes, "Last night I nearly
took my life."
Honestly, I'd be surprised if a better rap album is released this year, from anywhere.