Monday, December 19, 2011

LOST CLASSIC #1: Credit To The Nation 'Take Dis' (1994)


There are certain acts you simply can't imagine in the Top 40 these days, not to mention certain songs. When 'Common People' and 'A Design For Life' both hit the #2 spot within the same 12-month period in the mid-nineties, although they were landmark records and important political statements that would become inseparable from British social and cultural history, it never seemed quite so significant as it would later become. A socially-conscious, anti-materialistic, articulate British rapper taking his position in the UK charts seems an anamoly that would be worth its weight in gold at this point, especially considering the social unrest of this summer, yet in 1994 it almost seemed like teenager MC Fusion AKA Matty Hanson's Credit To The Nation (plus dancers T-Swing and Mista-G) were destined to become something of a commercially-viable musical force.

Listening back to the Midlands group's debut album 'Take Dis' (even its title is a tongue-in-cheek reaction to the ubiquity of the then-boyband), it's surprising to hear how the album's themes resonate today. With Public Enemy-style production, pace and energy, it's a collection of 15 wildly focussed, angry, defiant and sharp chapters that offer an invigorating take on life, social and racial division and inequality in Britain circa 1994. With it's refreshingly subversive outlook and what we now might know as an 'anti-bling' stance, we only need to exchange a few references ('Major' is now 'Cameron', 'En Vogue' could be 'The Pussycat Dolls' and 'Shabba' could even be 'Dappy'. The Royal Family, whom Fusion suggests incorporate black into their gene pool, are still The Royal Family), and the sense of stereotyping, oppression and ignorance being railed against makes perfect sense. With it's evocative, soulful, part-instrumental passages ('Pressure', Teen Groove', 'Rising Tide'), speech samples (talk of 'unprecedented immigration', news clips reporting the progress of the far-right), thick, tough beats, rousing hooks and sense of freneticism, it's as close to a British answer to 'Fear Of A Black Planet' as the 1990s reached. Breakthrough, Peel-endorsed 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'/'Welcome To The Terrordome'-sampling single 'Call It What You Want' is perfectly placed towards the end of the album, acknowledging the kinetic similarities between grunge and hip-hop a full decade before 'Boy In Da Corner', and 'Teenage Sensation', the #25 hit that even made it onto a Now! compilation still sounds determined, vibrant and utterly lifting, even if tinged with a certain sadness that the anticipation and promise it elicits were never fulfilled. It's a truly British album, in its rejection of materialistic and aspirational urban voices from the dominant US, extreme sense of morality and pleas for racial unity and inclusion, which is arguably more in line with the origins of hip-hop than the destructive, violent nihilism of the then-burdgeoning gangster rap force. Much of the album revolves around pleas for mutual understanding and respect for our differences and ultimate similarities, both as groups and as individuals, as well as for the welfare of the planet itself, not always a marketable message. With its anti-media and establishment overtones plus condemnation of prejudice, inequality, corruption, media manipulation ('Sowing The Seeds Of Hatred') and abuse of authority ('Filth'), 'Take Dis' remains depressingly relevant.

Unfortunately, it seems CTTN's mission statement, strongly critical of homophobia and misogyny, could not compete with what the mainstream had begun to expect from their hip-hop, and their refusal to comply with a stereotypical set of lyrical themes couldn't have prolonged their brief, fleeting success (they also duetted with a pre-'Tubthumping' Chumbawamba on the anti-fascist single 'Enough Is Enough' and toured with a radical-era Manic Street Preachers). There's a resigned sense of knowingness inherit in the album ('No politics, I want to hear a tune!'), but no tone of deflation or defeat. In a climate where 'indie' was beginning to signify British white boys playing regressive guitar music, Credit To The Nation left One Little Indian in a fug of weed not long after the release of second album 'Daddy Always Wanted Me To Grow A Pair of Wings' in 1996 ('Take Dis' reached #20, it's follow up did not chart), briefly resurfacing with Radiohead-sampling single 'Tacky Love Song' two years later, taken from unreleased album 'Keep Your Mouth Shut'. Yet, like a hip-hop 'Never Mind The Bollocks', 'Take Dis' is a concise, invigorating documentation of the band's manifesto that sounds exciting, furious and articulate today, in a gritty climate of uncertainty, chaos, distrust and disharmony, even if Credit To The Nation's initial spark burnt out almost overnight.

Credit To The Nation reformed this year, have played live dates and are currently recording new material. It is rumoured that Public Enemy's Chuck D will feature on a forthcoming album. In the meantime Matty Hanson has started a family and a side-project, the rap-metal crossover, Backup Radio.

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