Spitting poems from England's ghettos, British rapper Luca Brazi presents a more sombre and thoughtful approach to hip-hop.
He’s from England’s West Country but he sounds like he’s straight out of the Bronx.
Like a strange musical answer to The Lonely Londoners and The Planet of Junior Brown, British rapper Luca Brazi’s solo debut, Dying Proof, bridges the gap between the salty airs of English dives and the danger and panic of the South Bronx. The 20-something MC has been circulating in the UK’s underground hip-hop scenes for a number of years now, as a member of hip-hop collectives Granville Sessions, Moose Funk and B.O.M.B. He’s now just released his first solo album this past summer. It’s the product of everything the rapper has loved about hip-hop, his saving grace from his early school days as a young child growing up in the West Country.
“I was into rap music at an early age and even had a crew called LSDJ in primary school,” Brazi says. “We didn't have any proper tunes but I remember writing loads of lyrics about flossing in skater garms and bunking off school. Hardcore stuff, mate!
"I used to love Warren G and stuff like that, but at that age I'm sure it was just an image thing. When I started secondary school I got into Wu-Tang! That was a big change for me and then when Fugees’ The Score came out, I was hooked. Didn't listen to anything else.
"My tastes varied as I got older. The kids I was hanging out with were listening to a lot of heavy metal and I found big love for that. After that, when I was getting into drink and drugs and, being from the West Country, it was almost a rite of passage to get into Drum and Bass. That's when I first dabbled with MCing.”
Dying Proof positions itself squarely between the beatnik-jazz-sampled hip-hop of the ‘90s (recalling the work of Digable Planets at times), and the seriously unfussy grooves of turntablism and boombap. As grime is the current leading popular form of hip-hop in the UK, Brazi finds an Afrocentric pivot in his brand of hip-hop that mines the old-soul and atmospheric blues of a Motown scenester. His block-heavy, diamond-cut beats plume with the blue smoke of pipedreams and languor and his raps often resound like long-ringing echoes from London’s ghettos; the mood and romance of downtrodden lives detailed over the course of the album are storied with the literary grit of Samuel Selvon and Chester Himes novels.
“The album took me about a year to make (apart from a couple of beats that I had lying around) which, unintentionally, gave it a 'year in the life' feel because it’s all written about what was going on with me at that time,” the rapper reflects. “I don't think I’m alone in this, but I write a lot more when I'm stressed, depressed or angry, and a lot of the themes on the album reflect that. Problems with money, employment, women, etc. Those were the tracks that came more naturally to me.
"The hardest track to write was The Yellow Bird'. The project really needed some balance, so I focused on writing something a little more outward-thinking, if you know what I mean. Glad I did it because the track leans toward my general mentality more than the remainder of the winge-fest that is my album. I'm a lot happier these days. Hope that won't affect my output!”
Indeed, Brazi’s tales of woe saturate the deep grooves with the grey wash of despair; “Turbulence” describes the rapper’s ups and downs of recording an album during the bouts of loneliness, boredom and fears of financial insecurity. As it were with the lushed-out bucolic funk that fills out the carefree groove, those sullen sentiments may be lost on the listener.
Elsewhere, the rapper perfects a more brusque display of bravado and aggression; the ghettoblasting grooves of “Tense” ring with the sultry samples from a blaxploitation soundtrack, with the rapper throwing boasts like darts over the steady flow of beats. The more poetic turns of “The Yellow Bird” and the locomotive shuffles of “The Plot” explore the deeper reaches of human emotion and reveal a profoundly moving version of British hip-hop not especially common on the market today.
“With my album there are no compromises,” Brazi asserts. “Everything you hear is me. Despite clear traditional hip-hop influences, everything I do will be different to anything else stylistically because I am an individual. I'm really pleased to have something out there that represents me and the music I wanna make. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start and hopefully an introduction to more of me to come.”
Splash image from video, "Turbulence"