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The Vacuum - Issue 18 - Waste spacer The Vacuum - Issue 18 - Waste
Food For Thought
by Philip Best
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Food For Thought is the debut album from Armagh based outfit Just A Word on their own 37 Records label; as stated on one of the tracks they deal in 'NI Hip Hop'. How Northern Ireland hip hop differentiates itself from American/South African/French etc. hip hop isn't immediately apparent; certainly on the evidence of this CD the Norn Iron accent lends itself well to the vocal exhortations of one of the band's influences, House Of Pain. At least on initial tracks their vocal style and jump up party attitude can be detected alongside the political/social concerns and live rock instrumentation of Rage Against The Machine. However it's perhaps in the lyrics that the specifically Northern Irish concerns of the group become apparent. Songs deal with the reality of living within a country and a political process consistently undermined by the attitudes and actions of those supposedly taking it forward; in To Whom It May Concern, a track that opens with the familiar voice of one of our more notorious political agitators, lyrics such as 'no fucking peace process should have punishments beatings' may not be subtle but certainly express a familiar sense of anger and frustration. Self doubt appears in More Than Life as it is asked 'have I deceived myself in thinking I gave it my all?'; love, or its lack, is addressed in Time And Place. Lyrically they may be no Dizzee but regret, vulnerability and doubt have their place alongside rage and certainty.
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The real problem with this album lies, unfortunately, with the music. Hip hop has arguably done more to advance the sonic range of popular music than any comparable style; for it to be played as it is for a substantial part of this album on a traditional rock line up of guitar, bass drums with the addition of occasional synth seems both reductionist and ignorant of the options offered by the sampler. Programmed beats introduced later redress this somewhat but still seem bound by rockist styles. This approach may be geared towards a live context; they appear to play regularly and both CD booklet and website display the band in performance. Probably more my fault than theirs that I expect them to match the sonic and lyrical invention of acts such as Cannibal Ox, Kanye West and MF Doom. A live setting might be the best environment in which to experience the group; despite the electro-ish interlude of Time And Place and the slightly jarring rock of More Than Life the album does become mired in mid paced breaks. Which is not to say that they can't play, in fact that could be the problem; rather the alien sonorities of the sampler than the smooth bassline or guitar lick.
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This may sound like damning with faint praise; it's simply that alongside it's lyrical concerns hip hop can offer more than a stock break and a funk bass. Still fair play for taking on a music that is notoriously hard to pull off with any credibility outside of its American birthplace; the instrumental approach simply isn't one that convinces. The group can be seen live on 18 August 2004 taking part in the Vital Battle of the Bands competition.
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