Sunday, 2 February 2014

Album of the Week #11

Artist: Union Blak
Album: Union Blak Friday
Year: 2013
Label: Effiscienz Records

Modern old skool-styled UK hip-hop

Sir Simon Williams and Kimba may hail from New York and New Jersey respectively, but the duo who make up Union Blak are based here in the UK. Naturally, I hereby claim them as UK hip-hop. And by my watch, we need all the hip-hop talent we can get in this country- 'UK Hip-Hop' has become a rather dirty phrase.

Union Blak are straight out of the old skool. You can't really argue with endorsements from Chuck D, De La Soul and Jazzy Jeff, and fortunately, the music lives up to the hype. Union Blak Friday, briefly given away for the princely sum of £0 late last year, is a relentless set of hip-hop bangers masterly produced and rapped.

Much like my review of Ugly Duckling a few weeks ago, this is an album that could quite easily have appeared in the deluge of jazzy hip-hop in the late 80s and early 90s. It's all funky hooks, catchy refrains and honest, heartfelt lyrics - no macho posturing in sight. Union Blak are certainly reading from the same hymn sheet as some of their old skool American contemporaries, but unlike Ugly Duckling, they've captured a moment in time of hip-hop and, with a touch of Anglicisation, advanced it.

Some of the cream of UK hip-hop feature on the album, including Serocee, K9 and Blak Twang. And it's this splash of British artists that really help to set the album apart from the rest. With Williams' beats excelling throughout, the unashamedly British verses from the featuring guests make it an album that doffs a cap to the past and acknowledges its transatlantic influences, but doesn't merely try to imitate it.

Although the featured artists always impress, the album's main highlights arrive when it's the two adopted Londoners of Union Blak in the spotlight. 5th Avenue, an ode to New York, is perhaps the standout moment of the whole record and comes as a counterpoint to the predominantly UK-influenced hip-hop. Elsewhere, closing track Hit is symbolic of the album as a whole, with Kimba's effortless flow and Williams' catchy beats and vocal sample hook coming to the fore.

Union Blak Friday is an album that's hard to dislike. It perfectly encapsulates that Friday feeling of freshness and freedom. Whisper it quietly, but this is hip-hop firmly rooted in UK culture, and it's really rather good. Give it a chance and have a listen below. You won't regret it!

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