Various Artists

    Run the Road

    9
    Vice Records - March 8, 2005

    Hip-hop has been killed. It�s been killed by the million-dollar
    videos and drug dealers turned hook dealers. It�s been killed by the
    fear you see in artists who are only as good as their last album�s
    sales. But these are just indicators of hip-hop�s success and industry
    domination. Like rock in the �70s, hip-hop is the engorged king, fat
    with its own pomp, convinced of its own hype. If violence has replaced
    drugs, have we really learned any more from Biggie and Pac than they
    did from Hendrix and Morrison?

    [more:]

    Pop singles are all we�re left with, and the hip-hop machine
    rages on, destroying the innovation that made it so vital to begin
    with. But look closer; this homogenization of hip-hop is only an
    illusion. Even ignoring the ever-evolving underground, the strength of
    the genre — which is really the last major jump in musical evolution
    — is how much it can adapt to a new environment: witness the birth of
    an ever-evolving style.

    Grime is what the kids — rather, the journalists and
    publicists — are calling it in London these days. In reality, there is
    no designated name for this inevitable mixture of straight hip-hop and
    that other impossible-to-name genre, U.K. garage (two-step? Dub-step?).
    My preference is for Wiley�s Eskibeat, named after his genre-defining
    �Eskimo� circa 2002, (check out Wiley�s great �What U Call It?� off
    last year�s unfairly ignored Treadin� on Thin Ice for an overview of the problem). But one listen to Dizzee Rascal�s Boy in da Corner shows this is just British hip-hop finally gaining its own voice.

    That distinction might bother fans of the genre (who have already
    turned their back on Dizzee thanks to his crossover attempt with Showtime).
    But the hip-hop ethos does not have to be constraining, and in no way
    does a clear influence dilute the power or originality of the new
    sound. Just like punk in the late �70s was really rock �n� roll reborn,
    grime is the music world�s first serious opportunity to reclaim
    hip-hop. Other people can debate the social and cultural developments
    that led to the phenomenon, though. What you need to know is that this
    is vital music, pulling stark samples and hiccupping drum kicks into a
    volatile shape-shifting whole: think break-core stripped of excess and
    cut with paranoid delivery stuck to a synth held hostage.

    Whatever you call it, 679�s Run the Road compilation,
    released in America by the increasingly relevant Vice Records, is an
    essential move in the genre�s development. Bringing together the
    scene�s kings (and queens), the compilation isn�t just important, it�s
    effortlessly impressive in its superior selections and variety. Kano,
    who will be opening for Nas — yeah, that�s right — on his U.K. tour
    this spring, is featured on four songs. He is one of the more
    conventional hip-hop artists on the album, but he emerges as a star,
    particularly on �P�s & Q�s.� Dizzee and Wiley make excellent
    appearances, but even better are the young emcee Ears on the bubbly
    �Happy Dayz� and the quick spitter Durrty Goodz on �Gimme Dat.� Lady
    Sovereign, often denied grimy status by the genre�s elitists, is the
    most likely to succeed commercially. Already well known for her
    appearance on the remix of the Streets� �Fit But You Know It� (also
    included here), her �Cha Ching� brings fuzzy bass hits and rave-style
    breaks to a climax under her playful and startlingly charismatic
    performance.

    Few compilations are worth owning in the long run, but if grime has its way with the world, Run the Road
    might turn out to be the essential singles collection of the early
    years, when the greats were still mapping out uncharted territory.
    People have been trying to pigeonhole hip-hop for more than twenty
    years, but as this comp testifies, the ability of urban poetry and
    dance breaks to transform struggle and community experience into new
    artistic expression is still as powerful as ever. No matter where it
    comes from and what life is like there, music speaks for itself. And
    this music has something to say.

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