Album Review: Union Blak – Street English

Despite the fact that it has now been out for over a month, it is surely not too late to welcome an album which overwhelmingly defies the commonly-heard aphorism that ‘real’ Hip Hop is dead. It exists, a subterranean animal, evidenced only when deliberately sought out or inadvertently stumbled upon – proof incarnate of this fact is Street English, Union Blak’s new(ish) release of eleven dope tracks which throwback to the Golden era of Hip Hop and will definitely be relished by purists.
Sir Williams, UK DJ and producer who samples and scratches galore; a salute to the pioneers, is stylistically a collage of (the two greatest?) DJ Premier and Pete Rock, with a dash of Hi Tek thrown in for good measure. The latter’s influence is clear in Chasing the Wind, a track that features a sharp snare in a scant drum pattern and an earthy bass and synth combination sparingly layered with minimalist piano loops. An ethereal rap from Kimba speaks of travelling and human growth, fulfilling the track’s summery vibe. ‘I hear keys jingle in locks inside the cadence/ My natural instinct feels like they tryin’a tame it/ I’m fearful, as if hunted by these statements/ Is this real? Or just my imagination?’
Kimba is a US rhymer whose forbearers would certainly include CL Smooth, Guru, X Clan’s Brother J and Binary Star’s One Be Lo – a poetic storyteller, silkily delivering conscious lyrics that lack pomposity or pretentiousness – as is sometimes not the case. This is best evidenced in the eponymous track, Street English. The track demonstrates in a palimpsest of Gang Starr’s timeless style that the combination of a skilful MC and a tight DJ still produces some of the most authentic-sounding Hip Hop music, despite all the artificial adjustments and candy-coatings the genre has undergone since the so-called golden-age of the early 1990’s.
‘Name another genre that’s been scrutinized the same/ for raisin’ hell minus the same level of blame/ so we salute the aims of our abandoned authors, raised in poverty and became world-renowned scholars.’
The versatility of Sir Williams, despite his distinctly thoroughbred influences and adherence to old-school techniques and sounds is what particularly stands out in this album, and it’s on show once more in both Our Time and Sonkiss, which feature velvety hooks from singers Candice and Charlene Lamb respectively – a nod to millennium-era Pete Rock, calling to mind the classic RnB twist Mind Blowin’ with Vinia Mojica. Sir Williams’ acknowledgement of Preme is palpable in The Truth, a track that alludes to fakery and connivance in the industry – reminiscent of Guru’s bars on Put Up Or Shut Up.
Kimba’s smooth reflective cognizance is conspicuous in the album’s finale, Turf, a tough, marching-band-style neck-breaking anthem: ‘Sometimes governments play God, play thugs/ Treatin’ countries like blocks where hustlers sell drugs/ Set-up shop collect stock and shed blood’.
This is conscious boom-bap at its finest, a sure indicator that orthodox Hip Hop is still being produced in 2015. Are we about to experience a rebirth? Street English brings hope.

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