Derided by Yankophiles and overshadowed by the in-your-face stylings of grime, UK hip-hop didn’t get much press at the start of the century. While occasionally acts like Roots Manuva or Ty threatened to pop their head over the parapet and make a dash for crossover success, a talented but undernourished scene featuring such talents as Jehst, Task Force and Skinnyman was frequently left to celebrate itself.
Yet over the last few years an increasing amount of rapping pop stars like Plan B and Tinie Tempah have emerged, making British hip-hop harder to ignore than ever before; even if a number of them (Relentless bores Professor Green and Example, for, er, example) seem more about posturing and chart success then producing anything of lasting quality.
Still, the shift in focus makes you wonder if someone like Jon Phonics may be ready to receive the credit he deserves. Hailing from Hemel Hempstead, the producer has produced beats for underground luminaries such as Verb T, Jehst, Kashmere, Fliptrix and Sonnyjim, yet his talent is such that over the last few years he’s been slowly edging into the spotlight himself. This year has already seen him put out an incredible 14-track (!) EP, released on 50 limited edition cassettes (exclusively on Bleep) that unsurprisingly sold out straight away.
While putting out a cassette is often the domain of the cooler-than-thou fashionista who wants to disguise the fact that they’re not that popular, Jon claims that the decision came from wanting to make something “for kids in the suburbs with shit £500 cars that still have tape players in, like me”. He also clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously, claiming the tape was inspired after finding a bit of paper in a Greggs sausage roll that said “Rugers” on it, and describing his sound as “acousticspacefunkdustyelectroboombapwiggahop…like a chopped n’ screwed dreamscape cassette playing outta radio Raheem’s boombox“.
Which, hilariously, is not that far off the mark. “Rugers” flits between several styles but manages to never sound like it’s over-reaching, whether it be channelling a spaced-out Madlib on ‘Unrequited’, which is like holding a champagne reception in your auditory canal, or concocting a cut-up synth splurge like on ‘Kepler’, which recalls THEESatisfaction’s recent Anita Baker mash-up EP.
Best of all may be current single ‘FX WITH THE LIFE’, a gorgeous, chopped and screwed effort featuring ItsNate, a man with a delivery as smooth as his apostrophe use is shonky, which might just be Britain’s answer to A$AP Rocky and Clams Casino’s celebrated collaborations.
Except maybe better. With ol’ Clammy Clams having been a bit off the boil of late, Jon Phonics may well have the pluck to take over his mantle, and without the danger of being locked into a trademark style either. “Rugers” gave fifty people a reason to hunt down AA batteries for their old tape players. Here’s hoping that next time he’ll release on a more convenient format, but if he decided to put out a sodding laser disc then we’ll still be buying it. We suggest you do too.