WHEN 18 year old working class garage MC Dizzee Rascal picked up the Mercury Music Prize I was pleased, but something bugged me. It had nothing to do with his oversimplistic beats or the lack of content in his lyrics. I quite like his voice and style of flow.
What irritated me was that Mr Rascal was seen as the pinnacle of innovation. Maybe he is innovative in the eyes of the Top of the Pops audience. But in the UK underground music scene there are many artists as good as and much better than Dizzee.
One scene full to the brim of ability, content and innovation is the UK hip-hop scene. Untouched by major labels, the music is left to ferment in its own time, and is more personal and real. It's like GM foods-when you start to produce foods just for profit, taste and goodness suffer.
So some urban commercial music imitates US accents and promotes a fake lifestyle of diamonds, flash cars and guns-known as the 'bling bling' culture. I was amazed when I first got into the UK hip-hop scene at how political the music is.
Life, one third of Phi Life Cypher, has just released his debut album Everyday Life, featuring tracks about Stephen Lawrence, inner city life and the discontent with the system. Another group, Task Force, hails from the Highbury estate and has cult status in the UK hip-hop underground scene. Their albums, Music from the Corner, Voice of the Great Outdoors, and New Mic Order, are all lyrical masterpieces.
Streetwise, talented and very intelligent, this group should have picked up the Mercury Music Prize long ago. But lack of funds, publicity and industry respect means these guys must be content with their underground status. Chester P from Task Force states, 'I want my hip-hop to be street, underground. So it's gonna reach people like myself. I don't want to reach all these bourgie kind of people.
'I wanna be reaching ghetto yutes, going round their estates an so on. I don't want no fucking suit n tie man in his Porsche playing my shit.'
Task Force are signed to Low Life records, one of the biggest independent UK hip-hop labels. Low Life was formed by rapper Braintax. Braintax and Task Force teamed up on a Rawdog track, 'Arrest the President', with an image of a monkey carrying a gun on the cover-any reference to George Bush, I wonder?
So why is it that groups like Task Force don't get a look in when it comes to awards? UK hip-hop is not as commercially viable as garage is. Ever since major labels got their claws into garage, it was been watered down.
The once respected So Solid Crew have turned into Westlife with hoods. So Solid have been manufactured and marketed to 14 to 16 year olds. The creativity takes a back seat to what sells. Although the UK hip-hop scene is devoid of money and commercial success, its music is of the purest form. Its artists work freely without restriction. Commercial success does not necessarily equal diluted music.
The drum & bass scene pulled their music back from the major labels in 1990s. Now drum & bass has gone worldwide and is stronger than ever, with artists exercising control over their music.
Let's hope that in the future the UK hip-hop scene can do the same and become a self built commercial music, but that artists still have their freedom.
For more on UK hip-hop go to www.subversive-elements.co.uk, www.thecrateestate.co.uk, www.musicfromthecorner.com or www.lowliferecords.freeserve.co.uk