With a life split between England and France, I would often return to London during the holidays for a few weeks. My days were spent skating at Southbank or checking out graffiti around Ladbroke Grove while my nights were spent tuned into the various radio shows pumping the latest rap releases. Rodney P and Skitz provided the homegrown hype whilst Tim Westwood reached further afield featuring a lot of American artists on his infamous Radio 1 Rap Show. A staple of the UK rap scene Tim Westwood suffered mockery just as much as respect due to his bizarre use of American slang, excessive use of the term “Dawg” and introducing big tunes with the cacophony of smashing glass, rockets, guns and explosion samples. Add to that his 6ft + frame and this white boy definitely made heads turn and undoubtably made them bounce too. Tim Westwood Radio 1 Rap Show Summer 96 is testimony of Tim’s legacy, recorded during the Summer of 1996, Funkmaster Flex blessed the decks and A Tribe Called Quest passed through the Radio 1 Rap Show studios to drop a quick freestyle.
Something I notice when I listen back to this mix is the lack of violent gangster rap. That said, the Summer of 1996 was only a year after Hip Hop had lost two of it’s most talented emcees, Tupac and Notorious BIG. The general theme of rap songs swung between unity (Erick Sermon and Too Short, De La Soul, Nas…), skills (Smoothe da Hustla, Blahzay, Tribe…) and having a blast (Busta Rhymes, Lil Kim, Jay-Z…). Violence really wasn’t on the agenda. Production was tight during the Nineties but lyrics were also very much on point. I can’t remember the exact issue, but I do know that De La Soul received the recommendation of The Source magazine’s Hip Hop Quotable for their Stakes is High Lyrics, so make sure you listen carefully.
A Tribe Called Quest get a fair bit of airtime on in this mix because they were promoting their new album, Beats, Rhymes and Life that featured the radio-friendly single 1nce Again. A pre-requisite for any rappers that want to sell their latest release is to visit the radio stations and drop a dope freestyle to prove themselves worthy of investment. In 1996 Tribe’s Phife Dog and Q-Tip were already in cruise control with the microphone and approaching legend status whereas Consequence was a fresh-faced emcee featuring on the new album and eager to shine. Like most freestyle sessions, the trio drop some lines that were yet to be released on vinyl but due to their eclectic nature, they also break into some off-the-top-of-the-head rhyming which is always great to hear.
On the DJ front, Funkmaster Flex always comes correct the right balance of boombap and club tunes. With decades or experience, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Flex will just as easily drop an exclusive ragga dubplate as he will a classic cut by Patti Labelle. This sort of dexterity makes for a great mixtape.
Stages & Lights – Sadat X
Pain I feel – Blahzay Blahzay
Can’t knock the hustle – Jay-Z / Mary J. Blige
Buy you some – Erick Sermon / Too Short
Broken Language – Smoothe da Hustla / Trigga de Gambla
Friends – Whodini
If I ruled the world – Nas / Lauryn Hill
Stakes is high – De La Soul
We don’t need it – Lil’ Kim / Lil’ Cease
It’s a party – Busta Rhymes / Zhané
Paula’s jam – Paula Perry
Things we do for love – Horace Brown
Jeeps, Lex Coups, Bimmaz & Benz – Lost Boyz
Ain’t no nigga – Foxy Brown / Jay-Z
My crew can’t go for that – Trigga da Gambla / Smoothe da Hustla / DV
The Bizness – De la Soul / Common
Abandon Ship – Busta Rhymes / Rampage
Electric Relaxation – A Tribe Called Quest
1nce again – A Tribe Called Quest
Freestyle – Phife Dog / Consequence / Q-Tip
When it rains it pours – Shadez of Brooklyn
Loungin’ – LL Cool J / Total
All this love – Patti Labelle
Let me clear my throat – DJ Kool
Operation Lockdown – Heltah Skeltah