Virus Syndicate are a Manchester grime crew yet chat like they’re from Hackney not Hulme. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation. Back in the day, if British MCs adopted or imitated a style then it was almost certainly that cod New York accent associated with the best American rappers. Remember Derek B, Monie Love and all those other plazzy Bronx pretenders? Cringe worthy wasn’t in it. With the emergence of a unique British MC style allied to ragga, jungle and later UK Garage and now Grime, it appears that all regional accents and styles have mutated into a pan-British Black (Cockney) Twang. If you didn’t know that Virus Syndicate came from Manchester you’d swear they were from the same yard as Roll Deep. One line on ‘Won’t Give Up’ goes ; ‘I’m a Manchester man not a Cockney’ yet the MC sounds as Cockney as pie and mash (up).
This aside, ‘Sick Pay’ is a fantastic demonstration of just how far British MCing has evolved and improved over those two decades since Derek B and co. Instead of pretending to be something they’re not, our MCs have finally fused the best elements of their Jamaican toasting culture with the inventive rhyme schemes of US rap. What separates Grime from most US ‘urban’ styles however, is the inventive use of beats and samples. Most mainstream Hip hop and R&B remains rooted in tired grooves and familiar lyrical and musical clichés, whilst grime has carved out its own soundscapes from UK genres such as drum n’ bass and dubstep as well as hip hop and dancehall. Infact I’d go as far as saying that, at their best, our MCs offer a superior alternative to most US rappers.
And make no mistake, Virus MCs Goldfinger, JSD and Nika-D are amongst the best in the UK. The intricate, complex flows of their lyrics and the inventive backdrops provided by DJ/producer MRK1 give ‘Sick Pay’ a playfulness sadly lacking in too many so-called ‘urban’ genres. ‘Taxman Returns’ ‘Dippin’ ‘Neva Argue’ and ‘Kane n’ Abel’ meld Eastern bhangra and Arabic sounds to Spartan drum patterns and whilst this is hardly original, it suits the frenetic lyrical flow far better than all those Timbaland-lite cut n’ paste jobs. ‘Vibrator’ has a bubbling electro feel and ‘Live At The Apollo’ uses a ‘My Sharona-esque’ guitar loop to detail how the crew have evolved over the past decade. This track and ‘Neva Argue’ also get remixes from Various Production and the whole LP hangs together as a truly accurate document of modern British inner city life both lyrically and sonically. There is sex and drug dealing and getting paid and crime and boasting and all the usual stuff of rap and a life of grime but it never feels overplayed, never feels too fantastical and clichéd just VS being honest and passionate about their own skills and experiences.
As they say on ‘Infected’ “call the nurse, cos my verses are so sick, no-one can cure me, I’m honestly poorly.” Grime has indeed infected British culture and has spawned some of the most skilfull and dexterous spit merchants this country has ever produced. Many like the Virus boys matching the turbo-flow theatrics and abstract stream of consciousness of Busta or Doom. It’s good to see labels like Planet Mu who have supported the band for four years now broadening their appeal to cover grime as well as avant-electronica. More UK labels should follow their example and offer these MCs and producers the opportunity to break out of the music industry’s self-imposed ghetto.
Release date 6-10-08