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Tim Westwood: is the Big Dog Pitbull doomed to a life on workfare?

Tim Westwood

Even though I had a few rap records as far back as ’89 it wasn’t until ’99 that I started going hard on hip-hop culture as a whole, buying the magazines, checking out the TV shows, reading the websites, even on rare occasions actually having conversations about it. I missed Tim Westwood driving around with the London Posse in a cab for BBC2, or hearing his show on Capitol Radio at the point when he might have had a bit of credibility. By the time I started paying attention to his show he was already the big dog, the bulletproof DJ seemingly hated by everyone in the UK rap scene.

At first, I too the criticisms at face value. This guy was patently ludicrous, a joke, the type of cartonish buffoon who could only embarrass any English hip-hop fan. I found a transcript of his infamous clash with KRS One, who spent an afternoon hanging with some haters in Brixton before telling Westwood ‘Maybe you should pay more attention to the way the audience feels about you’ and ‘the medium you are coming through is making you dirty’. Then I started listening to his show.

But not just Westwood’s show. I started listening to all the rap shows on UK radio at the time. Not that there were many of them. I can remember being bored to death by Dan Greenpeace’s All City Rap Show on XFM, then a few years later being slightly more entertained by DJ Excalibah, Semtex, Rodney P and Skitz when 1Xtra launched in 2002. Within a few weeks of paying attention it was unavoidably obvious why Westwood’s show was the biggest: it was the best. None of the other presenters sounded anywhere near as comfortable on the radio. Maybe every now and then Rodney P could come close to the same level of bonhomie with his guests, but Westwood had the confidence and the experience to take it there every week. Who cares if it was all an act? Who cares where he came from? He’d blatantly reached the point where the culture was in his bloodstream, he’d earned the right to exist.

Had he earned the right to dictate which way the culture went though? I dunno. Probably not. Back then that seemed to be the key argument against Westwood, that his influence was too pervasive, that he should have been using his position to promote more homegrown and socially conscious music. In response he’d say it wasn’t his job to generate heat but to seek it out and cosy up to it. The first time I heard him say that I nodded in total agreement, noting also how the haters just didn’t seem to get hip-hop. Club music, party music, competitive clash music to shake your oversized butt. Since then I started to have my doubts, partly cos my tastes widened a bit partly cos I saw the videos of him prancing around with the army in Afghanistan and realised, yeah, he can be a bit of an establishment tool.

Nevertheless, an entertaining establishment tool. So, even though I haven’t really listened to his show much for the last two or three years, I’m still sad to hear he’s gotten the axe. And Tim? I’m sure you’re fielding a few other offers right now but if you’re ever stuck for something in the future you could always come help us out at The 273. I’ll have to have a word with Koaste, but I reckon I could swing it. I know from that column you used to do in Hip-Hop Connection back in the day that writing isn’t your strong suit, but we could use a guy with your experience. I’m sure we’d find something for you to do.

• Yeah, I know you’re too busy for intros. Most of the time I’m too busy for intros, too. But this is Ghetts. And cos I’m damn sure every reader of this here blog has taste as impeccable as mine, I’m sure you’ll already know that Ghetts is the greatest grime emcee ever. Like Dizzee without the need to apologise for his intensity, his intelligence. It’s not like he’s releasing records every other week, each a slight variation on the same old theme. He goes away, lives a little, meditates, comes back from the mountain to share his wisdom. Which brings us to Definition Of A Rebel, the intro to his sooncome album Rebel With A Cause, his first full length project since 2011’s Momentum. Restating the fundamentals at first, of course, like how he’s ‘surrounded by conformists, terrified of trying cos it’s normal to fail’. Then moving on to the specifics. How he’s frustrated by people who still see him as the angry psycho of 2008’s Freedom Of Speech, how he’s 28 now with a one-year old daughter and a newfound purpose in life. Oh. That’s his cause? You think maybe his crusade is gonna be a Jay-Z style snooze through rants on paternity leave from his desk job and creche facilities at the office? I suppose in theory this could go either way, but this is Ghetts we’re talking about. I believe the re-assurances, I’m even open to the possibility Rebel With A Cause may be the masterpiece he’s promising. Fingers crossed.

Wiley is a whole other matter. The further his career weaves its way unsteadily towards middle age the more he seems in some ways like a British Nas. Okay, my guess is Wiley doesn’t read quite so many books and he’d be way more ebullient in person, but compare their output in terms of quality control and muso-snob concepts of artistic credibility and there’s a good case. The desire to please everyone, the sharp changes in direction, the storming (if formulaic) street single trailing an album most will assume is another compromised bodge but few will actually listen to cos it’s Nas Wiley, right? You’ve already got 223 tracks by him on the hard drive and ten CDs you haven’t gotten round to ripping yet. But let’s not be too cynical, Flying is still a joyous burst of eccentric energy. Not only does he revel in his madness (right after denying it) but he builds the hook around telling us that he’s ‘back where I wanna be’ on no-frills grime and I believe him. Just like I believe sometime next week the wind will change and he’ll be back where he wants to be making bad pop records for drunk pagans.

• Something tells me Lady Lykez is trying to make some sort of point about her body on I Love My Butt. I’m not quite sure what it is, though? Anyone care to help me out?

• Now I’ve admitted to liking Westwood you won’t be surprised to hear that ten years ago Chester P and his brother Farma G of Task Force sounded like a bunch of paranoid old gits to me. Proof beyond a doubt that stoners are the last people you want to hang out with when you’re stoned. Not the type of folk who’d want to crank up Shake Ya Ass at 2AM. Worse, I figured, they probably drank Tennants Super and smelt of camp-fire smoke most the time. How’s that for prejudice? Funny thing is, these days Chester sounds perfectly reasonable on new single Home Baked Cookies, even though his schpiel hasn’t changed a whole lot somehow talk of ‘third world Britain’ makes a lot more sense now. Maybe the world changed, maybe I changed, maybe a little bit of both.

• Two things confused me about the video for Marger‘s most excellent track Smithers. First is the white guy who appears at 0:54, his one and only appearance, looking like some exile from an indie band with his shaggy hair and stripey t-shirt. How dare he intrude on our gangsta fairytale? Second is the spliff burning on top of the bottle at 2:35. I bet they didn’t waste an actual spliff on that. I bet it’s tobacco or even tea leaves or something.

• Starting to realise I’m a certified Cloud Rap hater. So much of a hater I’m considering if next time I write it I might not even capitalise. I suppose Piff Gang‘s #as#tag should get a pass cos it’s a parody of cloud rap rather than the genuine thing, but if that’s the case producer Sumgii’s done his job a little too well. It’s almost as monotonous as the real thing, when the hook comes with some guy (not necessarily Sumgii) droning ‘call it what you want to call it’ I can’t fight the temptation to type ‘IT’S DULL’ in response. Still, not a total loss if you’re into quotables cos the first verse has a few to raise eybrows. Enough to make me want to do some serious research on these guys. It’s hard not be intrigued by a man who defines living good as ‘licking puss, piff and kush in North Inglewood’ before claiming to be ‘grooviest chauvinist from the Soviet’. Given the accent I’m going to assume that’s Inglewood, NW6 and the embassy of the Russian Federation, W8. Either that or he’s telling porkies.

• Also intriguing is the contrast between the inebriated slurrings on the hook and Tempa T‘s usual mentalist riffing on the verses of his new single Greeze In Here. If you’re being generous it’s like if Roots Manuva had made a record with D Double back in the day. In a less kind mood you could say it’s like if Ghostpoet made a record with Lethal B last week. Two listens in and I’m leaning towards the former.
• Ringo P

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