The London Posse changed the UK rap game forever. In Summer 2013 Tru Thoughts release ‘Gangster Chronicles: The Definitive Collection’, the London Posse’s seminal 1990 LP “Gangster Chronicle” repackaged and augmented with a comprehensive selection of exclusive, previously unheard tracks and eclectic remixes including the handiwork of Steve Mason, Wrongtom, The Nextmen, Hint and Drumagick. In-depth liner notes by London Posse blogger/biographer Jimmy Green complete the experience, telling the colourful story of these UK pioneers. You can read about it all in more detail on the Jimbo Jones’ Convenience Store blog, but in the meantime here’s a potted history…
Formed in late 1986 by the legendary Sipho the Human Beatbox (after he was asked to tour with Big Audio Dynamite, and bring some friends), the original four piece London Posse line-up was Sipho, Bionic, Rodney P – then known as MC Rodie Rok – and DJ Biznizz.
They released two singles in two years: “London Posse” / “My Beatbox Reggae Style” in 1987, and – after Sipho left – “Money Mad” in 1988. “Money Mad” put them on the map and hit hard with both rap and reggae fans, using a roughneck fusion of elements from both styles of music to create a hard-hitting street anthem.
Biznizz left the following year and the newly two-piece Posse began recording a demo for Island records under the guidance of their manager Errol ‘Bull’ Samuel. These sessions were the genesis of the “Gangster Chronicle” LP that came to be widely regarded as the most influential UK hip hop record of all time.
The Island demo sessions lasted a week: they took place in a rooftop studio in Acton during the heatwave of 1989 with production duties handled by Sparkii (who had already worked with Blade, MC Mell’O’, and Monie Love). Due to the heatwave, the tracks were recorded with the studio door open onto the surrounding industrial estate. Spurred on by Guinness, Jamaican soul food courtesy of a nearby hole in the wall takeaway shop, and the ever present vibes from a local reggae cutting studio, the sessions resulted in three finished tracks. Two were discarded, but one of them was the classic “Live Like The Other Half Do”, which was so strong that it was released untouched as the group’s first single on Island Records. The flipside was Sparkii’s remix of “Money Mad”, which was recorded (with re-written lyrics and a recreated beat) at Island’s Fall Out Shelter – previously used by such artists as Bob Marley and Toots + the Maytals.
The success of this double A side – played by John Peel, and making the UK singles chart – led to Island requesting an album. Both tracks were included on “Gangster Chronicle” when it was finally released in 1990. This album moved UK hip hop to the next level, presenting a vivid depiction of London street life that put the listeners THERE on the street next to Bionic and Rodney. No-one else was really repping the street life to this extent – the lyrical content showed a striking attention to detail, possibly because it was inspired by real-life street runnings. According to Rodney, “we ain’t pulling it out of the sky. If something happened on Saturday, Monday we was in the studio writing it.” They would hold recording sessions that lasted 48 hours, with a day’s sleep in between sessions to recharge; and Rodney and Bionic often came up with the lyrics there and then, in the studio, playing games of one-upmanship and re-recording as many times as necessary until they were happy with the track.
The lyrics were startling, accomplished and fresh, but the beats behind the rhymes were just as striking, utilising classic soul influences of yesteryear and reggae soundscapes straight from the London sound systems.
Such has been the impact of “Gangster Chronicle” that in 2007 the UK’s Hip Hop Connection magazine awarded it the prestige of being their best UK album of all time. Other classic albums that made the higher reaches of the list were Jehst’s “Return Of The Drifter”, Demon Boyz’ “Recognition”, Hijack’s “The Horns Of Jericho”, Gunshot’s “Patriot Games”, and Roots Manuva’s “Run Come Save Me”.
We can only wonder, based on the incredibly high calibre of the singles that followed “Gangster Chronicle” (including “How’s Life In London”, “Here Comes The Rugged One”, “Funky Rhyme, Funky Style”, “Pass The Rizla”, and “Style”), what a second LP might have sounded like, and how much it might have further changed the UK rap game, but the release of ‘Gangster Chronicles: The Definitive Collection’ brings some of those tracks to the surface, as well as putting the original record into the limelight for a new generation.
For Rodney P, now a major solo artist (with new material slated for later in the year) alongside his work with Dub Pistols, Freq Nasty, Skinnyman, Roots Manuva and Roni Size and more, this re-launch on Tru thoughts is a revelation: “I love the remixes – it was interesting for me to hear how other people interpret the songs that we made over 20 years ago”. Reflecting on the original LP, and its momentous influence on everyone from Wretch 32 to Wiley to Tinie Tempah, he continues, “I’m amazed and thankful to have been involved in album that in hindsight was a huge landmark for hip hop in the UK. When we originally recorded the album we know we were doing something a little different, but had no way of knowing the impact.”