It’s been 14 years since Luton’s Si Phili, Life MC and DJ Nappa joined forces to release their seminal debut album on the Jazz Fudge label. The group’s deep dedication to true Hip Hop permeated by Life and Phili’s uncompromisingly fast-paced and detailed descriptions of life in Blair’s Britain made the album an instant smash, catapulting the crew to new heights within the UK Hip Hop scene. From front to back the LP is nothing but bangers; Nappa is one of the UK’s most underrated producers, scratching classic raps to create chorus hooks and employing his massive mental catalogue of breaks and sample-worthy sections to assemble quality boom bap like most people breathe. Lyrically they two MC’s define what it means to pick up a mic and spray; with simile’s for days and so much style and depth in their swift delivery it’s almost unbelievable. Their take on the alphabet on ABC is up there with Lowkey and Blackalicious, with Life sounding like he might take off at times he’s flowing so fast, Rhyme Of The Times harbours one of Nappa’s most militant beats and serves as a fitting intro to the crew’s content, as the two MC’s trade bars with supreme ease; you can hear the natural talent flowing out of them as they channel their creativity. BBC begins to develop the album’s rich content, as the overt demonstrations of lyrical skill fall by the wayside and the layers of historical, sociological, and political edutainment begin to seep into the sounds.
There’s no better example of the tabloid-touting ignorance that informs 85% of the country’s core demographic than on the intro to The Racists. With reactionary scaremongering to blame immigration for imaginary ills more popular in the press now than ever; the truth Life & Phili kick over Nappa’s perfect piano loop is still poignant. The final lines that still speak of unity and respect after juxtaposing governmental organizations with hate groups are testament to their righteous point of view. From that political point the album relaxes the content for a few tracks, while still employing an all-out lyrical attack as Phili’s verse shines on Drop Bombs; then Life smashes the track on Take Heed. Nappa’s production shows it’s versatility on the static strains of Verbal Wars, then gets truly ill on the anthemic Phi Life Phi Life, with bars that raise the high standard the pair previously set for themselves; exhibiting wordplay to make any part-time writer put down the pen and reflect; ‘I be the most honourable, with astronomical amounts of lyrics, raising dead spirits from graves, crushing rap cynics, fucking up the laws of physics with hieroglyphics, to be specific, my brain be deep like the Pacific‘. Last Men Standing leaves no room to breathe as it closes in tight around your mind with a vice-like grip. The old school beat and incessant lyrics create a whirlwind of rap tactics; and the sheer amount of aliteration going down within this three minute period is crazy, while Nappa cuts so tight you’d need a crowbar to get his fingers off the wax.
Although the crew often body beats with lyrical displays of deftness, they always seemed to write their most socially insightful bars when politically motivated; and on Fatcats they infuse each rhyme with that intense fire that compels them to write, tearing down the walls of ignorance politician’s rely on. Herbaholics pays homage over a rugged piano loop, then Phi Life Is Here gets epic with Nappa orchestrating classical strings that Life’s simile’s and Phili’s hard bars leave decimated, their flow punctuated by the robust snare work. Bring It To Ya is another trademark track for the three man crew, the reggae vibes that Skitz inter-weaved into the UK Hip Hop sound around 2000 coming through strongly in the production, a sound that continues onto Bad Men From The West’s bumping beats. Crazy Balheads’ righteous tones denounce satanic practices as Life’s insight demystifies the vatican’s esoteric agenda, and Phili sheds light on Big Pharma and the food industry; then as the title track keeps the vibe heated and this legendary LP draws to a close; The Shining‘s subtle, jazzy loop lures the listener into a darker headspace than the pair have previously inhabited. Life’s final verse is one of his grimest; ‘I be murderous just like those backstreet abortions’ is the tip of the iceberg lyrically, and his doubling of words towards the end is still a style that takes me by surprise even after listening to the album regularly for years.
After dropping this classic the crew continued to release quality music, including a split with Task Force that’s essential; and although PLC no longer work together as a group; they all still release new music regularly. Nappa and Life’s further collaborations ‘Everyday Life’ and ‘Outside Looking In’ are both worth checking if you liked what you heard here; and as one of the most accomplished freestyle artists in the country for over a decade the man puts it down every time he picks his camera up on his active youtube channel mclife1. You can catch Si Phili continuing his lyrical onslaught as one half of Phili N Dotz, touring the country and releasing music in collaboration with UK Battle League behemoth Don’t Flop; his lyrical ability only sharpened by the years he’s dedicated to his craft. UK Hip Hop still gets overlooked when people speak on lyrical skill or collate ‘best MC’ lists’; if you’re into wordplay and raw production there’s many jewels to be unearthed by studying the British scene at the turn of the century. Phi Life Cypher exemplify all the attributes that make the UK’s contribution to the culture essential listening. Look no further for that undiluted street knowledge, recited by staunch practitioners of the five elements and brought to you with respect and love of the art.
Massive thanks to Daisy B Photography for the dope pic. To view more of her vivid images, or get in touch for commission work, click here.
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