It is hard to judge music that comes from a part of the world that is nothing more than a speck on the globe to you. You might, for example, wonder: how do the Scottish like their hip-hop? Will listening to one single Scottish hip-hop album clear that up once and for all? Certainly not. Because it could just be the most peculiar album recorded in Scottish hip-hop history and have little in common with the rest of the scene.
Why did I choose Scotland for this short introduction, you ask? Because it just so happens that the album getting reviewed here comes from Scotland. A country that is considerably closer to my home than the United States, yet about which I know indefinitely less than I know about the US. One of the reasons I learned a thing or two about the US is that I listen to so much rap coming from there. That’s what I always liked about this music: it can display an incredible amount of information. Rap will show you how other people are living, what they are thinking, what their concerns are, etc. Not every combination of music and words is like that. You can listen to a pop or a rock record and even though it was made in Finland or Argentina, it might as well have originated in the US or any other part of the western hemisphere as far as the actual content goes.
No wonder people are looking for something different than the usual streamlined stuff. Some will join the anti-establishment movement of their choice, others will look to foreign shores. Often, when such local flavor is savored, the sheer exoticness is what lures us in. People not only like samba, ska and soca because it’s good music but also because they are overwhelmed by its strange charm. In hip-hop, which is able to incorporate all these styles, where you can hear a rapper talk about what’s going on on his corner over a sample that originated thousands of miles away from that corner, you don’t have that. At least musically, hip-hop outside of the US often repeats the same patterns, with either a heavy reliance on traditional sample sources such as funk, jazz and soul or self-made sounds devoid of much musical merits. For better or for worse, this enables us to get into hip-hop from all over the world, and, as long as there’s no language barrier to overcome, to judge a foreign rapper by his rhymes.
Which is probably why this record made it onto this site. Hailing from the city of Glasgow, Belles In Monica consist of rapper/producer Kruze, DJ Dema, and Red, responsible for guitars and other, undisclosed sound effects. The trio comes off as a unit, with the rapper’s voice embedded in the instrumentals and DJ Dema being given ample time to scratch. It is, however, mandatory that you do not listen to this record in your headphones, because due to deficencies in the mixing/mastering and because of the instruments used, it sounds cheaper than it really is. Played loud on your home or car system, this album will be much more convincing than when contemplated through your headphones. After all, it is an album that carries a message that begs to get out into the open, not shut in or even shut down. Yet to fully understand the actual music that comes out your speakers, it is necessary that you listen to the vocals. These things go together on this record, and that’s already one important department in which “Resistance Is Futile” succeeds.
Since Kruze has been recording demos since the early ’90s, it may very well be that he still has that spirit in him when British hip-hop acts such as Hijack, Gunshot and Silver Bullet made angry, aggressive music that was decidedly harder than what came over from the States. It was a time when words like ‘sell-out’ and ‘hardcore’ carried a lot of meaning. The same ethic can be found here, only more slowed and toned down. With a simple structured flow, sharp intonation and clear pronounciation, Kruze makes his way through an industrialized soundscape containing towering basslines and dry, drained keyboard sequences. Thus, a handful of convincing songs comes together: “Meltdown” with its wall of bass, dramatic strings, barrage of drums, sharp scratching and a delivery reminiscent of Chuck D has you cranking up the volume even higher. This is definitely on some old hardcore hip-hop. “Hit ‘Em Back” opens up with an exotic vocal sample melting into a tight uptempo rhythm that just packs enough internal intricacies to be called funky. “Process: Make Money” is more stripped down but ultimately just as intense, thanks to Kruze’s determined flow. The same goes for “Chanteuse Extraordinaire”, a surprisingly suave piece of music complete with flute, sax and female vocals.
Unfortunately, in the majority of the cases the whole process of trying to come up with dope tracks with an inferior equipment (or the inability to put it properly to use) derails completely. Here, turning up the volume won’t help at all. “Skitzophonetic” relies too much on a set of rhythmic strings, neglecting the rest of the sounds. “Y’all Under Surveillance” has you cringing every time they introduce yet another mismatched melody. This track has way too much stuff forced down its throat and still remains flat. “It’s Like That” is an audiophile’s nightmare with the cheapness increased to levels unbearable. These tracks had me personally reaching for the nearest button on my CD player, just to make that awful music stop. Too bad these are also the opening tracks.
The problem is that this doesn’t seem to be done on purpose, to support some kind of anti-mainstream stance for example, rather it looks like Belles In Monica are unable to construct the tracks the way they intend to. It starts with the unimaginative drum programming, continues with the inability to properly glue all the elements together and ends with the overall sound of the finished product. It gets to a point where you actually wonder if they just got lucky whenever one of the better tracks comes along. Ironically, the CD’s flat sound is somewhat beneficial to the album as the individual flaws aren’t exposed as much but stay hidden behind a curtain of levelled down production. The downside of this is that DJ Dema’s scratching is permanently playing the background.
When most of the positive press statements seem to be essentially talking about the remixes on your singles (done by UK notables such as Unsung Heroes and fellow Glaswegian Krash Slaughta), then you ought to wonder how your own stuff compares to theirs. The final verdict may be harsh, but the UK has much better stuff to offer than this Belles In Monica debut. Seeing as how Kruze admits in Skitzophonetic”: “Sometimes I just do this and sometimes that / sometimes I keep my beats fucked up and sometimes I keep ’em fat,” I’d recommend that Belles In Monica be a little less ‘skitzophonetic’ next time and come with a little more class.