If you were beyond single digit age in 1991 it’s quite likely that you remember PM Dawn’s hit “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss”. The song was about as lightweight as hip hop could be, so light that it begat the wrath of KRS-One who threw group member Prince Be off stage during a live show; in reaction to magazine comments by Prince Be against KRS, and also as a general act of defiance from KRS against watered-down, commercial hip hop (curiously, commercialism in hip hop doesn’t upset people nearly as much these days â€“ I’m not sure why?). Whether you liked the song or not, there’s no denying it was very catchy, mostly due to riding a conspicuous sample from Spandau Ballet’s “True”. Of course, hip hop may never have advanced far if not for sampling, but some tracks such as PM Dawn’s hit relied on their sample so heavily that their song was almost a cover version of the original. Not all tracks that used their samples in such deliberate ways were viewed in such a negative light though, even some of those that reached PM Dawn levels of chart success were more loved than loathed e.g. Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” and Eminem’s “Stan”.
So what does this have to do with a unknown rapper from Liverpool in the UK called Outcast Youth? Well in 2008 he released his first mixtape (which might as well be an album) called “Rebel Diaries”, and essentially the WHOLE release is track after track of songs that live and breathe via lungs of sampled pop songs. Jumping into the future a bit, his “South Sefton Mixtape” from 2010 also uses the same template, as do most of his other random songs on Youtube.
At the risk of having my hip hop license revoked (and hence probably never to be invited to write for this site again) I’m going to reveal a little secret to all seven people who read my reviews on here: Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Swift are guilty musical pleasures of mine. Yes this is coming from a 40 year old middle-aged man, who for more than half his lifetime has been proclaiming “hardcore hip hop ’til I die”. Why am I stupid enough to admit this here and now (or ever)? Well once upon a time I was browsing Youtube for Kelly Clarkson material, which led me to a Kelly sampled song called “Forlorn at Platform One” by the then unknown to me Outcast Youth, which in turn opened the door to the rest of Outcast Youth’s work (forgive that it’s only a live gig recording of the song in dubious quality):
Outcast Youth uses the melody of the original throughout the song and a considerable amount of Kelly’s (sped up) singing for the chorus also, and he utilises his samples to pretty much the same extent on each song. He runs the vocal sample through a “Chipmunk Voice Creating Machine”, sticks a very elementary piece of drum programming under the melodic loop, occasionally throws in a bit of added instrumentation as well, and that’s about it. Check out what he does with “Teardrops on My Guitar” by Taylor Swift (the video is misleadingly credited as “feat. Taylor Swift” – I very much doubt she even knows of the existence of the song):
There’s more to this guy than who he samples for his music though. You may have noticed on the above “Teardrops” video the “hip hop is born agen” catch phrase in the initial graphic. Ignoring the curious spelling, the phrase should tell you that Outcast Youth is a Christian. Not only is he a Christian, but from what I can determine, he’s an all-round decent chap as he does a lot of work with troubled and disadvantaged young people via means such as workshops and charity events. His attitude towards life and young people comes across loud and clear in his lyrics; yes he’s rapping for “outcast youth”, and more than simply rapping for them, he’s out to inspire and motivate. I wouldn’t have a clue if he has a day job like the rest of us and what that job is, but at times he does sound like a rapping youth worker – and I don’t say that in jest at all; it’s quite admirable and not the standard thing you hear from rap records.
There are indications of his mission to motivate in “Teardrops”, which is as much a song of reinforcing self-esteem as it is a love song; it’s kind of his version of 2Pac’s “Keep Ya Head Up”. Another example comes from what appears to be one of his more popular songs, “Genevieve”. The song discusses a girl’s struggle with Anorexia Nervosa and her ultimate succumbing to the disease, which is obviously a strong and important message of awareness that many can relate to. The comments attached to the Youtube clip attest to how people are tuned in to what he’s saying (he gets props here for the appropriately dark sounding samples from Aussie singer Sia, from her song “Don’t Bring Me Down”):
He also encourages young people to find direction in their lives via discovering God. He does this quite directly on “Who Can Change the World”, calling out peoples names and asking them to turn to God. Very similar sentiments are delivered on the “Theme from Mahogany” sampling “Dreamer”. More succinct and the most interestingly constructed of the Christian themed songs is “Last Night I Cried”, which initially discusses Outcast Youth being on the brink of suicide, finally to be saved by discovering his faith. Whether or not you agree with his beliefs, or any flavour of religion, it’s hard to frown upon someone who finds solace and happiness in their faith and wants others to share in that feeling.
It’s not all about guiding youth down religious or more stable paths here though, as more than half the songs are simply love songs (mostly songs about heartbreak), including “Teardrops” and “Forlorn at Platform One” mentioned above. There is no hidden message to be found in songs called “To Fall in Love”, “Romantic Memories”, “Another Night Slips Away” and “Love You Again”; what you see, is what you get. However a few of the samples are interesting. “Another Night Slips Away” takes its sounds from Ben Kweller’s “In Other Words”, although hip hop fans would be more likely to recognise the use of said sample from Talib Kweli’s “Ms. Hill”. “Love You Again” very closely jocks the 90’s song of the same name by R&B/new jack artist Marc Dorsey, and I quite appreciate the song as it takes me back to the days when I listened to New Edition and the like (yes I can feel that hip hop license slipping further from my grasp). The country vibe of the closing track “Romantic Memories” comes via Outcast Youth’s fondness for Taylor Swift once again, this time interpolating her track “Tim McGraw” (resulting in the album being conveniently book-ended by the acoustic guitar wielding queen of country pop).
Purely on an emceeing level, Outcast Youth is no match for any of your favourite MC’s in terms of technique and wordplay. His lyrics and delivery are quite straight-forward, but he has a decent knack for narrative such as on “Last Night I Cried” and “Genevieve”. Being from Liverpool, his “Scouser” accent is one distinct feature about him, and for a hopeless Anglophile like me, that is worth the price of admission alone. This may not mean much to American readers, but if you can imagine Lister from the classic TV show “Red Dwarf” rapping, then you’re getting something similar with our man in question here. Otherwise, think of the way any one of The Beatles speak and you’re in the ballpark. Coming back to his MC skills, whilst Outcast Youth might be pleased if he was compared alongside the greats, I think he is far more concerned about getting his messages and thoughts out there than anything else, and he succeeds in doing so.
Undoubtedly the majority of underground or “real” hip hop heads will scoff at this release; the pop music element remains at the forefront despite the hip hop makeover, the prominent love and Christian themes will turn people off, and the beats and emceeing don’t strive for any great technical heights. However if you don’t mind a very simply constructed rap track with an addictive sing-along chorus and a catchy melody, and an MC that has genuine substance to his lyrics (with a sizeable dose of love songs that would make Paul McCartney proud), then you might enjoy this. I’ll go so far as to say that Outcast Youth is actually quite unique, not that sampling a popular song is anything new, but to build a whole album and seemingly a career on the pop sampling concept is something quite different. Although if you are at all interested in finding a copy of the CD you’d probably need to contact the artist via his Bandcamp or elsewhere online as only his more recent music seems to be available now.