One of the things I love aboutUK hip-hop is that it doesn’t share the same genre boundaries that American hip-hop has. Until recently, the people in the U.S. that listened to and made hip-hop music were very different from the people who listened to and made electronic dance music. Sure, early hip-hop was steeped in disco and there was some overlap with Detroit techno and Chicago house, but for the most part the kids who went to warehouse raves were not the same kids going to rap battles. The British have always been much more open-minded about mixing hip-hop and dance music. Many prominent British rappers, from Tricky to The Streets to Dizzee Rascal came up through dance music scenes. Birmingham trio Ruane Maurice are another example of how the Brit’s combine dance music and hip-hop.
Ruane Maurice started about a year ago when producer Matthew Forbes decided he was tired of making music on his own and enlisted producer Chris Caedus and rapper Sam Lewis to work with him. The result is a group that combines dub, house, ambient music, and hip-hop seamlessly.
The most obvious comparison to make to Ruane Maurice is trip-hop giant Massive Attack. They share a similar depressive, sleepy vibe, and work at the intersection of several different genres: dub, house, ambient, and hip-hop. Both groups also feature growling, gravelly-voiced MCs. There is much less polish and sheen to Ruane Maurice’s music, however. Massive Attack will spend years working on an album, obsessively tinkering with every second of it. Ruane Maurice is a looser, more spontaneous affair.
“Ruane Maurice” is a dark album. It sounds dirty and a menacing, the sound of cruising the streets at three a.m. when whatever high you were riding earlier has worn off and you are left feeling alone and surly. Lewis’s vocals are gravelly, not unlike a younger, less asthmatic Tricky. He doesn’t so much rap his verses as croak them. The downside of this is that I found it difficult to understand what he was rapping about. There’s definitely content in his rhymes, but it was lost on me.
Whether or not I understood what Lewis was rapping about doesn’t matter in the end, because Ruane Maurice are all about the production. This is an album of textures and moods rather than verses and hooks. Forbes and Caedus bury pulsing dance beats under layers of effects and fog. The album veers from the downtempo of “Nomenclature” to the wobbling dubstep of “Stripped” to the dirty house of “Farne” to more experimental tracks like the instrumental “Fish Tanks.” The vocals compliment the music nicely, but they are never the focus. The focus is on the sounds and atmosphere that the producers create.
“Ruane Maurice” is a promising debut, and one that points to new ways that hip-hop and EDM can mix. It’s what happens when you forget about genre and focus instead on what sounds good.