This is not a hip-hop group from the Atlantic shores of the United States of America, from one of the original British colonies that later became states all their own. When they say "England" they MEAN England. Afrosaxon are representing a "New England" with a whole new hip-hop attitude and mindset. There's no tea and crumpets to be found here. Straight outta Bristol, the group is composed of rapper/producer Brother Nature and rappers Spike Fox and Madlox, with an extended supporting cast of other local rappers and singers. From their own bio they state the name Afrosaxon was chosen to pay tribute to their diverse heritage of being Jamaican, African, American AND English. Word up, nothing wrong with some diversity in hip-hop or rap groups these days.
Despite initial reservations over whether the English accents would make their lyrics tough to fathom, they are surprisingly crisp and clear. There's not much trace of either Jamaican patois or British cockney, either of which can typically be found in UK exports. It is in fact possible to at times mistake Afrosaxon for a group that WOULD BE from the New England of the United States. Case in point is the slow-paced and hard sounding "Ghost Town - Crystal City," which has some reggae influences musically but is straight up hip-hop lyrically:
"I got a friend for you to meet, relax I'll pay you for your time
You wanna take a hit that's fine
Now it's way past 12, you're in the dead zone
You can't afford to party gotta find your own
Crank the phone, see who's home
It doesn't really matter least you're not alone
Can't find a ten bag all over town
Niggaz only got whites or browns
Wannabe around, gave you a pound (sound)
Found a crank ho with her panties down"
Gritty street narratives? Sex, violence, and drugs? That's some typical hardcore underground hip-hop ish, except you'd expect the gruff voiced rapper above to be from New York or Cali in most cases. Not this time. Lyrically their verbals are not overwhelming, nowhere near "greatest thing since Earl Grey tea" status, but they are more than competent for both this album and compared to other unknown underground acts trying to come up. The members show solid execution of a variety of styles - AB structure flows, triple rhyme, quick tongue dexterity, and so on. One of the songs that is most solid verbally is the solo track "Spike Fox," where the MC whose gruff voice sounds like a whole pack of fags (that's cigarettes for you yanks) smoked at one time ties together stream-of-consciousness thoughts into a flowing verse:
"Eradicate the structure, third degree
It's the Mr. Burns and the Rogers, start with the gun license
Slicin dicin, it's my reaction
The kid with no comprehension
Master of fatalities and bags in the Osirus
It's animated, yeah it's the one and you gettin strangulated
The outdated, forsaken, hatin
It's the Mr. X psychic powers
Long as we stay clean then devour"
Is there a point? Other than bragging that they "compose like Mozart" probably not, but then much more has been made out of much less in hip-hop before. With the verbal potential displayed here Afrosaxon shows promise to achieve much more, but in part their very ambidextrous nature is a hindrance to developing an identifiable style and sound. It's impressive to be able to flip many styles, but it's also impressive to flip one style really well. What holds Afrosaxon back the most though is the musical production. While at first the beats seem to be slightly more sophisticated than a 4-track demo, eventually the sound on tracks like "Give U What U Want" and "Powers of Persuasion" reveals a lack of depth in the studio. Beats tend to be looped and repeated for the long haul, with minor chord variations to prevent total monotony, and chorus breakdowns have a very synthetic keyboard sound. Drums sound flat, bass beats lack impact, and without sounding "whack" per se the notes tend to be uninspiring and lacking in any head-nod appeal. A few tracks escape this mediocrity - the smooth groove of "Can U Hear Me Now," the swinging R&B stylings of "Playin Me" and the bonus track "You'll Never Know" among others.
The bottom line for Afrosaxon is that while they have a ready made gimmick due to their unique backgrounds and their willingness to invade overseas markets with their product, "New England" shows a group of artists who have great potential that they have yet to fully realize. This album could be the fine start to a musical career, or it might be the high water mark for what they can achieve. At this point there's really no way to tell, but I'd advise caution on purchasing the album unless you're ready to accept that as talented as they are the product is rough around the edges and not solid from start to finish. It's not a knock on Afrosaxon to say that they could be greater, but it does stand to reason that with more time and effort lyrically plus better beats they'll bring their new english style to the U.S. and elsewhere around the globe.
Music Vibes: 3.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 4 of 10
Originally posted: May 3, 2005