The late 1980s and early '90s were an optimistic time for rap music from the United Kingdom as a number of singles and albums uncovered a burgeoning hip-hop scene (although largely concentrating in London). One of those records was M.C. Mell'O's "Thoughts Released (Revelation I)" from 1990. The Battersea-born-and-bred son of Jamaican parents cut his teeth as a member of various dance crews but soon developed the urge to express himself through the medium of rap. Even as he emerged from a collective that he didn't hesitate to shout out (D.E.T.T. Inc.), cooperated closely with beatmaker Sparki and DJ Pogo and came up alongside ragga-influenced rappers, pop rap acts, and hardcore hip-hop posses, he arose as a classic solo MC with a highly distinct style and dominant demeanor on the mic.
His first appearances showed him as a talented early hip-hop adapter, initially anxious to live up to his name, later more energetic. The artistic passion was still present on the debut album, but it was enhanced by a conscious and mature frame of mind. In fact, the vinyl release was divided into a Side For The Physically Stable and a Side For The Mentally Stable. The former, side A, contained five songs helmed by a hungry and determined mic fiend.
He projects his precise flow and clear diction over Sparki's layered, choppy drums on "Our Time." Judging by this first impression, Mell'O' seems to represent a time when MC's were fascinated by the sheer avalanche of words they were able to kick off. Eager to just rhyme and flow, Mell'O' remains abstract here, and the analogies and adjectives are mostly simple ('strong,' 'heavy,' 'deep'). While there are traces of a message in the lyrics themselves, much of the impression that he has something to say is derived from how he says it. Through his vocal performance he defines himself as authentic, righteous, complex, gifted, powerful, etc.
But the next track already rises high above any perceived conceptual limitations. From the title's sly reference to pop culture (Bonnie Tyler's smash "Total Eclipse of the Heart") to how imperatively it addresses the nascent domestic scene, "A Total Eclipse of the Art" is an all-time UK hip-hop classic. Even rap aficionados who still vividly remember Americans Lord Finesse and Das EFX rocking the same 'Black Caesar' loop will have to yield when they hear an MC fight so adamantly for artistic integrity and the preservation of a young hip-hop scene's purity:
"Ease with the fightin', munchin' and bitin'
Time for unitin', make the whole scene excitin'
Fakes who are hidin' need exposin' and findin'
Then - bang-bang-bang - we get raw like lightin'
So we wait, bide our time till a sightin'
of a fake on the make, then we're strikin'
The end result will be extremely frightin'
Noose around the neck, he'll be strung up for incitin'
corruption of the sound in which we play a part from the heart
A total eclipse of the art"
This outstanding track is followed by three exercises in traditional rap. "Let the Crowd Catch Breath" is a boastful nod to Mell'O's ability to flow fast (the breaks serving as breathers after the two intense verses), where he also doesn't shy away from engaging in verbal violence ("Fuckin' cunt, I beat ya down in a minute / and leave ya with the kind of wound so deep ya can't heal it"). "Voodoo Khan" casts the spotlight on the legendary DJ Pogo while "All Terrain M.C.s" sees Mell invite Sparki to join him for a playful back-and-forth over a tailor-made track, and land some cold disses in the process:
"My rhyme reaches heights and parts other beers can't reach
So you seek to lick my arse clean while you cling like a leech to my bod
You see me draw out a wod, fascinated by the gold that be in my gob
Or was it phlegm you was watchin', what gum I was chewin'?
Lookin' on mi face, all 'bout the place - what are you doin'?!
Some of those hip-hop bods in their dream world
their accent's fake like their girlfriend's hair"
A decidedly different terrain is the B-side opener and single "Open up Your Mind." Over a mixture of street soul and acid jazz courtesy of producers Blacksmith and supported by background vocals, Mell'O' lays out his holistic philosophy, dropping science with lines like "Frustration will get the best of ability / slow me down, obstruct capability." The following "Subtraction" (sporting another famous James Brown sample) is even more tangible lyrically as Mell'O' gives an inspiring lecture from start to finish:
"I aim to reach the height above all heights
My goal is great but it's not yet in sight
Some who reap the gold, their soul's cold
and sold to a man of old for a payroll
Considered as winners but I'll emphasize
For status and power they ruined nuff lives
by steppin' on the next man's feet to reach the peak
or puttin' the next man down to gain the crown
Material things you can't bring when you're gone
and your soul has passed on, yet presence is so strong
Cradle to the grave, you will be raised
If you're alive on the blast of the horn, then you'll be dazed
This is a fact for mankind that's been given
a way of peace by the All True Living
Ascend to the height, my brother, it's within you
Keep on plungin', you will pay dues
But those with open minds and constructive views
can be considered as the chosen few
You try to escape, but my brother, you won't get far
whether you're white or your blood from Africa
Take advancement and subtract decline
The bottomline reads: Don't resign"
As the track plays for another 3 minutes, flute and pianos taking over from the rapper, you have the time to realize that this is pretty heavy stuff from a debuting rapper releasing one of the first hip-hop longplayers of his country. The album's most explicitly Afrocentric offering is "Acknowledge Yourself," whose relaxed pace doesn't prevent Mell'O' from expressing what drives him. The closing "From the Heart" re-enters the soul pop territory complete with crooner and saxophone and more poignant observations from Mell'O' that ring especially loud in 2011:
"Brothers, my brothers, be stealin' and robbin'
from one and another while leavin' the other wonder
Look at each other and we see a threat
Brothers, my brothers, your minds are inept
Get your minds into check, do not forget
we're not clapped in irons but we're not free yet
What can I do but just sit down and screw
when the chaos and madness is there to be viewed?
Provin' the point that the race of the poor
should be low and downtrodden while rich is adored
Madness, insanity; some men rate highly
while walkin' the streets like a dog in distress
They're blinded by anger, drugged by the system
They never see that the world never rests"
While it wasn't a commercial success, the prospects were bright for M.C. Mell'O' after this first 'revelation.' Young Disciples, Aswad, Caron Wheeler, Izit and Manu Dibango all enlisted his talents and he recorded a sophomore album for Jazzie B's Funki Dred label. But as fate would have it, Mell'O's 1990 debut remained his only available full-length for more than 20 years, despite him regularly making recorded appearances. Thanks to the reissue imprint Original Dope you can now rediscover this essential UK hip-hop release, including the original CD bonus tracks "I'm Coming Up" and "Slipt on Some Doo Doo," the "Open up Your Mind" B-side "Words Spoken" and 1989's "Comin' Correct" twelve-inch. That's 80 minutes of purposeful emceeing over well produced beats during which we witness the social and spiritual awakening of a rapper who takes UK hip-hop by the hand and confidently leads it into an uncertain future.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10
Originally posted: September 6th, 2011