There aren’t many emcees that have been around since the 1990s and still have shelved albums, or more importantly, no album at all. Omniscence and The Legion have recently released material left in the archives, and the UK’s Blak Twang finally had his almost mythical debut “Dettwork Southeast” unearthed from 1996, dusted down and released last year. Notable emcees that became famous for having no discography at all have found themselves deals with regular releases (RA The Rugged Man) or snagged one-off LPs (Percee P). Scor-Zay-Zee (affectionately known as Scorz) now has an album to sit snugly in any fan’s Hip-Hop collection, after 15 years of waiting. Originally a member of rap crew Outdaville, Scorz made a name for himself by releasing 12″ gems with potent, relatable lyrics.
The early 2000s were a time where UK Hip-Hop stood out from its US counterpart, where the rhymes were intelligent and artists like Roots Manuva, Jehst and Ty could provide an alternative to the glossy sounds Tim Westwood was playing every Saturday night on BBC Radio 1. Ten years later, and British emcees are still willing to change their sound to appease a more mainstream audience (Krept & Konan), or they combine the harsh London accent with EDM-influenced instrumentals (Tinie Tempah). There are some sections of rap fans in the UK that wouldn’t even consider Tinie Tempah to be Hip-Hop, and its this divide that ensures a lot of UK Hip-Hop continues to be stuck in the underground.
As a Brit, I wouldn’t even consider Tinie Tempah to be “UK Hip-Hop”, as the UK Hip-Hop scene has established itself as an alternative to the flashy American Hip-Hop that gets pumped in to these shores. Tinie Tempah is simply a Hip-Hop artist. Thankfully, I can appreciate hearing Fetty Wap on the radio, and then spinning a Scor-Zay-Zee (let’s call him Scorz for the benefit of this review) record – both showcase how diverse Hip-Hop can be. Thankfully, for the benefit of balance, the radio is as irrelevant as ever thanks to personal streaming services that effectively allow listeners to build their own radio playlists and share them via social media.
Of all the British rap music I’ve listened in the past 15 years, Scorz has always felt the most genuine. You forget that he is rapping at times, as his direct style is conversational and entirely human. It’s therefore all the more remarkable when he goes in over a beat, utilizing his trademark humor and affinity for words you wouldn’t usually hear in rap music. Thankfully, “Aeon: Peace to the Puzzle” is an essential purchase, boasting 28 tracks over two discs – that’s right, no skits! Admittedly, American listeners may struggle with the sheer depth and diversity of Scorz’ lyrics, owing much to common British phrases and everyday slang that shows this record isn’t trying to be something it isn’t. It’s worth the investment though, as there’s so many themes and stories packed in to “Aeon: Peace to the Puzzle” that it’s a good job it’s split over two discs.
“1995” encapsulates the life of a Hip-Hop fan in the UK during the mid-90s, and it highlights how many great albums dropped that year. Names such as Choice FM may not mean much to some, but this song showed how British Hip-Hop fans devoured every minute of Hip-Hop that showed up in different pockets of the media. Before the Internet, we relied on Hip Hop Connection magazine, Tim Westwood and Cipha Sounds on the radio, imported copies of The Source and buying CDs based on artwork and track listings. There are countless shout-outs for American emcees; two New York veterans actually make appearances on the second disc: Ali Vegas features on “Remember” and Tragedy Khadafi’s verse on “Misunderstood” only highlights how much he has influenced Scorz’s style.
Brits will have a chuckle after hearing Tragedy Khadafi shouting out “Nottingham” in that unique way only Americans can – Brits would say “Notting-um” instead of the more literal “Notting-ham”. It brings me back to an Immortal Technique concert where he said his next stop was “Glas-gow”, which is actually spoken as “Glas-go” (or “Glars-go” for southerners) and the crowd laughing much to Tech’s bemusement. This language barrier could put off some American listeners as Scorz’ accent isn’t as accessible as some London emcees, particularly as his verses can be intricately designed. Stick with it though, as it’s a voice that takes you to straight to the mind of the average Joe, all the more potent due to Scorz not being from London either.
A lot of the best emcees not from London (think Jehst, Sonnyjim) have an eye for detail in the mundane minutiae that is hard to explain unless you’re also a Brit outside the big city. Guests on the album are nearly all from Nottingham (affectionately known as Notts). Legendary UK emcee Cappo joins Vandal Savage on “R.A.F.”, a standard 3-man cipher session track. Juga-naut pops up a few times, and local singing talent is present in the form of Nina Smith and Joy Mumford.
“Old School” is Scorz reminiscing on his school days, although he admits that he didn’t enjoy (or appreciate) doing school work at the time. It’s a different twist on the standard nostalgia-trip many songs of this ilk tend to be. Given how it’s taken a lifetime to get a Scorz album released, it’s not surprising to find a lot of Scorz’ earlier life in the lyrics. “Saturday” is similarly nostalgic, focussing on why it’s become his favorite day of the week, ever since childhood when he’d wait outside the bookies (bookmakers) for his dad, or anticipating the football pools in the afternoon with his mother. Even the bonus cut “Crepps” (slang for trainers/sneakers) is looking towards the past, although seeing as it was recorded in the early 2000s, it’s easier to forgive.
Examples of Scorz’ run-ins with God feed in to some deeper messages delivered on “Street Angel”, as the Notts emcee takes on the role of Death, explaining why certain people die before others. Typical of Scorz, his storytelling abilities shine through and it’s easy to be sucked in to what could be a ludicrous tale of urban fantasy. “The Heart” sees Scorz sharing his feelings towards his parents’ divorce and how upset it made him. It’s an emotional track boosted by an equally hard-hitting instrumental, and it’s one of the best songs he’s ever made. Having found a woman after not trusting them for much of his life, and finding that she doesn’t trust men yet this brings them closer. He wishes his step-kids’ father would call his children. He talks about the division within religion thanks to a lack of spirituality. There’s more social issues touched upon on this track than there are in some artists’ whole careers.
Further proof of Scorz’ playful lyricism is displayed on “Good Grammar”, where he purposefully raps with poor grammar, in turn utilizing both British slang and highlighting flaws (or flawed logic) in the English language. The actual message is sympathetic towards those saying what they see, regardless of how they say it. Fans awaiting more bangers of the “Wishmaster” ilk, will be satisfied with the likes of “Equestrianism” and the album opener “Intium”. The latter is an extended Hip-Hop Quotable itself:
“First ten seconds I took ya breath
Throw the towel, fuck the rest
Cut the cut-man, broke a chair over the promoter’s back
like Paulie from Rocky and just stood there
On the mic I’m fly-er than Peter Petrelli
Knees turn to jelly when I’m putting emcees in my belly
While you were singing to yourself
listening to Drake in ya headphones
I slapped the Dre Beats off ya head
smashed ya iPod, took it to the Chinese man
who added a feature that only lets you put Scorz on it
I dragged myself from the depths of nothingness
Some people have a bucket list, me I have a list of books
that all basically say the same thing – the system sucks
Are we some dreamer on the back of some FEMA truck”
Despite how much I enjoyed digesting this project, not all 28 tracks are flawless. Nina Smith’s performance on “Lions” doesn’t feel as natural as intended. Nick Stez’ cheesy hook lets down “Money Worries” – in fact every track with sung vocals fails to achieve the desired catchiness and/or crossover potential. That’s not to say the self-performed hooks from Scorz are any better – “Love ’em All” is dangerously close to some s*** you used to hear at the bottom of the Soundclick charts. Some tracks do possess an earthy, some would say amateurish feeling, but that also feeds in to Scorz’ underground style.
At half the length, you’re looking at the best UK Hip-Hop album in at least ten years. I can’t fault the decision to pack as many tracks as possible on to the album, as it’s clear that Scorz has had many of these verses ready for a long time. The fans have wanted to soak up as much of Scorz as they can, in case he disappears or retires, and there’s enough excellent music here to ignore the weaker tracks. It feels good to recommend “Aeon: Peace to the Puzzle” – it’s an essential addition to any UK Hip-Hop collection.