Welcoming Clas Tuuth to the Filtered Listening pages, he delivers this month's 5:5:5: trek, spilling his early Junglist memories through the influential Congo Natty sound.
Congo Natty the Rebel MC
by Clas Tuuth
Some blatantly obvious and some only slightly obvious choices here, but these are my top 5 Congo Natty influences.
Sure, I could dig around to find some real obscurities just to impress, like Banana Boat Man... but that seems a bit disingenuous doesn’t it? (That is a TUNE by the way).
First off, a bit of a caveat, these are all really old. The latest album doesn’t quite do it for me. The hi-pitched-snare focused drums of contemporary drum and bass and the super-clean production over all, is very accomplished, but they aren’t as appealing to these ears as sped-up breaks with crashing cymbals and rough, dusty, drum sounds.
I do hear what everyone likes about it and I love that Congo Natty is still killing it whether I’m excited about the specific tracks or not. I’ve had a patch where I didn’t click with what he was doing before, which I’ll get to later, so I’m fully expecting his next project to be the one that reels me back in.
Anyway. Congo Natty, Blackstar, Lion Of Judah, M. Issachar, Micron, Micski, Mikail Tafari, Ras Peace, Ras Project, Tribe Of Issachar, X Project, Michael West or, mostly to me, Rebel MC, is a masterful producer.
He has been a huge influence on me and an undeniable source of joy in my life since I was tiny. These are my favourites, and I don’t suppose for a second anyone else will hear any parallels in my own production, but I assure you, no Rebel MC; no Clas Tuuth as you know it. I carried my Black Meaning Good tape in my school blazer pocket for a year. Here we go...
Both Street Tuff and Just Keep Rockin It made big impressions on me as a kid, but I was very much that. So tiny I had no comprehension of what I was hearing really, I just thought Rebel MC was cool and Double Trouble danced like Kid n Play, but a quick google search leads me believe that I might have made that last bit up, like some sort of nostalgia cocktail in my mind.
I’m going to pick...
1. Street Tuff (Rebel MC)
[Desire Records, 1989]
...of the two as that has the classic “Rough like a ninja sting like a bee” line. I was a bit too young to really get any of it, but I liked when he said he wasn’t a yankee, but a Londoner (‘He’s like me!’ I remember thinking, ha ha).
Anyway, I was a little bit older when the Black Meaning Good album came out and I’d started getting access to music that wasn’t on TV or in the pop charts. This was wholly thanks to friends who had older siblings & cousins who were actually old enough to be going to raves, unlike us who could only imagine what happened at these legendary events from what we heard about and saw on TV.
We’d meet after school and listen to the latest songs that had been unearthed for us while we took it in turns to play Alex Kidd, Chase HQ and Wonder Boy on a Sega Master System.
And that crap snail game that came on if you held ‘up’ on the controller when you switched it on. I’m pretty sure Mega Drives existed already at this point, but none of us had one. That went on for years actually with Sega releasing versions of Sonic 1, 2 and 3 (I think) for both master system and mega drive.
Anyway, that’s drifting fast onto a not very interesting tangent.
2. Tribal Base (Rebel MC)
[Desire Records, 1991]
is the song we’d always start with.
Important that you find the foundation mix rather than the album version as it’s got the really long intro, which is wicked. I think that version is easier to find now than the album.
I cannot tell you how much I love this song. I loved it then, I love it now all these years later. All the vocalists are amazing, but it’s the arrangement that makes it. Tone upon tone, layer upon layer, constantly, but always complimentarily, switching between the vocalists, all held together on the foundation of a fairly well-known break and an Enya sample of all things. At the time of course, I didn’t realize any of that, and I didn’t realize Barrington Levy was singing parts of his own older song, I just thought it sounded good. All my friends were quite happy to leave Rebel MC there to be honest; seeing this song mimed it on Top of The Pops was enough to put everyone else off thinking it was cool anymore. Same happened with SL2 and On a Ragga Tip. Funny how that sort of thing bothers you when you’re young.
I however, wanted more of this sound, whatever it was and however it was made, so I sought out the album and it became one of my most rinsed. I wore the tape out and had to buy it again on vinyl, which itself has two VERY worn patches where I kept putting my very cheap needle down in the same places (Invest in good stylus’ people, you’ll save money in the long run by ruining less records).
One mark is before Tribal Base, and the other is before:
3. Wickedest Sound (Rebel MC)
[Desire Records, 1991]
This and Comin On Strong were my favourites on the LP, but Wickedest just about comes out on top if I force myself to choose. It’s a great album all told, you should own it. The Wickedest Sound is a similar mix of varied vocals with a collage of samples as heard on Tribal Base, but the high-pitched Herbie Hancock sample and the loud and fast Sly & Family Stone break make for a textured harshness that I couldn’t, and still can’t, get enough of. (Again, not that I recognised either of those at the time, or had google to make the connections).
That harsh sound is an approach I’ve taken to really closely for a few of my own tracks. Legion comes to mind for sure, as well as Glass (albeit with very subdued drums compared with the production here), even Cotty to an extent and definitely a number of tracks on my upcoming album. Overall though, crunchy drums, a full bass line and a harsh high-pitched melody is pretty much my standard approach and that is hugely down to the influence of Congo Natty in his Rebel MC days (as well as Shut-Up & Dance, but that’s another post surely?)
I was super young, and didn’t really know what I liked about it all, but I truly loved it. These songs made the good days better and lifted me up at the saddest of times. At home on the stereo, or on headphones walking the dreaded route to school, they always put a smile on my face.
As I grew up a bit, I gravitated away from UK electronic music and towards US hip-hop in a big way. As such, his next album pretty much passed me by, a bit like the most recent Congo Natty LP on Big Dada that I mentioned earlier. I grabbed the single, Rich ah Getting Richer and loved the B-Line ruff neck mix, but the album itself didn’t excite me as much as Ice Cube and The Pharcyde were at the time.
Then Jungle full-blown hit the mainstream. I had no concept that a lot of the tunes we were listening to at our master system sessions came under the umbrella of Jungle and that we were witnessing, from a very safe, confused and innocent distance, a burgeoning scene within what we always just called ‘hardcore’. Initially this new Jungle excitement wound me right up, as loads of my mates who I’d swap tapes with stopped buying hip-hop albums.
With no streaming in those days and limited funds (I’m still very much in school at this stage, hating every moment of it apart from talking about music and finding any excuse to draw) this was how we shared and found out about music.
So, everyone suddenly loving jungle meant my incoming beats were getting very limited. Radio was good for singles and freestyles (Max and Dave, 279, Westwood!), but there are hidden gems on LPs that I was missing out on. Then came along some tracks I could no longer deny were putting a smile on my face. And guess who it turned out they were by?
4. Code Red (Conquering Lion)
[X Project, 1993]
Yes mate. This was the first proper jungle track I could fully get behind. Sure, I liked Helicoptor and Burial and Original Nuttah and Incredible, but I wouldn’t openly admit to it. I wanted someone to have the import Original Flavor album I couldn’t afford so they could tape it for me, so this was all really annoying. With Code Red though, this was just undeniable fun. I thought I recognised the voice, but wasn’t sure. It was years later I had it confirmed this was the man I knew as Rebel MC under a new name, one of many I would end up discovering.
It’s a similar production approach to the tracks I loved before, you’ve got a variety of vocal styles with a texture that comes from a collage approach to samples. Now though, it’s at jungle tempo and with proper jungle drums. In some way it’s a natural progression from the Black Meaning Good days, but this really heightens the fun to be found in music for me. I love seeing people dancing around to this. The 94 remix is good too, as it’s basically the same, but every now and then it says “remix. 94 remix”. (Yes, there is more to it than that obviously, it’s just a joke people)
5. Jah Is My Guide (Lion of Judah)
[Congo Natty, 1997]
This is really fun for singing along “JAH!” and “Rastafari” to, as you have to know the rhythm really well to get all of them.
I used to like starting this at about 30 secs in after the first bit of speech when I was playing out, so it starts with the long accapella vocal then when the drums come in people would cheer. Great fun.
There’s a classic Rebel MC/Congo Natty build to this track; layer upon layer starting minimally and mixing up the samples, just as I keep on describing for all of these. It’s a different product to the others, but again, it’s all about textures and contrasts. The vocal is kept sparse, so when those drums kick in, it sounds amazing. There’s no direct influence here, only that I hope one day I’ll make a track as good as this.
These are really just a taste at quite an easy access level. I’ve not dug very deep here, but wanted to be honest about the tracks that made a difference to me. There’s absolutely tons of Congo Natty material. Go check him out, he’s a genius.