Review: The Scribes Present Ill Literature
Published on October 25th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
This offshoot of UK hip hop troupe The Scribes has been granted favourable coverage by BBC Introducing and Riviera FM of late – the latter even named it as their album of the month for October – so it’s clear that there’s still a place for smart, playful rhyming and delightfully off-kilter beatery in amongst all the production line bravado and nauseating earnestness that seems to sell records these days. Thank goodness for that.
The Scribes Present Ill Literature inhabits a creepily cartoonish universe in which Hannibal Lecter lives next door and nothing is quite as it seems, but Shaun Amos’s yelpy, freaked-out flow sprinkles killer rhyming schemes all over the melodically wonky funk that results from his own particular talents melding with those of bassist/multi-instrumentalist Jake Galvin and singer/guitarist Jack Joyce.
Amos proves adept at articulating outsider status not just in the first person (“Run around in circles as I dance around in octagons / And keep on drawing holograms, I’m here to pick the locks in ’em… Pray that I didn’t become one with the sons of the same old shit”) but also Ray Davies-ishly through lovingly crafted character studies such as “Pipe Dreams” and “Jonny Wayne”, the heavy subject matter of which – you know, crack addiction, school shootings, that sort of thing – provides an arresting counterbalance to the tremendous fun of lead single “Monsters” (“a cannibal network of cannabis head jerks”, indeed) and the spy-movie-theme-gone-wrong of “Nothing to Lose”.
A hallmark of so many great hip hop records is the ability to wrong-foot the listener with moments of genuine self-reflection interspersed with some good old-fashioned bragging, and The Scribes Present Ill Literature pulls this off with affecting resonance; whereas the big, sleazy guitar-wielding “Dragon Breath” drapes self-aggrandising lines like “this kid’s disconcertingly disconnected” over a strut to match, “Heavy Wait” conceals the far more telling likes of “Save my soul, ’cause this rap game doesn’t / I’m backstage grey-faced, I’m onstage buzzin'”, while “Not a Dancer” belies the whirring synthery of its chorus with a striking confessional about requiring alcohol to perform onstage lest everyday insecurity shatter the artifice.
This album is groovy, witty, colourful and catchy; but will it shift as many units as Professor Green? Most likely not, and that’s all the more reason to escape our world by entering Ill Literature’s. Just don’t accept any dinner invitations from the intense Welsh bloke next door.
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!