It’s hard sometimes to stay plugged into the rap scene when you’re thousands of miles away from the two continents that spawn its most dominant artists. Most of my rap education has come from watching those corny bio-pics, which, except for Eminem’s 8 Mile, have been about as stomachable as an old boot. Growing up I had a healthy schoolyard introduction to rap with 2pac, Snoop, Cypress Hill and Notorious B.I.G. to name a few, but since these nineties guys first came about the scene has changed dramatically. Dubbed the ‘new Elvis’ because of what he did to the genre, Eminem proved that even white guys had something to offer, and his influence can be seen all over the world. If you go east from the United States and cross the North Atlantic, it’s plain to see that the genre and Eminem have influenced artists like Mike Skinner (The Streets), and now, Professor Green; not actually a professor, but rather the name given to him when he dealt marijuana.
In 2007, Mike Skinner gave the unknown artist a leg up by signing him to his label The Beats. While the label is now defunct, it brought the young rapper a lot of attention, introducing him to future collaborator Lily Allen and signing him to Virgin for his debut release Alive Till I’m Dead. The record is a real romper, and introduces Professor Green as a rapper of competence and substance.
The sample laden, opening three songs of the album are aimed directly at the charts, with their guest vocalists nearly outshining the commentary Green provides. It’s not till later in the album that the real Green comes out, emerging with the aggressive, gritty rhymes we’re waiting for. With “Oh My God”, Green really kicks the album into gear. It’s rockier than the first tracks and has a slow-drive as Green relentlessly raps “Just call me rap’s George Best with a lot more cess/a lot more liquor, and a lot more sex”. “Jungle” has the same amount of attitude, and is about Hackney; a part of East London notoriously known in the past for the amount of stabbings it’s been home to. Green sings, “It’s wild round here, you don’t want to spend a night round ‘ere”, and I don’t blame him. “Do For You”, is nicely instrumented, with strings and a militaristic beat accompanying Green as he makes a declaration of defiance to those that have opposed him in the past.
You might think that the themes of Green’s music is all too familiar - drugs, fights, ‘bitches’, coming from the ghetto; all things we’ve come to expect from the rap genre. But Green’s delivery style and raps are fresh, they’re honest, and not something we’ve heard from a white Englishman’s mouth before. There is definite appeal, but I think Green could make more of an effort to connect with his listeners – his songs are mostly about himself and rarely branch further than the world that surrounds him. Maybe this will change with time. He certainly shows potential with his raps, because as far as rhyming goes he’s at the top of his game (winning the Myspace comp. in 2008) but it would be good to hear raps about the welfare system or Tony Blair or something like that. This, I’m sure, will come in time.
In “Falling Down” Green talks about his previous record label troubles as well as run-ins with the law, and even shows his playful side. He sings about himself riding a horse, then says to the listener “And before some funny guy tries to make a joke about me riding a horse, it is a metaphor”, which is surely tongue-in-cheek. In “Monster”, a fast paced rap that mixes the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with Green’s personal life, he sings “Before I go I’d like to thank Peter Andre for looking after my children”, a very welcome stab indeed. Pop culture references like this one are just one more similarity that the rapper shares with Eminem.
Alive Till I’m Dead is an undoubtedly strong debut, and has both pop and urban elements that will ensure its commercial success and praise in different streams. If anything Prof. Green puts his foot down as an irreverent, politically incorrect rapper not afraid to cuss or point the finger, and hopefully as his career continues to blossom he’ll start to divert his aggression externally to more meaningful topics. His talent is however tangible and for the moment he is carrying the baton for this style of music. I just pray to god he doesn’t make a bio-pic.
Highlights :: “Kid’s That Love To Dance” and “Oh My God”