Record Label Profile: Original Dope (UK Hip Hop Re-Issues) Part 2 of 2!!

December 20, 2011 7 min read


Here we are back with Part 2 of this look at the Original Dope Label. If you missed it, peep Part 1 HERE!!

Blade-The Lion Goes From Strength To Strength (No Compromise) ‘93:

This album originally dropped in ’93 on Blade’s own label, 691 Influential. As for Blade, he is a man of pure legend. He came from poverty and struggle, but had unflinching determination to live out his Hip Hop dreams. He built his reputation by showcasing his Human Beat Box skills on buses and the city streets. He originally financed his records by pick-pocketing and bank loans. From there he continued to grow by selling his self-funded and released records on the streets and thru his mail order catalog. However, when it came time to pay for his second record, “The Lion Goes From Strength To Strength” he didn’t have the money, but for someone of such purpose, that was merely a temporary setback not a real obstacle. He went direct to his fans and told them that he could deliver the album they were anticipating…but only if they paid for it in advance, so he could afford to record and press it. No problem, the fans paid him the money, he made the record and the legend continued…

I suppose he felt so much gratitude for his fans that he was compelled to deliver strong, so he came with a double album packed with intensity, conviction, dedication to the Culture and disdain for the Music Industry. Blade handles all the production as well as the lyrics, while DJ Grazhoppa rips the wax thru out.

Early on the album, with “Fade Em Out”, Blade gives you a glimpse of the type of bold statements he was always prepared and willing to make, “I don’t trust the Capital Rap Show/Because it’s not Rap anymore” and “The Styles are frantic/Lets get the records across the Atlantic/Ocean, plus I got the notion/But where’s the promotions”.

Blade-Fade Em Out:
[audio:|titles=1-02 Fade 'Em Out]

On “Hold Your Own” he speaks on the power of words and why he chooses to use his with purpose, “Pull yourself together, never let it drag on/Some use a heavy beat just to brag on/But that’s a waste of the seconds that tick away/But maybe they have nothing better to say/You can be the one to beat the competition/But Me…I’m on a mission.”

Blade-Hold Your Own:
[audio:|titles=1-08 Hold Your Own]

The only vocal guest on the album is MC Mell”O” on the vigorous “Dark And Sinister”. The title gets right down to the business of it. There’s real frustration and anger, even if exaggeration in the delivery is used to help illustrate the point.

Blade quite possibly had the most active career in the UK Hip Hop scene. He started releasing records in the 80s and continued to improve as a lyricist and release quality material up until 2006 when his disgust with the Music Industry convinced him to leave it all behind. He’s been pretty much off the radar every since, up until this re-release. Hopefully, this will inspire him to make some new music and/or do more re-releases from the vaults.

MC Mell “O” “Thoughts Released” ''90:

From the stand point of musical vibe and tempo, this album sounds closer to anything in the US then just about everything else in the UK of that era. Sparki is the primary producer for the album, bringing some boom-bap with a touch of jazziness and a bit of a bounce. It’s definitely head-bop music. Common for the time, James Brown is a premier sample source for the album, but there’s also an assortment of other break beats and live instrumentation mixed in as well. The production is approached with a solid understanding of musicality. Even the scratching, prominently handled by the fantastic DJ Pogo, is often used intelligently as an accompaniment to the sound foundation, such as on “Our Time” or the excellent scratch intro of “Words Spoken”. The only time the album really strays from that type of vibe is on two tracks; “Open Your Mind”, one of the few tracks not produced by the Sparki (produced by Blacksmith), and “From The Heart”. Both have a mellow, almost smooth jazz sound with a touch of R&B…perhaps throw in a dab of New Jack Swing in there too. Which makes it no surprise that “Open Your Mind” is a single. Even though they aren’t my favorite productions, they are done well for what they are, and on songs he drops some potent, uplifting lyrics. More to the point, "Open Your Mind" is definitely a good song, it's just not that rugged feel that I prefer*.

From observing the UK Hip Hop scene you become aware of the heavy Jamaican population there. Many of the popular artists there use healthy dosages of chatting in their tracks. MC Mello “O” clearly comes from that background, it’s evident in his voice and slang, but that is pretty much the extent of the reggae influence in his lyrics. His voice is strong and unique. I suppose it would be described as deep, but it has a nice amount of treble, so even with his thick accent his diction is concise, making his lyrics very clear and comprehensive. As for content, he tends to speak on meaningful subject matter such as Culture, oppression, survival, self-improvement, wisdom and things of that nature, but he also injects a touch of humor as well.

Overall, the album covers a range of themes, styles, & moods. Definitely a highlight is “Acknowledge Yourself”, which very well may be the slowest song in UK Rap History…ha. I’m being a bit dramatic perhaps, but it definitely stands out and Mell “O” sounds great rhyming at the slow pace, while dropping some knowledge & Black History thru his inspirational verses. “Comin’ Correct” and “Bizzie Rhymin” are both bonus cuts on this CD and are originally from a 12” a year before this album. They are also the two fastest tracks presented here and prove that his choice to slow it down on the album was not because he couldn’t kick swift lyrics with the best of them.

This re-issue gives you the original nine album tracks + six bonus cuts, making it excellent starting point to explore the sounds MC Mell “O”**. From there, he has a string of singles and appearances well worth digging up to peep the progress. Beyond that, I think it's safe to say that "Thoughts Released" is easily one of the best, well-rounded, and solid UK Hip Hop albums of all-time.

MC Mell "O"-Acknowledge Yourself:
[audio:|titles=08 Acknowledge Yourself]

MC Mell "O"-Our Time:
[audio:|titles=01 Our Time]

Ruthless Rap Assassins-Killer Album (20th Anniversary Edition):

When you read up on the history of the UK Hip Hop scene, The Ruthless Rap Assassins are highly regarded as a key piece of the puzzle in one aspect or another. As a part of other groups, members of the crew were a part of some the earliest true UK Hip Hop releases.

“Killer Album” was actually the first release on Original Dope. It’s an interesting release. I remember seeing their name in Hip Hop Connection Magazine (think that is where I saw it) back in the day and possibly in some shout outs elsewhere. The group name led me to believe it was in the same aggressive vein as Silver Bullet, Hijack, Hardnoise, etc… That is not at all the case. Their sound has a more “Pop” sound. They were still heavily using Drum Machines (IE Roland TR-909 & TR-808) instead or in conjunction with sampled drums, which had become the standard. The are all over the place with the sound direction; some songs sound like the UK version of Fresh Prince, others are more likened to the Beastie Boys, while others could easily be a Club Nouveau track.

Although most of the album tends to sound a bit happy, some of the subject matter is pretty grim. It’s actually those moments where they best get my attention, particularly on “Justice (Just Us)” which is the song that best fits the group name and “And It Wasn’t A Dream” which deals with Racism.
It was the impact of those songs that afforded them critical acclaim and what was looking like a potential hit record, but they ultimately failed to get the radio support needed. Unquestionably, what radio was weary of was the content. Musically, most of this album was radio ready.

In any event, this album sets itself apart from what was happening on the UK Underground. Personally, it’s not a favorite of mine. My tastes weigh heavier on the lyrical-complex-rapid –fire-hi-tech-scratch tracks, but I respect the Ruthless Rap Assassins inclination to travel a different path.

Ruthless Rap Assassins-And It Wasn't A Dream [The Thinking Man's Mix]:
[audio:|titles=16 And It Wasn't A Dream (The Thinking Man's Mix)]

Ruthless Rap Assassins-Justice (Just Us) [The Mase Mix]:
[audio:|titles=17 Justice (Just Us) The Mase Mix)]

There you have it! Those are the five releases on the Original Dope label thus far. I sincerely hope more are to follow. Not only re-issues, I dream of them digging in some archives to unearth some previously unreleased gems as well. Of course, the best way to ensure that is by supporting their movement, so if any these releases peaked your interest then please make a purchase, tell a friend, and help spread the word!

The label is owned by Andy Cowan, best known on the UK Scene as the Editor for the Hip Hop Connection Magazine. If you didn’t know, Hip Hop Connection boast to be the worlds first Hip Hop Magazine. Their first issue hit shelves in ’88, in a time all Hip Hop had for press were charming, but cheesy fanzines, occasional specialty issues, and the like. Yes, that’s more proof of UK’s key significance in Hip Hop History. Look for me to do more stories on UK and Global Hip Hop in 2012!!!

Written By Kevin Beacham

**It's worth mentioning that the "Open Your Mind" has two Remixes listed. I haven't heard either, perhaps one of those take a more harder edge to the track. I'll have to investigate that.

**Speaking of starting points, MC Mello "O"actually got his career in the Music Industry started in a group called Jus Badd, which also included his on-going producer Sparki, DJ Pogo and Monie Love. They released a 12" in '87, "Freestyle" b/w "Proud". Of course, 80s/90s Hip Hop fans will recognize Monie Love from her connection with the Native Tongues. She did an extended, turned indefinite, trip from UK to the US in the late 80s that lead to collaborations with Queen Latifah, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, etc...

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