Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The British Nightmare To America's Dream

Hijack - Hijack The Terrorist Group
Hijack - Hold No Hostage

Can you imagine how much heat London rap crew Hijack would get from the USA in the current climate of fear and paranoia? Based solely on their name, the FBI would have told MI6 to put them under constant surveillance, their phones would be tapped, they would probably be banned from entering the country and if they managed to find a way in, there would be police officers waiting to arrest them. The self-styled ‘terrorist group’, operating in the late 80s/early 90s, had rather a different problem. America did not want to know.

Hijack were the original pioneers of hardcore UK rap (though credit is due to Demon Boyz, London Posse and Overlord X), with the crew consisting of rappers Kamanchi Sly and Ulysses and the two DJs, Supreme (who produced the majority of the music) and Undercover. They were joined by Agent Fritz and Agent Clueso for live performances. Coming out of Brixton, south London, Hijack debuted in 1988, with the release of ‘Style Wars’ on Simon Harris’s groundbreaking Music of Life label. Brutal raps and thumping beats combined with a clever use of samples and ferocious scratching to put Hijack beyond the reach of the majority of their contemporaries. Here was a crew who could take on the US rappers and, for the first time, make all us UK-based rap fanatics proud of the country where we lived.

"Money ain't no matter it's a principle, that makes us invincible" : Hold No Hostage

Hijack craved respect and recognition above cold hard cash. Prior to signing with Music of Life, Kamanchi Sly won a rapping contest organised by Tim Westwood. He threw the prize money into the audience declaring, “It’s not about the money, it’s about the art.” These sentiments were echoed through many of Sly’s raps on future releases. Like Public Enemy (undoubtedly a massive influence), Hijack were politically outspoken, commentating on a war they believed was being fought on the streets of London and across the UK – not a race war, but one between the rich and poor, and the authorities and disenchanted youth. They also chose to dress confrontationally, donning balaclavas and utilising imagery adopted by rebel forces, airplane hijackers and terrorists.

Following ‘Style Wars’, the group released the double A-side, ‘Hold No Hostage/Doomsday of Rap’ which became a massive underground hit across Europe. This brought them to the attention of Ice-T, who signed them up to his Rhyme Syndicate label (which had a distribution deal with Warner Brothers), making Hijack the first UK rap crew to sign a deal with a US label. They recorded an album, ‘The Horns of Jericho’ in 1989, and released a single ‘The Badman is Robbin’ (which went Top 40 in the UK). But then Rhyme Syndicate collapsed and, after much wrangling, Warner Brothers refused to release the album in the States claiming that the hardcore style and British accents wouldn’t be well received - another prime example of major label ineptitude. Hijack were the only British crew with the skills and ambition to conquer the American market. ‘The Horns of Jericho’ was eventually released in the UK and Europe in 1991, to inevitable widespread acclaim.

Check out classic album track ‘Hijack the Terrorist Group’, with it’s mock Dick Tracy intro, before booming bass and sirens back lyrics alluding to the crew on the run from the police, finally cornered during a gig at the Brixton Academy. I’ve also posted ‘Hold No Hostage’ from their second 12”, which is DJ Supreme’s favourite Hijack track. It opens with a sample from the Coldcut remix of ‘Paid In Full’ before a needle is scratched across the record and the crew show the full range of their skills, and in particular, Supreme and Undercover’s lacerating cuts. Proper old school business. Unfortunately, the fallout from the Rhyme Syndicate deal and musical differences caused the crew to split soon after the release of their debut album. Their recorded output is a fraction of what it could have been, but ‘The Horns of Jericho’ has gone down in history as the greatest hip hop album made outside of the US, and there’s no doubting the massive influence it has had on the evolution of UK rap.

Fantastic interview with DJ Supreme from the Original UK Hip Hop website
Full Hijack discography here
Search eBay for Hijack releases, but be prepared to dig deep as they don’t come cheap!
DJ Supreme at My Space and his official website
Kamanchi Sly website