Back in the early 1990s ‘Gangsta’ rap was the dominant sound in Hip-Hop (defined by the massive Dr. Dre album ‘The Chronic’ and his protégé Snoop Doggy Dogg’s success with his huge debut single ‘What’s My Name’ and the album ‘Doggystyle’). However, there were a few who were trying to do something different.
Take, for example, the collaboration between ‘alternative’ rock artists like Teenage Fanclub and Sonic Youth, and premier Hip-Hop artists like Cypress Hill and De La Soul. The fruits of that unlikely alliance – the OST to the Emilio Estevez action film ‘Judgment Night’ – will be covered at a later date in this block. The fusing of rock/metal dynamics and sound with rap, although not prevalent, was not totally unique – the Anthrax / Public Enemy ‘Bring The Noise’ being a celebrated example of the crossover (and the potential) between Rock music and Hip-Hop. Shortly after ‘Judgment Night’, the RZA side-project ‘Gravediggaz’ released, in my opinion, the most brutal and brilliant piece of Rock/Metal/Rap with a mix of ‘Bang Your Head’ that began with a buzzing, pulsating sensation that soon mutated into the most fearsome Sturm-Und-Drang Guitars, while RZA, Prince Paul and the other Gravediggaz didn’t as much rap as spit, growl and scream an invocation to do nothing-more-metal than ‘Bang Your Head’.
Further left-field than that, in 1994, Bomb The Bass (aka Tim Simenon) and California alt-rapper Justin Warfield released their psychedelic hip hop classic ‘Bug Powder Dust’, a lysergic slice of fuzzy beats dedicated to William Burroughs ‘The Naked Lunch’. I have praised this track and its timelessness, vitality and freshness previously on TWLB
All this preamble brings me to the real reason for this post. The under-rated and over-looked New York duo ‘New Kingdom’.
Consisting of rappers Jason Furlow (aka Nosaj), Sebastian Laws (aka Sebstop,) and produced by Scott Harding of the Lumberjacks production team (aka Scotty Hard who also worked with Gravediggaz and Prince Paul), they gave the world a relatively small, but potent body of work that is as fuzzy and freaked out as ‘Bug Powder Dust’, as heavy as ‘Bang Your Head’, and as inspirational as any of the team-ups from ‘Judgment Night’. They also had that stoned Jekyll & Hyde / chilled – then – menacing ambience of Cypress Hill. On their early singles, released on the Island Records imprint ‘Gee Street’ their image was of a freaky B-Boy – beanie hats pulled over eyebrows and heavy eyelids, fisherman hats, afros, sunglasses, smoky rooms and homemade bongs. Their second single ‘Good Times’ was a frenzied, fuzzy hip hop declaration features some excellent unhinged rapping, given an extra edge by microphone distortion, as if the vocal was too much for the equipment, giving it a DIY, punk attitude. They excelled in killer intro lines to their songs – in ‘Good Times’, they kicked off with;
‘pouring no lies, no suits and ties, no need to rush we love to f**k time’.
Their follow-up to ‘Good Times’, ‘Cheap Thrills’ was just as good, albeit with a more stoned vibe and another classic opening line;
‘now a lot of my friends are heavy drinkers….’
just so you knew what the ‘Cheap Thrills’ of the title was roughly about………..
Their first album, ‘Heavy Load’, was further justification of their talents, with the likes of ‘Manhunter’ and ‘Calico Cats’ strengthening the image of New Kingdom as an alt-rap alchemists mixing menace and Cypress Hill style paens to the stoner / slacker lifestyle with other more esoteric rap / poetry. There was a problem with New Kingdom though – they had a profile that was low and it remained low. The singles and the album, although meeting with an amount of critical success, did not achieve great sales. That is partly why I got into them – despite being a big hip hop fan at the time, I was generally skint and so unless I really really wanted an album or single, it had to pass me by. Thank god for the bargain bins of Tamworth Record shops in the early 90’s like Our Price, WH Smith and Pats Record shop. Without them I would have missed the opportunity to hear the likes of JC001, Honky and New Kingdom. Without New Kingdoms relatively poor sales, they probably wouldn’t have ended up in the bargain bins…..
By the time New Kingdom had reconvened in 1996, I had moved across the UK to Hull, but I could still find new New Kingdom releases at CD fairs and at Sydney Scarboroughs in Hull Town centre at reduced prices. If anything, the break had done New Kingdom some good – they had come back even fuzzier, skuzzier, rawer and messed up. The lead single ‘Mexico or Bust’ sounds like a stag party that you actually wouldn’t mind being involved in. It gets better – on the follow up single they pose the question if ‘Unicorns were Horses’?? Also, to give you a flavour of the brilliant stream of consciousness lyrics that they were producing by this time….well, read the following and allow yourself a smile;
“Animal was my favorite drummer, I couldn’t get Kurt off my mind that summer, I lay in a tent in the middle of a big ole garage my mind ain’t nothing but a big ole collage, kids, come a little closer- once had a poster – Jimi Hendrix on a horse with a pistol and a holster..”
I imagined they were on a mescaline and peyote crusade, bumping across the desert on the back of a flat bed truck, tripping about the Manson family affiliated Spahn Ranch and receiving, from under the ground, dispatches from the Rev. Jim Jones. They had achieved an unholy union of Cypress Hills marijuana haze, Beck’s folk and trippy absurdism, the Beastie Boys garage rock meets brat rap mentality and Ol’ Dirty Bastards drunken master style, all filtered through the standard bearer of all that is good, freaked out and lysergic in hip hop and dirty beats – ‘Bug Powder Dust’. I loved them – they were effortlessly stylish, fantastic lyricists and great rappers, who had amazing production and a sturdy set of songs. The second album was an improvement on the debut, so they were maturing as artists. So WHY did they not get the success and recognition they obviously deserved? Maybe it was just too left field of the mainstream – I don’t believe UK Radio ever really got behind New Kingdom (this was at a time (early to mid 90’s) when the likes of the UK group Senser were producing rock/rap crossover material, getting championed by the NME and Melody Maker and also not getting much in the way of radio play).
Maybe New Kingdom fell between 2 stools – too freaky for hip hop heads and too hip hop for freaks???
New Kingdom were an adventurous, brave and talented group. They produced some great material, and in ‘Good Times’, ‘Cheap Thrills’, ‘Mexico or Bust’ and ‘Unicorns were Horses’ have a clutch of singles that still sound relevant and fresh today in 2009 – 16 and 13 years later respectively. The New Kingdom back catalogue is currently out of print – I believe it is most definitely right that their work should be reissued. Soon, please.
New Kingdom Discography
Album – Heavy Load 1993
Single – Frontman (1993)
Single – Good Times (1993)
Single – Cheap Thrills (1994)
Single – Good Times (Resurrected) (1994)
Album – Paradise Dont Come Cheap 1996
Single – Mexico Or Bust (1996)
Single – Unicorns Were Horses (1996)