“Orignal south London trooper/Blak Twang, live from the big smoke”
DETTWORK SouthEast is an undisputed classic of UK hip hop – but until last year few people had heard the 1996 long player in full.
Contractual disputes thwarted Tony Olabode, aka Blak Twang, from releasing his debut at the time he recorded it. A 12″ single release along with a few test pressings of the album and a handful of promo cassettes helped establish the legend of the ‘lost debut’.
Meanwhile the Deptford rapper, also known as Taipanic or Tony Rotton, went on to achieve continued critical and also commercial success – building a following who would eventually push for the release of the MC’s first album 18 years after it was first due in stores.
The holy grail of UK hip hop stands the test of time and the topics Taipanic covered as relevant today as they were in the year England hosted football’s European Championships, Linford Christie competed in his last Olympics, Trevor Nelson joined Radio One and Mark Morrison scored a number one with Return of the Mack.
But the album is still nearly 20 years old so at times it is an audio time capsule flashing snippets of 1990s life.
Here are all those 90s, and some 80s, flashbacks in the same order as the track listing on the album.
“Laying down facts like British Rail tracks” and “Comin’ through like a British Rail train”
British Rail was the UK’s formerly state owned train operator, that was privatised from 1994 to 1997. This song, which the album also took its name from, was a play on BR’s London operation, Network SouthEast.
“Handle biz on my cellular dog and bone”
Rotton made his name with his flare for adopting slang, including Cockney rhyming slang, with hip hop vernacular. Back in the mid 90s mobiles were still a rarity and even a bona fide geezer could get away with using the American term ‘cellular phone’ – just.
“Rest in Peace to Stephen Lawrence”
The 18-year-old was murdered in a unprovked racist attack in 1993. Though Stephen’s death was reported at the time the murder and police failings received widespread media attention after The Daily Mail named five men as murderers on its front page in February 1997 – and challenged them to sue if the paper was wrong. Two would later be convicted of Stephen’s murder in 2012 following many years of campaigning led by his parents Neville and Doreen.
Heads & Tales
“It was the same crook that tried selling me that social security book”
An outdated benefits scam.
“I tried to dial 999/but the payphone had been vandalised”
Obviously Tony had left the dog and bone behind and was faced with that continual 90s frustration, finding a payphone was out of use – at a time you really needed to make a call.
“I remember when we was running around petty thieving/Dipping handbags, ripping out car stereos”
Every motorist’s biggest fear was to return to their car and find a side window smashed and a stereo sized space in the centre console.
“It wasn’t the place or time to play hero outside the Trocadero with so many people”
The Westend shopping and entertainment complex actually remained open until 2014 – but you get the idea a dapper fella like Rotton would have long since stopped spending Saturday night’s up West at the Troc.
“I’m bringing more stress than the DHSS/Exposing fake MCs like Pamela Anderson’s breasts”
The UK government’s Department of Health and Social Security had actually been split into its separate functions in 1988, prompting a joke that ‘Department’ would soon be dropped from the name of the new DSS. Pamela Anderson bust into the UK consciousness in the early 90s playing a lifeguard on Californian beach drama Baywatch.
“No fear like Nigel Benn/If I go down in the first round then you get buss in the tenth/Like Gerald McClellan brain damage your cerebral brennum”
Possibly the darkest verse on the LP. McClellan suffered a serious brain injury in his 1995 world title fight with the Dark Destroyer. The fight went pretty much as stated.
“One black V Combat 18 is war”
Nasty little neo Nazi group that was at the forefront of the extreme right in the early and mid 90s.
“I set demons on fire like they did to Queen’s palace/Lizzy I was glad to see your yard Catch a Fire”
Windsor Castle, the official residence of the Queen of England, Elizabeth II suffered severe fire damage in November 1992. Catch a Fire was Bob Marley and the Wailers first release on Island Records in 1973.
“I only eat roots food that’s cooked in SE8/But wait I kill a mad cow same way”
There had been concerns since the 1980s that meat and bone meal feed given to cows was responsible for ‘mad cow disease’ and infected cattle had entered the food chain, transferring the fatal brain disease to humans. In March 1996 a government inquiry established a likely link and British beef was soon banned throughout Europe.Creme De La Crop
“Droplets of acid rain burning through umbrellas…mind bending like Uri Geller”
Pollution causing acid rain was the environmental concern of the 1980s. Uri Geller is an Israeli illusionist and self proclaimed psychic, best known for bending spoons on TV since the 1970s.
“You best start slinging your hook/And book a one way holiday with Thomas Cook or Lunn Poly”
The travel agent was a fixture of British high streets from the 1960s until 2004 when it was rebranded as Thomson.
“Battling these forces like a Saracen, the Gladiator”
Gladiators was a 90s Saturday tea-time telly favourite. Contestants would compete in a series of physical challenges against the Gladiators, who all had nicknames – such as Mike Lewis aka Saracen.
Don’t Let Dem Fool You
“I wanna build a Dynasty like JR in Dallas”
The notoriety of Texan oil boss JR Ewing and his scheming in family and business affairs is enduring. Dynasty was a rival 1980s American soap opera centred around rich powerful Denver oil industry schemer Blake Carrington.
“Sittin at roundtables with my British Knights”
Evoking Arthurian legend and name dropping an American high top trainer popular with ‘male urban youth’ at the turn of the 80s/90s.
“Everything they own is ill gotten/That’s why society is rotten like the toilet in Trainspotting”
The iconic 1996 dark British film didn’t shy away from the grim realities of the lives of its central characters lost in economically depressed, heroin induced Edinburgh. The metaphor heavy scene featured central character Renton diving into a toilet.
“Flippin the lingua like a spatula/Death sentences like fatwa”
Fatwa – an Islamic legal pronouncement – entered popular usage in the UK in 1989, when Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued one ordering the murder of author Salman Rushdie. Taipanic drops the lyric after referring to himself as the Ayatollah.
Queen’s Head ft Roots Manuva
“It’s all about making that wonga in the 90s”
The wonga referred to in this intro is a slang term for cash, rather than a high interest loan company.
“I see you only cater for Satan/So I observe every word in your Satanic Verses”
The depiction of the Prophet Mohammad in Salman Rushdie’s 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses is what got Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini so pissed.
Paralytic Monkey ft Fallacy
“They labelled me a terrorist/Hezbollah, Guerrilla/Cos I was acrobatically flipping like Asprilla”
The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and its Guerrilla warfare tactics were mainstays of the news in the 1980s. Faustino ‘Tino’ Asprilla was a Colombian footballer who signed for then Premier league leaders Newcastle United in January 1996. He would celebrate his goals with a cartwheel.
“My premise is like the Nemesis at Alton Towers”
A crazy inverted roller coaster, opened at the amusement park in 1994.
“Doing more tricks than Paul Daniels”
British TV magician, his Paul Daniels Magic Show was a fixture of the BBC schedule from 1979 to 1994. Nothing like Troy.
Echo Chamber (In combo with Roots Manuva and Seanie T)
“My rapping reflects the street codes like Echoes magazine….My Connection with Hip Hop is straight from The Source/It’s yours truly bringing the Blues to your Soul”
Possibly a diss aimed at Britain’s former premier rap magazine, Hip Hop Connection. Taipanic appears to suggest he prefers to read all the news from the rap game via what is, since HHC ceased publication in 2009, the world’s longest running rap periodical. The lyric also name checks the UK’s longest establish black music publication Echoes, which was actually a newspaper in the 90s, and Blues & Soul magazine, both of which are still in publication.
Entrepreneurs (Alongside Drezzo the Brigadier of The Bloodhoundz)
“Sometimes I think of robbing Halifax or Abbey Nat”
The first British building society to become a bank the Abbey National is now known as Santander.