“It’s great seeing strong black men doing their ting, being righteous!”
As the lights at Blackburn’s King George’s Hall descended upon a night with Lancashire’s own Black Grape, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia beyond my years.
Shaun Ryder and ‘Kermit’ Leveridge were back on the scene, with new music and the determination to pass these new tunes onto both their own respected audience, as well as a new impressionable crowd of young kids keen on replicating the energy devoted to the 90s Madchester and Britpop scenes in the present day. Picking up Sounds Magazine where it left off 28 years ago, I caught up with Black Grape and Ruthless Rap Assassins founder ‘Kermit’ Leveridge to talk new music, the current 90s music revolution, and how far Britain has come in allowing a space for Hardline rap artists.
Just 21 years after their last full length release, Black Grape have found themselves in a completely new musical climate. Consumer habits have become much harder to track, and along with a constant digital vs physical supremacy battle, the fate of the LP has found itself on thin ice. Yet despite the threat new music is faced with, new record ‘Pop Voodoo’ has still managed to attain a peak #15 spot on the UK album charts. “They’ve definitely been digging the new tunes” exclaims Kermit, one of only two (Ryder) remaining members from the original outfit “certain tracks we do like In The Name of The Father and Kelly’s they love them, but Black Grape are funky and and funky doesn’t go out of fashion. Everyone will always like to go out and get twisted and shake their fucking tush! I know I still like it!”
In spite of the success following the new record, the idea that a young new audience could be reached appeared to be beyond the realms of possibility. But in the case of Black Grape it seemed the 90s music revolution of today has transcended well into their own back catalogue. “I see a lot of young faces at gigs nowadays” claims the funk rocker. “I see these kids wearing all this 90s gear and its all things we wouldn’t dream of wearing back then (laughs), But the kids getting into that 90s fuck you attitude, it’s a good thing.”
“I don’t see many rebels, it’s all very vanilla”
In the modern day it is not uncommon to spot crowds of adidas-clad teens dominating the queue for your favourite 80s/90s group reunion tours, carrying a commotion and buzz in their strides that might strike a feeling of déjà vu for yesterday’s music lovers and troublemakers. But is a return to the tribes of a time gone by the solution to music’s personality drought?
“I think the tribal thing is a throwback. It’s putting people in categories, (and) I’m more of a free thinker with stuff like that, I believe in revolution for the heart and soul” says Kermit “I think there’s plenty (for kids) to fight and live for these days but people are too apathetic. I don’t see many rebels, it’s all very vanilla.”
Turn back the clock to 1991 and you’d find Kermit Leveridge amongst his formative group ‘Ruthless Rap Assassins’, ever-present in the last ever Issue of Sounds Magazine’s First Testament. Primed with Political and Social narratives familiar to a group of confident young black men, the musical stylings of the group could be argued to have been the formative building blocks to modern day Grime music. “We are the god fathers of grime. You listen to that first RRA album and listen to Here Today… Here Tomorrow you can here the roots of grime in that. When we were doing that stuff we didn’t want to copy what was going on over the pond, we wanted to do our own thing, we were being as real as we were allowed to be.”
In the ultimately concluding Sounds issue, Ruthless Rap Assassin ‘Anderson’ stated that Britain was “too small for success with hardline rap” which begs the question, with the popularity of Grime and Garage in the new millennium, where does Britain stand in the present day?
“We had to fight for every inch of ground we got”
“It’s happening now but it’s taken a very long time, the climate in the country has changed. I’m first generation born here, we had to fight for every inch of ground we got, no one did nothing for us. Nowadays there’s the benefit of being able to see people of colour on the TV all the time. When I was a kid it was a case of getting everybody sat around the telly if you saw a black man. I see the benefit now with people like Roots Manuva, and Dizzy rascal, I think they’ve got the benefit of the inroads we made back in the day. It’s great seeing strong black men doing their ting, being righteous!”
IF you missed out on the Winter/Spring run of dates, catch Kermit and Shaun over the summer festivals as they continue to spread the word of their funk revolution wherever possible.. hoping to channel their energy into anyone willing to accept it.