Album review

Border Crossing : Ominous

Border Crossing : OminousThese could be dark days for the UK music industry, with reality-pop TV shows hell-bent on their destructive quest to suck the creative life and soul out of the population, and fat producers pandering to the pocket money of the 13 year old market forces.
    So it's small wonder that genuine hip-hop lovers look desperately to foreign shores for inspiration. But where there's a musical void it's only a matter of time before it's filled, and so into this creative vacuum step Border Crossing with their debut album Ominous.

A West London music collective of DJs, MCs and producers headed up by the richly talented trio of Alex Angol, Seorais Graham and Paul Mulvey, Border Crossing have risen calmly from underground obscurity to take on the mantle of British hip-hop and give their over-hyped American counterparts a run for their money. Growing up on a diet of fresh hip-hop during the hazy UK house and rap scene of the late eighties both Alex and Seorais have been DJing since a time when 'old school' was cutting edge, and have had a profound influence on the homegrown dance and trip-hop scene which emerged in the early nineties with artists like Massive Attack and Leftfield.
    Along with programmer Paul Mulvey, the trio came together in 2000 and began working on a unique fusion of laid-back hip-hop, smooth funk, ambient orchestral anthems, roots reggae and dancehall, all underpinned by a driving, pulsing bass. Overlaying this eclectic mix of styles and grooves there is a strong, distinctive MC presence built on a back to basics, rapping ethos.
    And Border Crossing are hardly precious about their production, employing a fluid 'family-feel' to their range of contributors, including vocal samples and guest appearances from MC Usmaan on No Go Area, Alex Watson and Sincere on More To Life (Ominous), Rockwell on Original Heads, as well as the inspired talents of upcoming reggae artist Rocky Rankin on a number of tracks here.

Infused with a jazz-funk flavour, the whole album stands out as a product of several decades of musical influence and inspiration from artists who have matured the hard way; on the streets and in the clubs where most of these beats were born. Much of this album has been favourably compared to early Massive Attack albums, but tracks like Dance For Your Life reflect a 'pre-Blue Lines' undercurrent which suggests that this album is not so much a product of or progression from the early 90s hip-hop scene, but rather the result of a divergent path - which has so far gone unheard - making it feel both original and familiar at the same time.
    With intelligent, socially aware, yet sharp lyrics, Border Crossing manage find a healthy blend of sincerity and buoyancy which keeps Ominous engaging, even if you're not a major rap fan. And just to show us that they aren't going to be easy to pin down or box off, there are several instrumental tracks which range from a floor-shaking, electro bass homage to Roots Manuva (Searching For Mr Manuva) to Taxi; a string-layered, guitar picking tribute to 1970s soundtracks complete with sultry saxophone background.

This is a significant, competent and inspired debut album which ushers in a new dawn for creative homegrown hip-hop and leaves us with just one question, what's taken them so long?

:: Tom West

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