Sunday, 31 May 2015

Reflections on Katch 22 - Diary of a Blackman Living in the Land of the Lost. (1991)

Katch 22 bring that What's Going On vibe to Stockwell

Label: Kold Sweat

First referenced via Mind Field [Peel Session] - 2 November 1991

I want to start by making a confession: this is the first hip hop album that I have ever bought.  I was not a part of its natural constituency when I was a teenager, and at nearly 40 years of age, I'm not going to change that now.  However, I found plenty to admire in the form from the poetry to the technical competence in putting it together.  The wit and or the anger of many of the tracks appealed to me as well.  However, the celebrations of violence, casual misogyny and crass materialism were turn offs for me, not to mention the amused contempt I still feel for young white men from the shires trying to pretend they're gang members from Hackney.  After a while it felt to the casual observer like these topics began to dominate the form, which became bloated and morphed into a Grand Theft Auto parody.

I think John Peel felt the same way, over time. By the time I started listening to him regularly in the late 90s, hip hop didn't feature too much - same for rap as well.  Instead it was the hybrids of those forms such as jungle, garage and grime that got more prominence.  However, in listening to the 1991 recordings, it's surprising just how much hip hop and rap was on his playlists.  Not just from America but from the UK too.  I've already included selections by Krispy 3 and am gutted that I can't include their Peel session tracks from 7 December 1991.  Red Ninja also cut an exciting Peel session on 1 December 1991 and I only just put up a storming piece of social commentary from Hackney's influential, Shut Up and Dance.

Coming out of South London, Katch 22 were the brainchild of Andrew Ward aka Huntkillbury FiNN. Ward's bio reveals that he was educated in the Carribean before coming to England at a young age.  Jamaica features heavily in the background of Diary of a Blackman Living in the Land of the Lost as Ward together with his associates DJ Brainiac, DJ Kill-a-Man Twice and producer Mad Marga reflect on racism in the UK and a system which, in the words of one sample, forces "My sons to become thieves and my daughter get pregnant at 16."  This track, Son of Shem, is indicative of the album which takes as its focus, not a blame culture, but frustration over the lack of opportunities available to young black people, in particular how, "We have fallen from pyramid builders to council tenants".  Over two thirds of that line comes from a sample of Louis Farrakhan, who crops up so frequently on
this album, he should get a band credit. "I have to tear the lie from your tongue and slap you with the
truth from this microphone!"

The black community don't get off lightly either.  Tracks like Brown Clown turn the spotlight on those who are "black to the core but white in the mind so therefore he is unsure".  Despite the slinky
grooves and Philly style flute, there's real rage in these rhymes towards those who try to integrate into white culture in order to get on.  Despite that, the track acknowledges that "Respect will never be given until we hold the mantle of power and become the master of our own destiny".  Such separatist talk was depressing enough to hear in 1991, but over 20 years later, in another race row, it became clear that the issue still burned in the black community albeit under a different label and by people who should know better.

While it's depressing that things have not moved forward much in 24 years, this is an essential record - intelligent and clear sighted in stating its case, packed with good rhymes and danceable samples.  I was particularly delighted to hear Lalo Schifrin's Dirty Harry theme in Service With a Smile and Tenor Saw's Ring the Alarm in Rogue's Gallery.

Mixtape selections: Service With a Smile, Son of Shem, Diary of a Blackman in the Land of the Lost, Who's Business?, Brown Clown, Cynical World.

Discogs link

Katch 22 invites Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan to take part in a special edition of Question Time.

Video courtesy of UK Stand Tall

An excellent track-by-track review of the album

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