British rap's three wise men

Perhaps it is no recommendation to say that The Ruthless Rap Assassins new LP, "The Killer", is the best rhyme record Britain has ever produced. It might be more accurate to say it's the first, in the light of the fact that almost everyone else has been chasing Brooklyn's coat tails, affecting phoney New York accents, and trying to pretend they were born on the other side of the ocean.

"The Killer" is the real sound of black Britain; hard-bitten, sometimes bitter, and always sharp. It shouts at you, but not in that affected way that makes London rap records such a pearly pain in the car.

"Where I live," says Anderson Hines, "if you put on an accent people will laugh you out of the place." It's obviously not the first time he's heard praise for producing an album which is ironically full of American confidence. "I don't know why we got it right, I just know we did."

The Rap Assassins have been making noise for as long as they can remember. Their posse also consists of female rap duo Kiss AMC, whose pop-tuned aural assaults have almost cracked the all-important chart on two occasions: "A Bit of U2", which was instantly memorable for pulling The Edge's dramatic "New Year'sDay" out of context and the recent "My Docs", a tribute to the enduring 20-hole bovver accessory, made theirmark in Europe where Kiss AMC are top-flight satellite video stars.

All this has happened while The Rap Assassins have laboured away in the shadows on these records and their own tracks. Of course, they're not jealous, "Kiss is my baby sister. I've got to look after her, haven't I?" says Kermit.

The record was created under an if-we-like-it-we'll- take-it arrangement with EMI. Surprisingly, they did. Now, before the thing has even been released, half the secretaries in EMI's Manchester Square HQ know who Kermit is and go round humming "Posse Strong", a rap addition to labelmate Kym Mazelle's "Useless" which was recorded but never used. "Too rude," says Kermit. In fact EMI decided that rap, an art form now almost 20 years old, was so great they went and signed Silver Bullet to confirm their interest.

Much of their support is down to last year's self-released EP which was picked up on by John Peel in the face of general disinterest. He commissioned a Radio One session, and people with funny haircuts started seeking it out: "We'd heard that dance music specialists weren't selling that many, but the Indie shops couldn't get enough of it," says Carson Hines, who comes scowling to the world as Danger C. "A lot of rap people missed the point really. Half the time, the humorous intent of something like 'Jealous MC' goes right over their heads."

But they can get serious too. Anderson's "It Wasn't A Dream", an articulate history of black British experience from his parents' arrival here to his own adulthood, is a touching tribute to the courage of a generation.

"Everyone wants to be Public Enemy. They read the speeches of Malcolm X and start writing political raps. They should take a look around them, at their own experiences and their own history. You don't have to look in a book to find politics - talk to your family."

"That's My Nigger" takes things a stage further. The title is intended to make you sit up and take notice. Carson draws my attention to the line, 'Whites on the shelf, blacks in the bin', and explains: "When things get hard for you, they get even harde rfor me. When we get serious, you know it, if you don't then you're too stupid to worry about."

"The Killer", linked together with football commentary taking you through early Bobby Charlton goals, bits of Taxi Driver and all kinds of spoken madness, is like a Toblerone - out on its own. Kermit's advice is clear. "When you buy it, stop at the shop, get yourself a can of Special Brew, get a draw, get canned, and listen." Oh, and I forgot. The Ruthless Rap Assassins are from Manchester - North Hulme to be precise. Perhaps in these strange times, that'sall the recommendation you need.

John McCready