The Ruthless Rap Assassins' second album 'Think - It Ain't Illegal Yet' sees the Hulmerists at their most uncompromising. HHC meets Dangerous Hinds, hard and direct.
In Murdertone's North Manchester office, Ruthless Rap Assassins' manager and producer Greg Wilson is explaining that the RRA's second album, 'Think - It Ain't Illegal Yet', is as much a record to listen to as to dance to... "The DJ Graham Park really liked the first album but he just couldn't play it because no one would dance," he nonchalantly explains. "I can understand that in a way and it's like that with the new album."
Beside him sits our Rap Assassin for today, Anderson (Dangerous Hinds). Brother Carson (Dangerous C) and hitman Kermit Le Freak have gone AWOL but typically, Anderson talks enough for the three of them. "The first album was probably the more personal one," he begins, "because it was us talking about what we knew intimately. On this album we're dealing with wider issues."
A hip-hop album that urges you to stop grooving and open up your mind? Yes - but then the Rap Assassins have always seemed to enjoy playing contrary bastards. So it follows that 'Think - It Ain't Illegal Yet' is a contrary album that deals with a range of topics from the personal to the global.
'I Got No Time' is a meditation on paranoia and exploitation, a heavy, bluesy number featuring their regular photographer Ian Tilton on harmonica. 'Less Mellow' is a similarly heavily-charged version of 'Just Mellow'. 'No Tale No Twist' is a downbeat reflection of ghetto life and the title track warns, "Poverty is hell and most are on the brink / You let it happen 'cos you didn't stop and think". While the Assassins offset 'The Killer's' serious messages with irreverance 'Think' is not another good time dead duck paaarty album. It's bleak, smart, heavy, probably not of this earth and certainly not just another rap record. The Rap Assassins are washing their (and our) dirty laundry in public and then hanging it up under our noses.
From the dizzy heights of the 'Madchester' days to the pits of the guns 'n' drugs daze (if we believe the hype) is a long way for a city to fall. The Assassins were the stars of a recent Channel 4 documentary that attempted to bridge a gap between the separate black and white worlds of Machester. But it also became an inadvertent elegy for what Manchester liked to think it was about. The dark side of the reality has finally rolled over to expose its ugliness - or that's the (mis)information the rest of us are getting.
"What can I say?" Anderson pleads. "The media, as usual, have made what's happening in Manchester into something more than it is. Basically, you've got a bunch of guys, who happen to deal in drugs, who have some kind of a dispute going on between them - it may not even be about drugs - and they've gone out doing each other in. The press report it as a bunch of mad drug barons gunning innocent people down; or they report Moss Side as a place where you've got to watch your back all the time. But it's a private thing and the majority of people aren't affected by it. You can see, in the latest legislation over the acid house scene, that certain people always want to have control over what everybody else is doing.
"A lot of people see all these barriers in society, obstacles to prevent them getting where they want to go, and they use them as an excuse to sit back and not try, or do negative things. Basically, we aren't going to let ourselves be prevented from saying things. Some people may not like it, but if a problem isn't talked about it's never going to be solved.
"In between this album and the last one things happened that affected us, and that's what we felt we felt we had to talk about this time round. Like with the Gulf War: some guys went over there to fight for oil while I'm struggling to pay the rent, you know what I mean? If they'd tried drafting me I wouldn't have gone. And was it worth it? Course it wasn't! I was hoping America would get its nose rubbed in it."
The conversation shifts back and forth between global and personal politics, Tracey Carmen, who guested as vocalist on 'And It Wasn't A Dream', crops up again on 'No Tale, No Twist'. Is Tracey's contribution intended to counterbalance the machismo of the boys?
"I'm not too sure about that. But what I am sure about is that women should probably be ruling the world. I like women and I'm sure they could do a better job than most men, with the exception of Thatcher of course! Men haven't done too many great things anyway. At least with Thatcher you felt some kind of reaction to her; with Major I don't feel any reaction at all. It's like he's not really there... Perhaps he isn't!
"If I was Prime Minister I'd invest decent money in housing and education. Industry can go and look after itself, they've got all the money they need. And I'd freeze all the rises in prices for the utilities. It's amazing how you've got to pay for your water! Access to plentiful supplies of water should be the mark of a civilised society - even the Romans knew that.
"This country's just getting worse all the time. You're expected to pay for everything now. People aren't respected anymore, and they don't respect things. That's what created this atmosphere where drug dealing is seen as one of the only ways out. Nowadays a lot of people are just existing and surviving. And there's no National Health Service to speak of anymore. Who's going to look after all these people, the victims? This place was called Great Britain because of its Empire, but to me what made Britain great were things like its Health Service."
With the promotional rounds looming again, Anderson's immediate concern is the Assassin's future. They're more or less his life; since the 'Killer' they've been gigging and promoting themselves around the world, and recording 'Think' in between times. The last year has seen them visit Holland, Canada, Finland and the States for the New Music Seminar. Had anyone heard of them over there?
"I shouldn't think so!" Anderson laughs. "One or two people had. But to go to New York, the birthplace of rap, was a real buzz. We were supporting EMF and Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine and we were onstage at six so we thought nobody was going to be there but as the show went on the crowd were rocking. And I met Ice Cube in the lift! Canada was the best though; we were treated like movie stars and were on TV every night..."
From a few of the tracks it sounds as though the Assassins have been having problems with the kind of new 'friends' that fame sometimes attracts. True?
"Well, we've been on TV and we get our pictures in the paper a lot, so everybody thinks we've got loads of money," Anderson admits. "But all we've really made is new friends."
"Why Me?" is a powerful diss aimed at all the hustlers who collect like flies around the sweet smell of 'success': people seeking favours, money and breaks. Then there is 'Down And Dirty', a "sex rap parody" (according to the press release) on which Kermit and Anderson portray a pair of streetwise Derek and Clives. Tracey says that all her female friends laugh at it, and only the men feel uncomfortable. "Maybe it's just the real us coming out," laughs Anderson. "It's black humour in the most literal sense!
"People tell us that we should do this and that to get on in the music business, but the way I see it is this, like we never went to you, you wanted to come to us. We've been doing this as the Rap Assassins since '84 or '85, just because we wanted to play and speak. Then somehow por other Greg got a tape, then someone at Island got one and the next thing we knew we were in a studio. That's how we got here. And I'd say to people, look I'm not making any money; I'm sort of making a living but I've got money saved and if they take it all away tomorrow I'm no worse off - except I'll have to try and find a job like everyone else..."