The Killer (Syncopate LP/Cassette/CD)

THANKS TO The Ruthless Rap Assassins, never again will US rap crews find the justification to sneer knowingly or smile to patronise the poor little British rap-pack.

Six months into the decade, and already here is one of the most vital albums; 'The Killer' wins on all fronts: the samples are appropriate, witty and fresh; the lyrics are hard and conscious, funny and entertaining, and they have more mood shifts in one album than most bandsmanage in one lifetime.

Nearly the whole album sits up and begs for release as singles. 'And It Wasn't A Dream...' succeeds in translating the miserable experiences suffered by black workers in Britain, proud to move here in the'50s. "A message to mum/You were OKin the jungle/You'll be fine in the slum" proves that The Assassins' enlightened consciousness poetry could be sent to schools as an easy lesson in social history.

Their hard-blasting, prejudice-busting message is sprinkled with wit, and dotted with daft humour: it just isn't necessary to be a rap-wirnp, you don't have to drown yourself in daisies to win an accessible image and commercial success. One listen to'Jealous MC', which laughs at all riff-stealing, break-nicking, rhyme-filching rivals, and you'll never let this record out of your sight.

Only don't you laugh too much: just when you think it's safe to smile, they jump back with'That's My Nigger', another burning attack at liberal complacency with more confrontational story telling; you feel disturbed, but not too afraid to listen to their message as they subvert the insults aimed at them.

Then giggle freely at the best sample ever: the pompous US broadcaster explaining hip drugspeak: "People don't say let's smoke a marijuana cigarette; they say 'let's bust some mary jane'."

No apologies, no whinging, no gold chains, no arms folded with menacing glares, plenty of tomfoolery - just enough happiness to stop the congregation sitting too comfortably. 'The Killer' will stay inside your head, stapled to your brain. (9)

Penny Anderson