'Killer Album'

The Ruthless Rap Assassins burst out of Manchester's North Hulme Estate into the consciousness of the wider hip-hop audience back in 1987. Their debut 12" 'We Don't Care'/'Kiss AMC' marked them out as a group to watch, while last year's 'Drone Sessions' EP served to confirm the promise of that positive initial impression.

Now comes 'Killer Album', 14 tracks of intelligent hardcore hip-hop which deals with the Assassins' own experience as black Britons. If that means speaking some home truths (and it does), the group don't shirk - but at the same time they know how to mellow out and how to have fun. Tracks like 'That's My Nigger', with its message of pride and defiance in the face of racism, the sombre 'Justice (Just Us)', with its bleak message "there ain't no justice - just us", and the poignant and heartfelt 'And It Wasn't A Dream', which tells of the broken dreams of the West Indians who came to Britain in the 1950s over a break from Cymande's 'The Message'. see the Assassins confronting harsh realities. But there's also the smooth groove of 'Just Mellow', the humourous assault of 'Jealous MC' and the rock 'n' roll craziness of 'Yakety Yak'. And all the while lurking underneath the surface is another, implicit message: if you're British, dealing with the authenticity and validity of your own experience is the way to move forward, the way to create something genuine and lasting.

'Killer Album' is a many-faceted LP, delivered with assurance and maturity, which paradoxically gains cohesion through its very diversity. It's not so much a collection of 14 tracks as a single entity, with well-chosen vocal and musical inserts segueing between the tracks to keep the flow going uninterruptedly. The music is raw, tough, bass-heavy and booming - a great production job out of Drone Studios once again. Knockout beats, creative rather than commercial use of sampling (the way it should be, and the way it was a few years back), and a healthy dose of good old-fashioned scratching all serve to give the music a live edge and a compelling energy which, dare I say it, reminds me of what American hip-hop was like a few years back - but with the added benefit of intelligent lyrics.

The Assassins make music with a disarming directness and honesty, and in doing so they've created what must surely be the best hip-hop album to come out of the UK to date. Killer album? You bet. Kill the bullshit: speak the (home) truth.

Simon Trask