THIS is the second in an occasional series that looks at UK rap, primarily, shining a light on those acts and twelves that got away… lost in the abyss that is musical history. One album and two singles, released in ’92, was all that the duo Brothers Like Outlaw wrote and then they were gone. Like Caveman, they came and went quickly, so what did they leave us 21st-century rap fans?
London-based Isaac Bello and Karl ‘K-Gee’ Gordon made up the group, who were formerly known as Outlaw Posse, having had a name change to avoid a lawsuit from similarly-named American rockers with the same name.
‘Trapped Into Darkness’ was the first single. A typical boom bap mix from Main Source mainstay producer K-Cut attracts the eye when checking the credits on the sleeve today, promising goodness, but it fails to deliver – an anonymous jeep cut which fades from the memory instantly. Instead it’s the Femi Fem Enlightenment Radio mix that wins out, shoehorning in the beguiling organ from ‘The Fez’ by Steely Dan.
De La Soul had previously sampled the more sprightly ‘Peg’ by the same band three years earlier – and to better effect – a sign perhaps that Outlaw were a little slow out of the blocks and also too timid to make a name with their productions.
‘Settle The Score’ on the B of ‘Trapped Into Darkness’ is better though… a sedate recital railing against the ‘devil’ and ‘making more cash than Bobby Ewing’, checking London soul gal Mica Paris and outlining ‘when I was inspired/I was living in Hackney’.
The backing is little more than a twinkling Rhodes and a six-note rendition of the bassline from Keni Burke’s quiet soul classic ‘Risin’ To The Top’, but it has aged well (much better than the A-side and its preaching against selling cheeba. The video incidentally is shot outside a NY brownstone and the reference to ‘reminisce’ only makes you wish to hear ‘T.R.O.Y.’ in full).
Their second single ‘Good Vibrations’ has warm soul vibes and was featured with its predecessor on their only album, ‘The Oneness of II Minds in Unison’. Some highlights: ‘The Struggle Continues‘ samples Gil Scott Heron and ‘Curtains’ by noodling jazz-funk fuser Jeff Lorber (doing his best Roy Ayers’ ‘We Live In Brooklyn’ impression). As with Bristol producers Smith & Mighty (who used it in ’89 for Fresh 4’s ‘Wishing On A Star’), The Roots on their early, minimal track ‘Proceed’, Whitehead Brothers on ‘Forgot I Was A G’, Death Row’s Daz Dillinger and a million other copycats, ‘The Real McKoy’ liberally uses the keys and hypnotising bass from Faze O’s alluring soul groove ‘Riding High’ to good effect.
‘Partytime’ meanwhile walked off with the rubbery bass notes – emanating from unheralded player Peter Garfield Maas – of UK early electro dabblers Freez’s ‘Flying High’. Outlaw had to pitch it down by about 20bpm before changing its key, but it still rocks (incidentally, last year Giles Peterson and his Brownswood Recordings label issued Sonzeira’s captivating version of Freeez’s ‘Southern Freeez’, with bass parts still present, as part of his label’s ‘Brownswood 10’ album of covers).
Ultimately, De La beat them to the Dan, cherry-picking the best break to lift. If it was a card game, their Prince Paul trumped K-Gee in selective, surprising and memorable sampling – not just once, not just one track. Every. Track.
Compare ‘Good Vibrations’ to US peers Souls Of Mischief’s premier achievement, ’93 Till Infinity: infectious rhyming about Bridget and the midget over George Duke’s melancholic keyboard line from Billy Cobham’s ‘Heather.’ Throw in the obvious yet hugely effective drum break and it’s no contest, game over on the musical front.
But then you also admit that Pos and the D.A.I.S.Y. Crew always came correct with relatively rapid and always infectious verses; Brothers Like Outlaw now sound slow and stilted in comparison – a little too polite and rigid in their desire to keep within the beats.
So the end result? Some quality beats and usually interesting samples, but the vague subject matter and uninspiring mike delivery can be taken or left in the final analysis. Unlike Caveman, with their memorable productions that usually contained a sense of urgency, and the likes of Nottingham trio 3:6 Philly with their entrancing, minimal ‘Funky Alcohol’ (released in ’92 on London house label Zoom), Brothers Like Outlaw chose to run with the crowd – not lead – and got trampled.