Review: Bazza Ranks and The Prisoners of Audio

24 Mar

By Rhea H. Boyden

Last week Barry O’Brien aka DJ/Producer Bazza Ranks sent me over his latest release: ‘Where Would We Be (Without Our Music)’ which is a top notch collaboration with Irish hip hop group Prisoners of Audio. P.O.A. as they are also known, comprise MCs Ricki Rawness from Dublin, Russell Flow from Waterford City and Leiko Tola who is originally from Zimbabwe, but has resided in Ireland for the past decade.

I listened to the track and I immediately liked it so I asked Bazza to tell me a bit more about it. ‘It is a 90s style reggae hip hop track that fuses reggae samples and dub basslines with classic Boombap hip hop drums and tight rhymes,’ was his response. That seems like an awful lot for one track to cover and I realised when he told me this, that I really know very little about the magical fusion of all of these genres and how they all influence on and work with each other. I also spoke to MC Russell Flow who told me: ‘All of these genres are hinged together in some way, shape or form; that is the beauty of urban music. It’s very easy to dabble among different genres; to me hip hop and reggae are the lego pieces of the urban music world.’ Bazza Ranks also told me that he doesn’t like to limit himself to one genre and that he produces everything from reggae to hip hop to dancehall and house music. They both told me how much they love the vibe and music of Jamaica and are both reggae and hip hop fanatics.

The past week I have been listening to the track ‘Where Would We be Without Our Music’ and I have been reading about Jamaica and reggae, hip hop and dub. And indeed, my big question now is, Where would we be musically without Jamaica and reggae? One book that has enlightened me a lot on this topic is the brilliantly written and very entertaining ‘Last Night A DJ Saved My Life’ by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton. In it they write the following about Jamaica: ‘This tropical volcanic rock only 200 miles long was where many of dance music’s key innovations were first made flesh. To many, reggae is just a quirky local flavour, bouncy beach-party music. In fact, it is one of the most forward thinking genres in history. Reggae was the first style to value recorded music more than live performances. As the meeting place of African, European, North American and native influences, the Caribbean, as a whole, has an astonishing range of musical cultures.’

Bazza Ranks and The Prisoners of Audio

I asked both Bazza Ranks and Russell Flow a little more about their musical influences and backgrounds and the musical cultures that have inspired them the most. ‘Growing up in Dublin I had an older brother who used to give me tapes and I know it is a little cliched, but one of the first big ones that I loved so much was Bob Marley and that fired a love of reggae in me.’ Bazza, who is now 36 said he was a little young to be a part of the Irish rave scene, but it affected him musically nonetheless. ‘I loved rave and house and became a huge hip hop fan, ‘ he told me. He is one half of successful Irish electronic music act The Dirty Dubsters who have toured all over Europe, Canada and the U.S and have been a staple on the reggae stage at the annual Irish music festivals The Electric Picnic and Body and Soul. He has held many residencies in London where he currently resides and performed at numerous festivals all up and down the U.K. His musical bio to date is impressive indeed.

MC Russell Flow, former member of acclaimed hip hop group The Animators was introduced to hip hop and reggae in the U.K. as a teenager. ‘In 1995, there was a budding Jamaican scene in London. I was only 15 and was hugely influenced by the likes of early hip hop group London Posse and various local acts in Luton where I was living.’ He told me that the new release ‘Where Would We Be Without Our Music’ of which he raps the last verse, is truly a love letter to music. Each MC raps a verse about his own love of music and what music means to him.

We also spoke about the challenges they face producing music together seeing as they are spread out over 3 cities – London, Dublin and Waterford. ‘Recording is easy enough. I can record things and send it over to the guys and vice versa;’ Bazza told me. He told me that the ‘hook’ – the line of audio, ‘Where Would We Be Without Our Music’ is a sampled part and that gives the MCs a direction. He gives them that and a beat he has produced and then they fill the empty space in between with their rapping. It certainly is intriguing to hear about the process of how a song is constructed. ‘Filming the video was of course a little more challenging;’ Bazza told me, ‘Because naturally we all have to be in the same place at the same time to do it, so it was just a waiting process until we all had time.’ The excellent video was filmed at The Record Spot on Fade Street in Dublin as well as in North Strand where Dublin’s Rub A Dub Hi-Fi have their soundsystem. There is also a clip of Bazza Ranks on the decks at The Purty Kitchen in Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin.

We also spoke about how elements of dancehall music and hip hop have a bad reputation for glorifying guns, violence, and drug use and also how many lyrics are degrading to women and blacks. Bazza admits that is true in a lot of cases, but he also hopes that the tunes that will withstand the test of time musically will be the ones with more spiritually uplifting vocals. Hip Hop sprung from Jamaican and Bronx ghettos after all, and a lot of it expresses the harsh reality of life there. In his book ‘Caribbean Currents’ Peter Manuel writes: ‘The glorification of guns may be primarily rhetorical, especially insofar as it expresses the theatrical rivalry between between DJs. Many DJs claim to be singing about a lyrical gun; it is better than taking up a real gun and pointing it in a man’s face.’ Indeed, my further reading about the history of hip hop in the Bronx has shown this to be true. Music was a saving force for many in the ghetto with the police turning a blind eye on extremely loud Bronx block parties, reasoning that it was far better and more peaceful than the alternative which was gang warfare and gunshots.

In the course of my conversations with them, both Bazza Ranks and Russell Flow enlightened me on many further aspects of how all these genres work in harmony and how the music works. ‘Some of the 90s dancehall stuff is some of my favourite music with its powerful basslines and what drives me to that music is the tone and voice of Jamaica. I just love the sound of a Jamaican singer or toaster over a hip hop drum,’ Bazza said. ‘Yes, and if you take hip hop and reggae in its rawest form you can do so much with it,’ Russell Flow told me. ‘You can take reggae and add something to it and then you have dub, for example. I decided to read more about dub of which I knew little before and ‘Last Night A DJ Saved My Life’ contains the following stunning description of it: ‘Dub is a new universe of sound. It is the first full flowering of the dance remix. Dub opened up such dramatic possibilities that it is considered a whole new genre. Dub techniques are so powerful they are now used across the entire spectrum of popular music. A dub mix is essentially the bare bones of a track with the bass turned up. Dub separates a song into its stark component parts and subtracts each strand of sound until a new composition is made. By adding space to a track what is left has far more impact. By boosting a bassline until it’s a monstrous shaking presence, dropping out the whole of the song except its drums, sending a snatch of singing into a reverberating echo, stretching out a rhythm with an interminable delay, dub can make a flat piece of music into a mountainous 3-D landscape.’

Dub, reggae, hip hop and dancehall; they certainly seem to collide and fuse frequently with each other and my reading and discussions the past week have opened my eyes a little more to this world. Bazza also told me about his record label Irish Moss Records. ‘Irish Moss is a famous drink over in Jamaica so we thought that was fitting. It is a dance music label with a very definite reggae heartbeat,’ he said. ‘Yes, a love of reggae is very definitely something that bonds us,’ Russell Flow agreed. Bazza is also a podcaster providing a platform to speak to many other DJs about their musical passions. ‘It really is something I love to do. It was born out of talking to DJs at length when I bumped into them. I don’t really have access to the A list of DJs but it is great because people like to hear about the hard-working local DJs just as much.’ And it really is true. There are so many fascinating stories to hear about people’s many creative projects.

‘Where Would We Be’ is released on Irish Moss Records

Photos and graphics courtesy of DJ Bazza Ranks and MC Russell Flow.

‘Where Would We Be’ video courtesy of Dan Gill

Black and white photo by Tara Morgan

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