|MC Tunes: The North At Its Heights
6th October 1990
PULLING NO punches, Tunes' tuff chiselled face glares from the album sleeve, set into a garish colour snap of Manchester's ugly Piccadilly Gardens – this is a weatherbeaten no bullshit trip through the highs and lows of the city.
The 20 year-old rap merchant is the boldest post-Yank sprint sentence slayer yet, his gobaholic word spiel ridin' on top of its cracked Mancs accent. Tunes' world is a violent blast of reality, bad breath in a scene that is sometimes floating away on its own delirious party vibe.
But then living in Moss Side has always demanded attitude. Where this album really scores is the almost poetic articulation of the rhymes – a 3D collision course of bizarre ideas detailing tuff street life coupled with the simple, pared down beats supplied by the astute muzak machine that is 808 State.
The current hit single 'Tunes Splits The Atom' is about the lushest the music gets, with the kool linking bass line from the Roses' 'Resurrection' – swiped by Graham Massey after the Spike Island bash – undertowing the autobiographical spittle on top. On the other major diversion from the brawling beats, the closing phunky Hammond wash of 'Primary Rhyming', Tunes disappears, handing the mic over to astute female rappers The Microphones and the brat rap of Dewiz, whose pre-teen word count underlines yet another potential Mancs career.
'Own Worst Enemy' is the bleak junkie turned mugger tale, the beat pared back and Tunes' cack throat delivery virtually spoken, whispering into yer ear the dirty tale of a chemically high burn out MC TUNES: a whiff of bad breath victim – a disgusting warning tale.
Simple, stark, hard, this is a vital snapshot of the early '90s, the battle for kicks in the sterile mess of the UK, the hazy hinterland between highs and lows. Or, as the man himself spits at the end of 'Mancunian Blues' – "But the Tunes will ensure the passionate rhymes/The sweet strength in the bass line.. .musically educate and feed the blind/Let me sooth, let your body ooze. ..as the Tunes originates the Mancunian Blues".
Not for the faint of heart, Tunes is another sharp twist of the knife in the back of the detractors of UK rap, and at the same time a much needed redrawing of the Manchester picture.
[Reviewer: John Robb]
29th September 1990
1990--TIME FOR THE TUNES!
MC TUNES, the ugliest pop star in Manchester (bar the Inspiral Carpets. of course), lets rip. There he is with a face like its been through a brick wall backwards, a voice that sounds like he's been smoking a bottle of bourbon daily since he was born, and a bag of lyrics on urban deprivation, aggravation and a nation of pickpockets, roach-smokers and 'Dibbles' that cannot be shaken. MC Hammered, the revenge of the ugly man, 'The North At Its Heights'. Hardnoise, Roughness, Roughnecks.
Beneath, 808 State - for my money the best thing to emerge from Manchester since The Busby Babes - invent a heat-hazed hip-hop that shimmers and sizzles and shows up Adamski, Josh and a million others for the amateur hour that they are.
MC Tunes is not a trendy thing to love. He has achieved what he has simply by being so good. Yes, he chats the mic in a peculiar not-quite American accent. Yes, his delivery is often on one level, lacking light and shade within any given rhyme. No, he is never boring. Never.
Tunes had to be good. Let's face it, like the West Coast rappers had to be particularly tough to get through to New York, so Tunes had to come strong to be a white rapper when so many brilliant black rappers already held the mic by the time he started. His rhymes are always interesting, even when he's just talking of his own word-power.
'The North At Its Heights' is a unique LP. Here's the influence of New Order chilling 'Tunes Splits The Atom', Eric B & Rakim on 'Mancunian Blues', or just Manchester smack shit on 'Own Worst Enemy', But throw the influences away, because the State of 808 transcend it all, creating a bizarre, heard from long distance hip-hop. 'This Ain't No Fantasy' is an attack on the distance between life as it is lived and the fantasies that politicians and the media throw onto us, told in the terms of a night out.
From first to last, Tunes and 808 hold your attention, with a stinky backstreet vibe of broken bottles, revving engines and slamming, piss-stained doors. And no matter that many of Tunes' lyrics cast him as a junkie, because that stuff is still happening whether we like it or not. Drugs are not all waving your arms about to music, unless it's to find a vein.
This is a starting point. There are things that do not make sense to me here, like 'Primary Rhyming', a duet between The Microphoness and Dewiz. Tunes will explain it in his inimitable fashion, no doubt. Some of his lyrics return to the same spot, like 'Dance Yourself To Death' and its sequel, 'The Sequel' (of course). No matter. Tunes & 808 State are a Yin & Yang coupling. Their debut LP, a powerful, ecstatic and in parts squalid experience, reflects this. Welcome to 'The North At Its Heights' and its depths.
[Reviewer: Ian McCann]