Freestylers 1998 David Bennun
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[The Guardian, 1998]


WELL, this is good. Paint my nails and call me Betty if it's not very good indeed. Grease me up and throw me naked into the hog pen if it's not my favourite record so far this year. And I'm not just saying that because I'm frightened that the men on the album sleeve might find out where I live. Seeing as you ask, they look like a bunch of reprobates interrupted during a spot of light housebreaking. The sort of blokes Jack Straw would, given half a chance, order locked up on sight. God love him and his warped draconian vision. Tough on electro, tough on the causes of electro. I think we should allow Jack free reign across the music business. He might have Chumbawumba shot. That'd give 'em something to moan about. Which is nothing to do with anything to do with Freestylers. Lovely chaps, I'm sure, and creators of a blinding album. Seventy-three minutes and very few of them wasted.
 Maybe you're wondering just how far the Old Skool revival can go. Or maybe not. Newsnight are not about to assemble a panel on the topic, I grant you. But just in case you were wondering, this record should settle any arguments on the matter. This is the freshest, most inventive reworking of early Eighties electro and hip hop you're likely to come across this side of Christmas, and I mean Christmas 2008. It's a shame that the band's ragga'd-up Wonderwall lyric failed to make it on for whatever reason (something to do lawyers, probably), seeing as Freestylers are to Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaata and Mantronix what Oasis are to the Beatles. They're unabashed classicists and shameless populists, and they know that a cliché's only a cliché until you do it bigger, better and louder. And in their case, funkier.
 There aren't many sounds on We Rock Hard you couldn't have heard in 1982. What's different is the way they're put together. Freestylers are evidently aware of every kind of dance music that's grown up in the UK since then. They also know the value of a good tune, which is a much underrated quality these days. They've got tunes like the British breaks scene has never had tunes, which gives their superb productions a sweetness grievously lacking at the more ascetic end of breakbeat. It makes Drop The Boom and Here We Go irresistible, and turns Don't Stop into the nearest thing to a nineties Funkytown. Which is something we could do with, if you ask me. The toasting, from Tenor Fly and Navigator, has just as much charm. It's also the first time British ragga has really stuck its head above the parapet since the early days of jungle, before the whole thing got so painfully solemn and the spiritually goatee'd got involved.
 We Rock Hard is so unpretentious and plain enjoyable that you could treat it as antidote to all the self-important flummery currently being spooled out by the yard into the nation's record shops. But even if you have the good fortune or the good sense to avoid that kind of thing, Freestylers deserve your attention on their own merits. A shot in the arm, a kick up the arse - whatever you call it, We Rock Hard is a joy from start to finish.

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