Reviewed – The Scribes – The Totem Trilogy Part 1

Rating – 5/5

Bandcamphttps://scribesmusic.bandcamp.com/

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/scribesmusic

Instagramhttps://www.instagram.com/thescribes/

Real Talk with Faultlinehttps://faultlinesocial.co.uk/2020/04/12/real-talk-the-scribes/

I’m Back music videohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HbJOOB_I8c

The Totem Trilogy Part 1, the first EP in a series of a collaboration between Bristol hip hop outfit The Scribes and rapper/producer Asto Snare. The group are veterans of the hip hop scene, boasting a discography that spans over 15 years since their debut EP all the way back in 2005. Since then they’ve garnered a reputation as prolific live performers, scooping up accolades, awards, and fans; just teetering on the precipice of diving into the mainstream. In short they’re probably the most exciting, alternative hip hop group you’ve never heard of.

Whilst the mainstream UK rap scene has very much gravitated toward the meteoric rise of grime, the gritty, dirty side of hip hop, The Scribes and the many collaborators they’ve worked with along the way have quietly been building a back catalog that offers a real and righteous alternative to the radio-friendly, over-produced, mumble rap of late.

The opening track ‘I’m Back’ delivers a good dose of the old school, the familiar-sounding record scratch and a heavy backbeat that’s straight out of the East Coast hip hop playbook. Astro Snare may be British born, but he delivers a little slice of Brooklyn with a gritty flow and aggressive style. The old heads are back with attitude, teaching the kids how to rap; veteran of the British scene MC Duke joins Astro Snare with a verse on this track, with both dropping references about Charles Bronson, Brexit and the Ayatollah.

There’s a tasteful blending of the old and new; a driving, bassy synth propels the track along adding another dimension to the sparse backbeat and the final verse is delivered with a rebellious tenacity and tongue-twisting sibilance that makes The Scribe’s intention clear; “we’re back and we’re taking shit over”.

‘Mighty Mighty’ is a slinky yet bombastic reggae track, paired with suitably anti-establishment lyrical content, biting into the bloated corpse of British politics. The horn section delivers a jazzy undercurrent, a muted saxophone bleeds in adding to the soft melodic mix juxtaposing the defiant vocal delivery. The lyrics are thoughtful and go beyond the typical “fuck the police” attitude; no, this is anti-authoritarianism with a point to make and the group touches on seldom explored topics such as the Windrush fiasco and the always controversial Israel Palestine question.

‘Rock This Part 2’ is…wait part 2? No, we haven’t skipped a track it just seems that inspiration for this track must have struck with a serious delay; a spiritual successor to ‘Rock This’ from 2005’s ‘The Evolution EP’. However, whilst the original had more of a bleak, somber grime influenced sound, ‘Rock This Part 2’ is a jaunty exhibition of call and response “Rock a mic all night / Rock a crowd get loud” coupled with a bouncy flow and stabbing, staccato synths. The vibe matches the typical rap brag track; self-aggrandizement, lyrical prowess, and a general diss to nondescript lesser MCs; thankfully these guys have the chops to back up the rhapsody.

The Scribes flex their impressive range with ‘Heart Breaks’, a melancholic, muted track with a soft piano accompaniment neatly interspersed with mournful guitar bends. The focus is introspective but not naval-gaze in that derogatory sense, it’s a fine line to walk but this track does it very well. There’s a relatable lyricism that anyone can find some sort of affinity with, a universal exploration of expression of frustration, pain and the experience of being human. The soft female vocalisation that’s tastefully sprinkled in-between verses adds a dreamy almost ethereal element to the track.

From the bravado of ‘Rock This Part 2’, to the understated ‘Heart Breaks’ there’s a sudden shift in energy to the final track, the aptly named ‘Keep Bouncing’. A manic shift of peaks and troughs that ends on a concluding, energetic note. There’s a showcase of some nice beatboxing, irreverent 8-bit inspired synth lines and dynamic vocal performances.

Thematically, the EP showcases several different styles, it’s eclectic in that sense but it builds up a picture of the eventual release; parts two and three will make up the final album. The level of musicianship is extremely impressive with varied and interesting instrumentation, arrangements and production at all times. The group and their collaborators clearly have exceptional command of their craft; they exude a confidence that comes with years of honed practice, and if these guys have one thing it’s an exceptional track record of performing live.

The Scribes have been touted as being on the edge of breaking through into the mainstream at any point and with releases like this one it’s not hard to see why; surely it can’t be too much longer before they garner some more widespread recognition? But hey, you can do your part, go listen to some great music and give this hardworking hip hop outfit a boost; that’s a win-win situation.

Review by Theo Wildgoose

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