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Tusken Coalition - Tusken Coalition

  by Paul Raven

published: 22 / 9 / 2007

Tusken Coalition - Tusken Coalition
Label: Basilica Records
Format: CD


Unflinching and dark social realism on debut album from outstanding UK group Tusken Coalition who combine their hip-hop sound with a hardcore philosophy

I wasn't sure what to expect from Tusken Coalition. I have an uneasy relationship with hip-hop and rap music these days, despite a lengthy love affair with the genre during the 90's. Since then, the form's rise to MTV dominance has seen it decline into a shallow and narcissistic smear of egotism, misogyny and the glorification of the urban decay that it originally set out to rise above. More about playing up to bigoted stereotypes than smashing them, and primarily concerned with gaining a big enough profile to ensure a successful market for overpriced branded clothing and lifestyle accessories, mainstream rap is creatively bankrupt – from where I'm sitting, at least. Tusken Coalition, however, are about as far from current mainstream rap as it's possible to get while still basing yourself around the classic formula of beats and rhymes. For a start, they're a UK collective – and while a few UK urban acts manage to bother the charts and the airwaves, they usually do so due to novelty value (Dizzee Rascal) or stereotypical self-caricature (The Streets). The acts themselves are not to blame for this as much as the industry itself; urban music with any real depth and integrity is a hard sell, because it rarely has things to say that Joe Public wants to hear. Which in itself isn't surprising; escapism has always been a big motivator for musicians and listeners alike, and the urge to close your eyes to the harsh realities of inner-city life must be pretty strong when you're living it as a reality, day after day. It takes strength to face that reality and look at it face-on, warts and all; a strength that has, at times, been an important part of urban music. And a part of hardcore, too. Which may go a long way towards explaining the uncompromising lyrical realism of Tusken Coalition, whose original line-up included Sinic, the late vocalist of hardcore brutalists Iron Monkey and Murder One. Hardcore is often described as white-boy hip-hop, and with good reason – it too focuses on the bleak and difficult life of the inner-city working class, and talks of strength in adversity, and a unity of purpose in defiance of circumstance. That ethic is plain to hear in the music on this album. What you won't hear is much in the way of hardcore's crunched guitars and frantic drumming. Tusken Coalition blend live bass and percussion with sampled backings to create dark soundscapes that bristle with the turmoil and tension of the street, evoking a sense of unprovoked violence just waiting to explode on the thinnest of pretences. It's greatest success, for this listener at least, is the fact that the lyrics never glorify or celebrate that violence, instead treating it as a facet of reality that cannot be avoided, and which deserves to be discussed. And discussed in the natural voices of the participants, no less. In common with the grime scene, the various vocalists of Tusken Coalition sound as English as eel pies and Carling Black label – no false Noo Yoick or L.A. accents here. The music is full of sparse drumbeats, moody rumbling basslines, and synth riffs like the soundtrack to a SNES game set in Hades. The pace is usually languid, creeping, sinister, bringing to mind a late-night walk through a hard-luck council estate, the skin between your shoulder-blades itching from the touch of unseen eyes. The words themselves paint a similar picture – as mentioned before, the attitude here is one of unflinching realism. But while violence, brutality and conflict are major themes, rather than accepting them as a necessity, these guys are rapping about the need to rise above the baser instincts, to transcend one's environment and ignore the easy answers and quick fix solutions. It's not easy listening, as you've probably gathered, and nor is it particularly danceable. But it is strangely affirmative, the sort of music that speaks to the real experience of urban youth in Britain – an experience that, due to my privileged upbringing, I cannot claim to have experienced in any manner other than second-hand. But I can still hear the core of truth at the centre of this project – a truth that is pitifully absent from the tough-guy posturing of mainstream rap from both sides of the Atlantic. Tusken Coalition are coming from the bad back-streets, but unlike their more popular contemporaries, they can see beyond them to a better world. As Oscar Wilde, an urban poet of a very different stripe, once said, “we're all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

Track Listing:-
1 Long Hair Bald Heads
2 Leeches
3 Confrontation
4 City Limits
5 Cobra Meeting
6 Base Existence
7 Never So Young
8 Executioner
9 Exit Strategy

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