The Wiseguys

The Antidote

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Who would have figured that the English are, in reality, much less uptight and more genuinely humorous than Americans? The evidence lies in the hip-hop music that emanates from each nation. Mainstream American hip-hop of the late '90s consists mostly of posture or paranoia or darkness, a preoccupation with money, style, and MC'ing, while mainstream British hip-hop such as that spun by Touche (nee Theo Keating, founder of influential British dance music imprint Wall of Sound), who calls himself the Wiseguys and whose single "Ooh La La" rapidly shot to number two in its native country on the back of a Budweiser commercial, is stylish, mostly instrumental, and completely fun. On his debut as the Wiseguys, The Antidote, Touche fills his songs with familiar and unfamiliar vocal samples alike -- often the very same samples that American hip-hop DJs use with earnest reverence -- but places them in soundscapes full of buoyant brass and strings, lighthearted sound affects, and clever samples; what results is hip-hop that doesn't take itself seriously even as it does take seriously the history from which it comes and the legacy that it continues. Of course, The Antidote is grounded just as firmly in the British dance scene as it is in hip-hop, but that only enlarges the bag from which Touche pulls his tricks, and, arguably, places him in more of a direct line with Afrika Bambaataa and the early hip-hop innovators (as well as their disciples such as DJ Shadow and Dust Brothers) than are most practitioners in the American hip-hop milieu. It is certainly much more open to sounds and textures, so that even when MCs do grace the tracks with their toasting (various MCs, most prevalently Americans Sense Live and Season, appear on a total of four songs) -- such as on the immaculate "Experience," which opens with Pete Rock-type muted horns before really hitting its stride with a perfectly placed piano sample -- the songs end up sounding gloriously alien and entirely wonderful, much the same way as the Reprazent crew has reconfigured hip-hop into something propulsive and exciting and continental that avoids the clich├ęs of the form while still retaining its core sense of purpose. Touche's production hits so many highs that it's impossible to take the music, with its emphasis on '60s and '70s funk and soul as well as old school hip-hop, for granted. The album is so packed full of great and fun sounds that it can be utilized either as dancefloor juice or a headphone soundtrack with equally compelling results. As for its place in hip-hop, it may not exactly be the antidote, but an antidote it is, indeed.

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