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Review: Ruff Sqwad ‘Guns & Roses Vol. 1′

New mixtape from the Ruff Sqwad man dem.

Starting out absurdly young (they were all about 14-16 when their first big tunes came out) over the last couple of years Ruff Sqwad have put a constant stream of huge tunes. A full list would take some time, but they’ve dropped tunes like ‘Misty Cold’ ‘R U Double F’, ‘Lethal Injection’, ‘Ur Love Feels’ and ‘Tings in Boots’, amongst others. In that time they have become, in my humble opinion, one of London’s finest grime crews. This is their first mixtape. And it’s awesome…’, ‘Yeah, I know this has been out for ages. But, well, so what?

Their producers, Dirty Danger and Rapid, have a lot to do with this. They love big sounds, like squawking guitars, massive horn fanfares, thunderous bass and clouds of synth noise, and they draw all these elements together into an ocean deep sonic stew, that is totally fresh and unique. Like Slicks said on ‘Practice Hours’, when you hear a Ruff Sqwad tune, you know who it is. Their mc’s are less universally loved, but I think they are great. Lyrically, the stuff on this mixtape is, I guess, pretty standard (girls, hustling, we are the best, our beats are the best, we’re gunmen, etc.) but they’ve got style and they work well with the music. Plus they have really unique voices, which I guess is down to them being (mostly) from African not West Indian backgrounds, and awe-inspiringly cool names like Tinchy Stryder and Shifty Rydoz. One of the things I like about them as mc’s is that they are so serious, so composed. They have a unique style. They don’t get hysterical like other crews tend to, they just keep on in an unruffled style, like they know they are on a long mission.

All the highlights on this are their own tunes, and I’ll get to those in a minute. The lowlights are all freestyles over American rap beats. I know I have a bug up my ass about this (‘bring me my exotic furrin music!’) but I don’t see the point of including some of the stuff they’ve included when I think about all the frankly incredible productions in their back catalogue they could have used for fresh freestyles. I mean, when you listen to, say, ‘Future’ with it’s deep sea bass, horn explosions, and tinkling synths n’ strings and then flick forward to the freestyle over Black Rob’s ‘Whoah!’ (which is a pretty standard hip-hop beat) there is no comparison between the two. ‘Lean Back’ was a good beat, and Stryder is a good mc, but does anyone really need to hear it again? When you’ve made tracks like ‘Muskateers’ or ‘Anna’ or ‘R U Double F’ (none of which appear on here) why bother with stuff like Ludacris’s ‘Splash Waterfalls’? I know people want to appear versatile, but really, have some faith in your own talents, boys.

Don’t get me wrong though, because even these are only relative lowlights. None of the American beats they used are really bad, they’re listenable, they’re just not on the same level as their own productions. Happily, though, the good moments are far more numerous than the bad ones. Like the whistles, weird kazoo-like noise, collapsing beat, and squealing bass that form the backbone of Dirty Danger’s sex tales on ‘Dirty’. Or the aforementioned ‘Future’ which is easily my favorite tune on the whole mixtape. Then there’s the Sinogrime of ‘Jampie’, which features some delicate Chinese-y plinks and plonks, and also features Stamina Boy from Mucky Wolfpack and the godlike Trim from Roll Deep, who turns up and does his deep voiced word-twisting thing. Or the horn explosions and shoutouts to half the neighborhoods in London of the intro. Another favorite is ‘Wide Awake’ where Rapid lays out his plans for the future over an eerie piano-crusted hip-hop tempo beat. The Grimefather Wiley turns up as well, dropping a freestyle to warn off the haters, as well as allowing Ruff Sqwad to use his ‘Morgue’ and ‘Ice Cream Man’ beats.

All in all, this is a really really good mixtape. Obviously I have my reservations about some of the American rap beats they used, but there is a huge amount of good stuff on here. On the basis of this, the album which is (apparently) due sometime later this year should be absolutely huge. Well worth a purchase.

- Pearsall

Cross-posted from Pearsall’s Tunes

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Riddim.ca was founded by DJ/writer paul autonomic (aka Mr. Bump) in February 2005 as a hub for North America's nascent grime and dubstep scenes. Since then we've helped promote events across the continent and made friends around the world. Mostly dormant now, we're host to one of the web's largest collections of writing on the late-Garage dis/continuum as well as a growing collection of rare audio and scans (coming eventually).