By Conor O’Neill
I’ve been sitting on this album for a couple of months now and listened to it many times. Problem was, I didn’t quite know what to make of it.
I’ve listened to it through earphones, a laptop with rudimentary speakers and on cracking sound systems, but I simply couldn’t figure it out.
Wordsmith and the man with the flow, P E Flanagan and his merry troop of musicians and producers at Full Duration Recordings have produced an LP that’s both mesmerising and questioning at the same time. It obviously has something or I wouldn’t have kept returning to the trough for more.
First thing that’s clear is that it’s a hip hop LP, but one with a difference. Coming in with 10 tunes, two of them remixes, this album is as diverse as they come from a rap outfit. It starts with a film sample of court proceedings where an authoritarian judge demands the defendant to: “Speak as you would to a small child or a golden retriever, it wasn’t brains that got me here, I can assure you of that.” And in the following 30 or so minutes Flanagan and co. take the listener on a voyage through healthy scepticism, introspection, nuanced observations of modern living and above all, hope.
Following the intro, Printed Power is a fairly straight up hip-hop recording with DJ Kam providing old-school scratching that Flanagan flows over with wicked rhymes and the power of a prize fighter coming out punching in the first round. After that it all gets kinda strange.
Title track three, Bright Future Destiny is a totally different groove. Gone in a second are the tropes of typical hip hop. A calypso cacophony of disjointed djembe beats, Spanish-like guitar and saxophone meld into a Doctor John style pot of gumbo with Flanagan warning of the ills of modern life asserting that people should: “Switch of your fear machines, manifest your dreams triumphantly.” and with warnings of: “Yo people stay away from the witchcraft, me and my people are throwing you a life-raft.” From the off there’s multiple religious references, not those of the indoctrinated or fanatical, but of a mind that’s studied many creeds, argued with most of them and has finally found a reality that’s assured and settled.
Track four is Direct Connection (part two) and rolls along with a Gil Scott Heron vibe; a strong bassline that sounds like an old upright bass with the notes being bent and tortured to go with the constant high-hat and the theme of the song which again is the voice of the wary. The groove is hypnotic with a tinkling of the ivories in this sparse and skeletal tune. Flanagan machine guns his way through spat lyrics… “I rip it with it in the first dimensions, you’re fake, like hair extensions…” The man does really flow.
Moving on is another granite tune, Repent. The intro, and in fact the entire piece sounds a bit like a Tom Waits doing a trolley-dash with a wonky cart. Yet over this overtly rabble of well chosen notes Flanagan again spreads his message and warning that people must change their ways. “Do you hear the lord calling? Repent! Do you see Babylon falling? Repent!” Three strong tunes in a row, and I as a listener am now totally on board with this record.
Number six Agenda X is only 54 seconds long but an important track. The theme is much the same, but the music is more recognisable to a mass audience; a groove of a bassline and steady beat brings back a touch of normality. Against what may be deemed as conventional hip hop the lyrics and delivery again sound like a preacher at Hyde Park’s Speakers’ Corner. Only 54 seconds but a hinge of a tune holding the first and second half of this LP together.
Track seven sees Bright Future Destiny (Dred Mix), no change of lyrics, just bass with a bucket of bottom end, more tricks with electronics and a heavily reverbed vocal. Flanagan’s message remains unchanged, “Christ killed Adam’s curse” and, “Meditate not medicate” are retold with this different musical backdrop. And so it is again with Repent (Dred Mix). The song is more bass-driven, the vocals again tempered with reverb and electronic effects.
Which do I prefer, the originals or the remixes? Depends on mood and listen. Each of the two pairings have their merits. The dred remixes are arguably more radio friendly; stylistically, think maybe Massive Attack or Orbital, but the earlier jazzier approach fits perfectly well too, depending on your taste. Either way the two tunes, alongside Printed Power and Direct Connection (part two) are the backbone of this record.
Ending the album are two tracks, Shout Outs and Him Speaks. The former being a shuffling, thank you message to everyone from his family, his co-creators, Christ, the homeless, to all those suffering and more. Flanagan, though out the journey of this record speaks the story of one who has suffered himself but found a way out and now celebrates life.
Him Speaks is four minutes and 50 seconds of white noise and broken, incomprehensible speech that simply leaves me questioning why it made it on to the LP; but as the very nature of this recording has had me straining from its first listen to now at the moment of writing, I’m sure there’s a message in there somewhere for someone.
P E Flanagan was a big name in Belfast hip hop in the 90s through to the early noughties, given his raw talent and with LEXT, SEAZ 420, DJ Kam and B. Kingston in tow he’ll make the same splash again. Going by this record, he and company are definitely worth checking out.
For more info on Bright Future Destiny contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or text to 07514 862130
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