Roll Deep - Shake A Leg
Our very own John Donnelly wasn't awfully keen on Roll Deep's previous release, giving the gregarious rap crew a paltry three out of ten for their sample-delic, cheese-mongering hit "The Avenue". Question is, is "Shake A Leg" any better? Well, in a word, yes, but that, naturally, doesn't automatically make it a solid gold classic.
There's one obvious problem with Roll Deep, and that is that they have, thus far in their career, relied on factors other than the strength of their rapping to gain them exposure and shift the records. Whether it be former members Dizzee Rascal and Wiley, or the "quirky" sample on the previous single, the fact remains that Roll Deep have yet to prove themselves, critically or commercially, on their own merits. In light of this, "Shake A Leg" suddenly seems a little braver than one might have thought at first, in that, athough a sample is present within the track, it is nowhere near as obvious or blatant as in "The Avenue"; "Shake A Leg" sounds like Roll Deep's song, not like a bunch of lads rapping over The Maisonettes.
In short, "Shake A Leg" isn't bad. It's not going to change the world either, though. It's competently executed and a damn sight less annoying than The Avenue, but it's not going to set the world alight. Crucially, it doesn't allay my initial fears about Roll Deep, that they are rely on other sources other than their individual musical talents to sell records. The sample is less grating, but from it's very title and premise, to the soon to be infamous "randy/brandy/handy" rhyme, to the boxing-style announcements of each rapper, there is an unshakeable air of (bad) comedy to this song that undercuts its general decent vibe and undermines the obvious talents of the Roll Deep rappers.
And that is the key, because they are talented, and therefore, there should be no need for them to make singles like this. Yes, there's a place for lightheartedness, and nobody likes an artist who takes themselves too seriously, (Craig David and Sting take note) but Roll Deep risk never being taken seriously if they continue to plow their current furrow for much longer. Yes, humour in music is great, it's something very British and should be encouraged, but, lest we forget, the best songwriting and most enduring music to emerge from the Britpop era was that which incorporated not only British humour but also British cynicism and pessimism. Jarvis Cocker, stand up and take a bow.
Maybe, though, we, the record buying public can be held at least partially responsible for Roll Deep's current musical direction, if they're merely giving us what we want because it's all we'll buy. We'll lap up lazy, complacent, idiotic, mysoginistic tripe from American rappers who are by no means the measure in terms of lyrical sharpness and inventiveness of any member of Roll Deep, yet when a British rapper makes several great records, full of wisdom, beauty and profundity, like a certain Roots Manuva, we scorn them in the record shops. Therefore, are Roll Deep forced to make these silly ditties, the musical equivalent of a Carry On film in the pantheon of British comedy, because they wouldn't sell any records if they released a truly great song, one that dropped the schoolboy humour without losing their unique British identity? Well, no, they're not.
Because, after all, who in this country would buy a well performed, well produced song about being young, gifted, black and British, with just a pinch of clever, wry humour thrown in along the way? Well, possibly the same people who propelled Estelle's inspired "1980" into the highest echelons of the pop charts. Yes, if Roll Deep could come out with a truly good song that reflected the talents of its members, rather than their grinning cheeky-chappy personas, then they could go along way.
They must also refuse to be put off by having to work to production values which must be several times lower than those of the 50 Cents and Snoop Doggs of this world, with whom they must compete. Indeed the Roll Deep respondse must embrace their lower budgets, as the early hip hop crews did when forced to compete with the production excesses of eighties rock.
No, Roll Deep can't take on D12 at their own game, but they don't need to. Neither, however, does Roll Deep's game need to be one of bad samples, bad jokes and the general demeanour of a group of fourteen year old boys.
Will Roll Deep ever gravitate to rise above the "grime" (see what I did there?) of the level of their current creative output, or are they doomed to forever remain Britian's second most "hilarious" rap crew, behind the ubiquitous Goldie Lookin Chain, trapped by an almost infantile desire to turn every other rhyme into a witticism? Well, only they can answer that, but now that their beds have been made as the whipping boys of Brit hop, they're going to have some trouble should they try to avoid lying in them.
"Shake A Leg" then, average at best as a song, and as the next step on the path that Roll Deep's career seems to be taking, deeply worrying. If any of these unquestionably talented individuals have some sense, we should be seeing some more solo releases from the crew's members over the coming months.