When I first got into the local Scottish hip hop scene several years ago (pre-journalism days), the first four names I came across were Gasp, Mog, Loki & Steg G. And for good reason, they are all local legends, prolific artists, and they all possess longevity and lots of talent. Steg G perhaps more than any other, a mainstay in the scene since the 90’s, he is a forerunner of the genre and he records, produces, raps, and is the founder of Powercut Productions, as well as a DJ at Sunny Govan Radio. He has done incredible things such as sharing stages with Kanye West and 50 Cent, and remixing a track for Sugar Minot, and he works constantly with local hip hop acts, as well as lots of charity work within the local community.
After over two decades in the business he is still going strong, and his latest offering ‘What Is Happiness’ by Wee D, which he produced, recorded and mastered, arrived a week or so ago through my letterbox, and now I finally get the chance to sit down and devote my full attention to the album, which depicts a neck in a noose on the front cover.
Upon opening I read an insert by Wee D (I’m only familiar with the rapper through his work with Shadow People, this album will be the first time I hear his solo stuff) explaining that between 2009 and 2014 almost 4,500 people committed suicide in Scotland and that “this body of work aspires to capture the journey of an individual descending into the pits of mental turmoil while desperately trying to maintain his place in the world”.
He also says that “…researching and documenting the mental deterioration of a character has brought about a real sense of vulnerability that is hard to shift. There is an actualization that mental health issues can form in the most ignorant of people at any time in their life, through any circumstance, and until we are more aware of how to deal with the challenge the initial statistic will only continue to grow.”
A dire warning, but a fair one. I myself have a family history with mental health, both my aunty and my grandma commit suicide jumping off the Newcastle bridge within just a couple of years of each other. I have also had my fair share of mental health issues with various characters in my life, so this should be an interesting album to digest. I expect it will be dark, but we shall just have to press play and see…
…A rather sagacious and inspiring soundbite starts things off, a deep look at the question ‘what is happiness’. You can tell this is going to be a concept album, telling a story of woes and vicissitudes, and that always makes for a good record.
‘One Life, One Chance’ is a positive message to embrace life and take each day as a blessing. There are some quirky tongue-in-cheek lyrics thrown in subtly if you listen out for them, and the piano takes the tune along nicely, a chilled-out, almost jazzy, loosely psychedelic vibe. Wee D will slow things down every now and then to throw in a bit of poetic, articulate spoken word to punctuate the raps.
‘Beyond Help’ is an upbeat blustering tune, with lyrics we can all relate to. There are some interesting instrumental accompaniments going on too. I’m thinking you can never know what to expect from this record and I’m only two tracks in. The beats have Steg’s characteristic quirkiness, not afraid to manipulate the entire soundscape at his disposal, whatever the instrument, whatever the genre.
‘Just Some Harmless Fun’ starts with more poesy and then thumps into a strange but brilliant beat. A tale of adultery told with wit and style and with some intense female vocs and an erotic backbeat. The kind of lascivious song Serge Gainsborough might have made in an alternative universe where he is a rapper from Coatbridge.
The title track is a standout one as you might suspect, a sinister slice of soliloquy delivered over a spine-chilling beat. The guitar teases you with a solo that never happens. The lyrics are painting a tale as they ask the eponymous question and attempt to answer it “What is happiness? Is it real or did we really just imagine it?”. Was it love, or was it the idea of being in love?
Sometimes it’s like a hip-hop opera (a hip-hopera?), but not in a lame way, just in an epic, sweeping, majestic way, and the interwoven poetry gives it the feel of a play sometimes. We’re following a story, watching a play, taking in a movie. The beats keep it full-on and hardcore, as well as the aggressiveness of the vocals at times, as in the angst-ridden ‘Just Kill Me’ which reminds me in its deliverance occasionally, of something you might hear from Loki.
‘M.M.S’ is a condition I have felt the negative effects of too, with my ex, so the intro speaks right to my heart as do the lyrics which follow it. It’s great to hear a voice in this song, for a condition that effects so many men and goes largely unnoticed and unpunished. The incurable M.M.S, if you wanna’ know what I’m talking about you’ll just have to listen to the album. The chorus is catchy as fuck too!
The dialogue in ‘Doctor’s Orders’ is really well constructed as it depicts the conversation between a doctor and his patient. Class lyricism and rhyming skills carry this tune all the way. Love the trumpets and the satanic backbeat to ‘Not at My Depth’. Again, the brilliant wordplay stands out as Wee D vituperates his contemporaries with vigour.
More clever dialogue play in ‘In Two Minds’, a schizophrenic conversation between an alcoholic drunk driver and his sobriety. Steg G and Wee D seem to go together like Dre and Eminem, every song has a lot of depth and character. It’s amazingly well put together and produced with a masterful eye for detail.
There are poppy elements to the record, there are grimy elements, there are soulful elements, but it retains that underground Scottish hip hop feel that can’t help but permeate it. It’s both dark at times and upbeat at others. Each track has a different slant, and of course, tells the next chapter in the book where the protagonist is slipping slowly into suicidal desolation and morose madness, a ’la The Raven.
‘Life on the Edge’ and ‘Ballad of Suburbia’ are another two memorable tracks, with the latter opening with a positive spoken word message before lapsing into a hungover Tom Waits-like piano melody with lyrics to emphasise the melancholy mood. Wee D is like an amalgamation of all the best Scottish rappers, able to deliver his raps in a variety of styles, fast, slow, up, down, sometimes having conversations between a whole host of characters. Some nice female vocs on this track too, from Becca Starr. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBzCpeKWh9A watch the official video here
Once again, I’ve received the best of the best to review, Wee D and Steg G at the top of their game. There are no bad songs, no track fillers and all sixteen tracks flow as a narrative. Not as dark as I expected but certainly ominous, or maybe reviewing Maniak10 and Crimzon Ink before this desensitized me. But the ability to keep the beat entertaining makes it very listenable, and the nicely dispersed use of spoken word gives it a lot of profundity.
‘Remember Me’ and ‘The Noose’ round the record off, with ‘The Noose’ being the climatic conclusion that closes the book with a heavy thud. A shocking and brutal culmination to a powerful body of work, with sage insight into the stigma of mental health. The Scottish hip hop scene once again proves it has some of the most creative and talented players in the UK, it seems that every record it produces these days is a true masterpiece, and ‘What Is Happiness’ is yet another testament to that. Buy it here https://wee-d.bandcamp.com/album/what-is-happiness for only £8. Check out Powercut Productions for other releases http://www.powercutproductions.co.uk/
Follow Steg G and Wee D on Facebook here; https://www.facebook.com/SHADOWPEOPLEWEE.D/ https://www.facebook.com/Steg3000/ Album launch is Friday 9th June at Box https://www.facebook.com/events/124887508072941/ Probably about the time you’re reading this actually… So I’ll…
…Seeya’ in the pit!
View original publication here: http://www.newhellfireclub.co.uk/news/2017/6/8/wee-d-steg-g-what-is-happiness-album-review-c-t-herron