The Swinghoppers are a three piece musical outfit fusing the vintage sounds of swing music with updated styles of hip hop. Frontman Offbeat provides the majority of the lyrics. Supported by PYE (or Pieman – wait, is he from the Illicit Market at Asylum?) with raps or impressive beatboxing and singing from Sharleena Ray. I first heard about The Swinghoppers via their newest single Tea Total which features steampunk lovable rogue Professor Elemental. After a brief chat, they kindly sent me their new EP to have a listen to. This is the Swinghoppers EP review.
Swinghoppers EP Review Introduction
Titled Welcome to the Family, the four tracker samples well known vintage tracks and brings them into the modern day with an electro beat. This type of music will be familiar to the majority of you as Electroswing. However, Swinghoppers add their own twist with singing and rapping.
Minnie’s Revenge is the first track and has a strong recognisable backing track from the famous Cab Calloway song “Minnie the Moocher”. This isn’t the first time this track has inspired artists, including in the steampunk scene. However, Minnie’s Revenge seems to be a follow on from “Minnie the Moocher” where she exacts her revenge on men. In the original song (based on an actual lady called Minnie from Indianapolis who was a regular beggar at grocery stores in the area), she met a man named “Smokey” who was a “cokey” (cocaine addict). He showed her how to “kick the gong around” which in those days was a reference to opium addiction.
Didn’t forget about Dre
Still is arguably my favourite track on the EP. It’s a vague cover of Dr Dre’s 1999 track “Still D.R.E.” from his “2001″ album. The song features a swing version of the familiar violin plucked melody from the original 1999 track. Still seems to be comfort track for people who think that Offbeat and co may be leaving the hip hop scene. The lyrics deal with the fact that it plagiarises one of the most well known rap tracks in a typically polite British fashion. It starts by covering how people may react to them using a Dre track by calling it sacrilege. After explaining that it’s one of his favourite tracks and that haters are some of his best followers, he sticks the knife in a little by seemingly messing up his lines “Dr Dre… I mean Offbeat is the name”.
Many of the lyrics in the second verse tend to be twisted versions of the original. “Since the last time you heard from me, I lost some friends” is changed to “Since the last time you heard from me, I made some friends”. While “Kept my ear to the streets, signed Eminem, he’s triple platinum, doing 50 a week” becomes “Kept my ear to the ground, found Awesome Welles and now, we unite to bring that brand new sound”.
The third track on the EP is called Swing Hop. It’s a variation on the track “It’s Bigger than Hip Hop” by Dead Prez. The rap outfit are well known for their lyrics about social justice and control of media by corporations. Swing Hop is noticeably slower in the raps and melody tempo which matches the softer beat of the track. “It’s Bigger than Hip Hop” has a hard beat which reflects Dead Prez’ confrontational style. The chorus is interesting in its claim that Swing Hop is bigger than Hip Hop. Arguably, bridging two genres could essentially gain favour from both sides of the coin and so could technically make it bigger.
The final track on the EP – Feelin’ Good – samples Nina Simone’s 1965 song “Feeling Good”. It’s much faster than the original with a percussion set that cuts close to drum and bass. Although that then allows for the familiar trombone to be used at the same speed as the original. The lyrics by Nina Simone are recreated by Sharleena Ray who puts her own slant on them. They are used as the chorus while rap makes up the verses. The third section of the song cuts to a live performance with each of the members being introduced. It then slices back to the final verse which is a furious rap by Offbeat.
It’s an interesting time we’re living in. We’re accelerating so far into the future with technology progressing, yet humans are more often starting to look back. While some cut it off completely, some immerse themselves in it fully and some decide to mix it in together. The Swinghoppers play well on the latter aspect as they mix well known older songs and tracks (the newest one being from around the mid nineties) and give them an even older style remix, but with modern lyrics.
This isn’t the first act to do this type of musical fusion to enter the steampunk arena. Professor Elemental’s producer Tom Caruana has been sampling old music for the Prof since before he released The Indifference Engine. Mr B also uses old rap tracks, though he tends to recreate it on his Banjolele. But one of his most popular tracks “Straight Out Of Surrey” samples and plagiarises NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton”. He uses a lot of humour, as does the Professor and I think that helps with many steampunks who are mainly Punk in origin. The comedy can break down the fact that they might not normally listen to hip hop. Swinghoppers also use a lot of humour in their tracks, such as Offbeat forgetting his name in Still. They also have a pop at their haters and explain that the reason they’re giving away the EP is to get round using the samples.
Very British Raps
The raps and lyrics that Offbeat and PYE create are very British in their style and construction. Using melody in the way that only British rappers do. Most noticeably the line “I’m still at it, like a bad habit. In the home of acts just like Massive”. (Massive is a reference to super act Massive Attack who also hail from Bristol). They’re very polite and well spoken. All of the lyrics in each track can be made out and understood. On top of that, Sharleena has an incredibly powerful voice. She’s taken one of the greatest soul songs of the 20th century and made it her own. All three seem to bounce off and compliment each other throughout the EP. While Offbeat certainly has the Lion’s share of the tracks to himself, when his band mates do put their contribution in, it’s not something you miss easily.
There are a number of Easter Eggs throughout the EP which displays the band’s knowledge of both popular and vintage music. Examples such as Cab Calloway’s tendency to increase the scat during the call and response in “Minnie the Moocher”. The audience would find it progressively more difficult to replicate. It gives PYE the perfect opportunity to perform a beatbox so fast it makes your teeth hurt. The beginning of Swing Hop starts with an electronic acid style squelch that is reminiscent of the track it samples from. I also like the way that Minnie’s Revenge is a continuation of Minnie the Moocher; like a kind of sequel where she comes out on top.
The intelligence and thought that has gone into just this CD displays a vast knowledge of the music industry. Not just the genres that they perform in. Welcome to the Family could mean anything from welcome to the Swinghoppers, Swing Hop, Hip hop or Swing. It’s a broad all encompassing term that will appeal to more people across multiple genres. The music is superbly crafted and the lyrics are well thought out. They also have subtle humour and less subtle references to their favourite artists. As a cover EP it works very well. I’m looking forward to an album of original works where samples from other tracks aren’t used. Especially after listening to Tea Total with Professor Elemental.
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