Featured Artist: Hijack (April 2019)
For a certain generation of UK hip-hop fans, Hijack are, if not the best, definitely in the top 5. The self-proclaimed 'Terrorist Group' are seen as the epitome of a style of UK rap known as Britcore and were easily its most successful proponents. Between 1988 and 1993, the style was at its peak and was easily the dominant sound of hip-hop in the UK at this time. With a uniquely fierce, fast-paced delivery and a more than coincidental nod to the delivery and production soundscapes of American artists like Public Enemy, rappers such as Overlord X, Silver Bullet and Gunshot took hold; not just in the UK, but also across Europe. Hijack would be the only group to reach even further.
Coming out of Brixton, South London, the group consisted of rapper Kamanchi Sly, DJ Undercover, DJ Supreme, Ulysses, Agent Fritz and Agent Clueso. After signing to highly-influential label Music of Life 1988, they released the now legendary single Style Wars that announced their arrival on the UK hip-hop scene and revealed the Britcore sound that would end up taking over during the following few years. In 1989 the group released their follow-up single Hold No Hostage that was an underground hit across Europe, with DJ’s Supreme and Undercover showing the world just how good UK DJs were and Kamanchi Sly dropping his trademark quick delivery to devastating effect.
It would be this song that American rapper Ice T would hear while appearing on Tim Westwood's Capital Rap radio show. So impressed was he with this track that he immediately signed them to his Rhyme Syndicate Records label in Los Angeles. That same year, Hijack dropped the single Badman is Robbin on the new label, a Batman themed Britcore extravaganza that went on to reach the UK top 40 charts and showed fans on both sides of the Atlantic what would be coming with the expected debut album. Unfortunately for the group however, the label collapsed not long after leaving them in limbo while Warner Brothers, who owned the distribution rights, decided what to do with the album. During this time, Hijack returned to Music Of Life to release Style Warriors Revenge, showing that they were not going to let this set-back prevent them from continuing to get their music out there.
Eventually in 1991 the classic Horns of Jericho was released to an expectant public. At the time, it was a groundbreaking release from a UK hip-hop outfit and raised the bar in terms of both production and lyricism higher for subsequent acts. Thanks to the pull of being attached to such a big label, the album reached a much wider audience across Europe and was able to sell 30,000 units, a phenomenal amount for a UK hip-hop act at that time. Unfortunately for the group, Warner Brothers decided against releasing the album in the US, meaning Hijack were unable to make the breakthrough that they hoped such an association would bring. As a result, the group parted company with the label to move on to pastures new. Nevertheless, the album is widely considered to be one of the best in UK hip-hop and for some it is the best hip-hop album to come out of Europe, never mind Britain.
It wasn't long after leaving Warner Brothers that the group split due to musical differences, brought on by the failure to break into the American market. The members continued making records, however, with DJ Supreme launching Backbone Records and working with artists like The Icepick and Son of Noise; and Kamanchi Sly and DJ Undercover setting up Reservoir Records and performing as Mr Pink and Mr Blonde for a short while. Kamanchi Sly would go on to change his name to Unknown MC and alongside his bother DJ Pied Piper (known as Agent Fritz in Hijack) would go on to make the UK garage classic Do You Really Like It as DJ Pied Piper and the Masters of Ceremonies in 2001. Hijack group reformed in 2015, with the EP Supreme Legacy their only release to date
Although short lived, Hijack and its members have had a lasting impact on UK hip-hop and the directions it has taken. The Britcore sound they helped develop was one of the driving forces of the first commercially successful period in UK hip-hop before labels focused their attentions elsewhere and left a legacy that others have taken on and developed. The fast-paced delivery of rappers like Kamanchi Sly could also be seen as one of the influences behind the delivery of MCs in jungle and drum and bass and later grime. They are still a group that many people name when asked about UK rap and no history of UK hip-hop can be complete without a mention of Hijack and their Horns of Jericho.