Featured Artist: Ruthless Rap Assassins (June 2019)

For the first time we take the Featured Artist article away from London and out to the rest of the UK. While London has very much been the focus and epicentre of hip-hop in the UK, other places have had scenes that have been thriving for a long time but have often been ignored by those outside. These days regional hip-hop is very much on the radar for many people, with the output from the likes of Manchester, Nottingham and Bristol often better than that coming from London. Back in the 80s and 90s, however, it was very much a London-centric music style and this is one of the reasons why Ruthless Rap Assassins are a significant group to write about.

The Assassins came from the Hulme area of Manchester and consisted of MC Kermit as well as the brothers Dangerous Hinds and Dangerous C. The group came together after a chance meeting between Kermit and the two brothers who at the time were known as the Dangerous 2. Kermit had been a member of Broken Glass, initially a breakdance crew who moved into making records. Broken Glass were featured on one of the first compilations of UK hip-hop, Morgan Khan's UK Electro in 1984, and were effectively the house act for the release with seven of the eight tracks consisting of Broken Glass members under a variety of different pseudonyms to give the impression of a thriving hip-hop scene in the UK.

The group developed their reputation through a series of live performances, before releasing their first track We Don't Care in 1987, produced by Greg Wilson who had worked with Kermit in Broken Glass. The B-Side to this track featured the all-female group Kiss AMC, of whom Kermit's sister was one the members, and the two groups would collaborate regularly with the next single Let Off also a dual release. These singles would grab the attention of EMI who signed up the group, releasing their subsequent recording on the subsidiary label Syncopate. The first thing to come out of this new arrangement was the EP The Drone Session in 1989 that would form much of the backbone for their debut album that would come the next year.

The Killer Album would appear in 1990, spawning the singles Just Mellow, 4 from the Killer and the hard hitting And It Wasn't a Dream, a song discussing the problems faced by immigrants to the UK in the 1950s. The album was a mixture of social commentary and more comical tunes, fusing a wide spectrum of musical influences that would receive critical acclaim from the likes of John Peel as well as terrestrial television airplay for And It Wasn't a Dream. However, despite that positive critical attention the album sold poorly, a disappointing outcome given the expectations of how the record would fare.

Nevertheless, the group didn't let the poor sales get to them and quickly returned to the studio, releasing their second album Think, It Ain't Illegal Yet only a year later. Their second album would be even more hard hitting than the first with the singles No Tale, No Twist, telling the story of life growing up in Manchester's urban slums, and Justice (Just Us), a defiant swipe at the majority white populace, particularly stark. The group would also introduce live percussion into their sound, also bringing it into their live performances making them one of the few acts to do so at a time when most stuck to the DJ-rapper format. Again, the album was liked by the critics and the industry, but this was not reflected in sales and chart success once again eluded them. These consistent poor sales as well as increasing label disinterest would lead to the group parting ways in 1992.

While some of the members would quit music permanently, Kermit continued to perform playing in groups such as Black Grape with Happy Mondays’ Shaun Ryder, Manmade and Big Dog. Nothing, however, would have the same impact as Ruthless Rap Assassins. Although short lived, the Assassins have left a lasting impact. They were one of the first groups to use a regional accent on record that moved away not just from the dominant American accent, but also the London accent that appeared to be the only other alternative at the time in UK hip-hop. This has left its mark and their sonic as well as oral legacy can still be heard today with the likes of Roots Manuva claiming that “They put a UK black tilt on soundscape and dialogue. I would say that their music is the roots of grime”.