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Burning them like charcoal

A firepit burning on a beach

Image: Kirsty TG via Unsplash

  • Track: Rhyming is Forever
  • Artist: Blak Twang
  • Album: Dettwork SouthEast
  • Year: 1996

We’re long overdue a return to Britain. Long in the shadow of our transatlantic cousins, it’s easy to forget that we’ve got a great, longstanding hip-hop scene of our own here. 

And what could be more British than James Bond? This track, from London’s Blak Twang, takes us on a whirlwind tour through the Bond back catalogue. By my reckoning, Blak Twang references 12 separate Bond films. Thankfully Octopussy isn’t one of them. I like the familiar-sounding sweeping strings that seep through in the background. It’s a sample that seems specifically produced to circumnavigate copyright laws.

This track comes from Blak Twang’s debut Dettwork SouthEast. His early career was dogged by record label bullshit. Despite being recorded in 1996, it only got a full (remastered) release in 2014. Although promo versions were out there, imagine working hard on something you then have to wait nearly twenty years to see in the hands of fans.

Blak Twang hails from Deptford, South East London. The album title’s a play on the now-defunct Network Southeast, a passenger sector (whatever one of those is) of British Rail. If there’s one thing that I love as much as a good simile, it’s a good pun.

Even though I lived in London for a decade, I never managed to visit Deptford. I know next to nothing about it. But Wikipedia did tell me this amazing fact: Peter the Great got drunk there before being rammed through a holly hedge in a wheelbarrow. Maybe that’s all I need to know. Maybe that’s all any of us need to know.

Despite Sony depriving us of Dettwork SouthEast for two decades, the album has aged well. It’s a love letter to Blak Twang’s corner of the capital, and really worth a listen. Blak Twang is still a hero of the British rap scene (later albums did get proper releases), and is still touring. Here he is recently freestyling with two contemporaries Rodney P and Ty. I love it, especially the Rodney P verse.

To my shame, after 15 tracks, I’ve still not featured any hip-hop from later than 2011. I should check out that Stormzy I keep hearing about. Is grime even hip-hop? I’m having a mid-life crisis here. It’s a bit cheeky to call this a 2014 release given that it’s originally from 1996, so we’re going to have to wait a little longer for anything more up-to-date. If you’re a cool cat who knows today’s hip-hop scene better than I do, please suggest a simile-laden track. Note: this does not include 1988’s Anfield Rap (you know who you are).

There are very few of Blak Twang’s lyrics out there (an exception being his 2002 anthem So Rotten). So I’ve had little choice but to give this one a go myself. My efforts at transcription didn’t go brilliantly last time, so it should be interesting. I’m pretty happy with it though, and think I’ve got most of it down.

So shake yourself a vodka martini and let’s take a look. This one’s for your eyes only.

I know, I know. I couldn’t help myself.

The lyrics

[Intro]

Jeerrh
Once again on His Majesty’s service
To liberate
And reach a level of consciousness
Forever
Yes yes
Who are you?

When the very first word of your tune is pretty much unintelligible, it’s almost as if you’re taunting a transcriber from the future. If there are any rappers reading this, please don’t do that.

[Verse 1]

The name’s Twang
Blak Twang
Everything is calm, cook and curry
The real estate agent without Sean Connery
No worries
Superfly with the GoldenEye
Killer spy who loved performers with bolas and sawn-offs
I’ve got the Goldfinger touch like Midas
On your wall like creepy crawlies, cobwebs and spiders
Demons inside us
Slow us down like arthritis

Not a terrific start to my transcription effort. I don’t think the ‘cook and curry’ or ‘performers with bolas’ bits are right, but I’ve got nothing else. Are they obscure James Bond references? I don’t know, I’ve never been much of a fan.

At least the similes are nice and clear. I’m not sure if King Midas was the inspiration for Goldfinger, and I can’t be bothered to try and find out, but it’s an obvious connection.

The second simile, despite mentioning three things, is going in the database as one. Contrast this with the Bahamadia track from two posts ago, and the double simile ‘smooth like satin or Special Ed when he was taxin’’. This obviously compares smoothness with two separate things. So Blak Twang could have upped his simile score in by simply replacing ‘and’ with ‘or’. But he didn’t. Missed an open goal there, Blak Twang.

I don’t dream of Genie I dream of changing society
Imagine 007 in heaven with Hell’s Angels
On Her Majesty’s secret service looking disgraceful
Devils in disguise with their cold blue eyes
Watching me sit by the left side of Jah Rastafari
On the day of reckoning
While stars be trekking and smiling
Obeying for this is down on the island
Violence in life causing trouble and strife
Always looking for fights with guns, gadgets and knifes
You only live once, not twice
Who you deceiving?
Your make believings
Leaving little children bleeding
Receiving
Never giving back forever thieving
You’re the reason my spee’s been underachieving
But whatever

It’s a bit discouraging to see so many simile-free lines together, but some nice lyrics nonetheless. And if I’ve got the ‘stars be trekking’ bit right then this section references a couple of classic TV series. That’s something I suppose.

I’d love to know who’s been underachieving, but all I hear is ‘spee’…maybe that’s Deptford slang. I’m now wishing I’d spent some time there, not least to check out that holly hedge.

So only three similes in the first verse. But calm your passions simile fans, we’ve got plenty more to come, including one in the hook.

[Hook]

I’ll be shining like diamonds forever
Rhyming
Live and let die never say never
Rhyming forever
Whatever
I’ll be shining like diamonds forever
Rhyming
Live and let die never say never
Rhyming forever

This is the third simile we’ve seen that involves diamonds. One focuses on the quality of sparkliness, the other on waiting to be set (I still don’t really understand that). Remember that even though this simile repeats throughout the track, we can only count it once.

But cast that regret aside, because like a disappointed Weightwatchers member, our simileometer is about to go off the scale.

[Verse 2]

Now when you go down in history like when man first stepped on the Moon
Or Hitler gassing Jews or Charles Manson knock offing youths
Unforgettable like Nat King Cole
Shine like gold

Infiltrating the moulds
Burning them like charcoal

Woah. I like how Blak Twang sets the object of his scorn up with some fake praise before twisting the knife. I think he says ‘knock offing youths’, we’ll let him off for that. So as per the mention of the ‘or’ rule above, that’s three similes in the first two lines. Impressive.

This is the first simile referencing Hitler to go in the database, and we’ve therefore proved Godwin’s Law. It’s a bit generous to call this odd project a ‘discussion’. Why not help by adding your comments? Just don’t compare me to a genocidal maniacal dictator.

I’m pretty sure Nat King Cole wasn’t singing about Hitler. It would be weird if he were. In a pleasing simile connection, ihhsdb.com inductee Nas sampled Unforgettable on 2006’s Can’t Forget About You.

Glossing over the fact that Blak Twang almost certainly isn’t infiltrating moulds, he ends this similetastic bit with a pretty straightforward comparison to the flammability of charcoal. Hot stuff.

On the la-a-ast day
What you going to see?
Please Lord forgive me
But it’s too late to prey
The man with the golden gun got struck by a Thunderball
Caught for contempt of court lying under oath
99 strokes for both counts of mortal perjury
Hiding behind a curtain performing spiritual plastic surgery
He set the world on fire then he retire
Before I give the mic back I strike back like the Empire

Our first simile to reference the cultural phenomenon that is Star Wars. I reckon we’ll see plenty more before we’re through: despite hip-hop’s macho reputation, a fair amount of rap artists are actually pretty nerdy. Just don’t tell them I said that.

Fire in my belly
Roll thicker than Pirelli
Truer than lies are Minnelli
Never wobble like jelly
Smelly pigs watch me like telly

Edit: After tweeting this and cheekily mentioning Blak Twang, he took the trouble to point out I’d got the Liza Minnelli line wrong. So I’ve corrected it here (from ‘True as Liza Minnelli’). He was also very nice about the post, which made my day.

Oh joy! This is what ihhsdb.com is all about. I should print this on a mug. Four similes over four lines, all written in rhymes.

Pirelli is obviously a tyre manufacturer. I’m not sure that Liza Minnelli is true. I initially thought True might be a song of hers, but it’s not. But it’s what it sounds like to me, so for the want of anything better it’s going in as that.

The jelly and telly lines don’t need any explaining. There’s a real beauty to nice, simple similes like this. It certainly makes categorising them easier.

When I’m sporting Isreali military army fatigues
OCs but really
Ain’t nothing they can do to me
Untouchable like Mafioso with immunity

The last simile of the verse is a cool one. For fairly obvious reasons Mafia references are quite common in hip-hop lyrics. This is our first Mafia-related simile though. Capiche?

Not diplomatic, automatic with machinery
My regiment holds artillery that bursts red blood vessel capillaries
Whatever

Are you going to tell Blak Twang that capillaries are vessels? I’m not about to point out a tautology to someone with an automatic weapon.

[Hook]

I build stainless steel chills with the view to kill
Smack the living daylights out of anybody who feel
They can survive in the battle drill without a shield
But you’ll still be a superhero when your blood spills
Until death do I part with the art of rhyming
Forever shining, strictly hip-hop charts I’m climbing
And I’m in full control of my own soul
Don’t watch the poppers pop as where the weasel move

By Jove I wish I knew what this last line was; my transcription is gibberish. But I just can’t get it. When I played it back at 50% speed, I did notice a hidden ‘pop’ sound. I love stuff like that. Or maybe my mind is playing tricks on me, listening to music at half speed does funny things to you.

I stay busy like a Maccy D’s cleaner
Keeping my flows on these toes like a chic ballerina

The funniest simile award in this tune goes to the Maccy D’s line. I’ve not set foot in a McDonald’s for years, but they always look pretty spotless. Though I’ve heard that they might want to spend extra effort cleaning those self-service touchscreens.

I don’t know if ‘chic’ is correct. I think it might be ‘shit’. But chic makes far more sense unless Blak Twang is fessing up to not having a good flow, which seems unlikely.

When I step in the arena
Me no worry ‘bout no other guy’s persona
Because my style is bona
No previous owner so it’s in good working condition
This is real life shit know what I mean don’t deal with fiction
I ain’t a secret agent leading a double life
Wearing camouflage garbs yeah for espionage

That brings our simile voyage through James Bond to a close, save for one more blast of the hook and the outro.

[Hook]

Whatever
I’ll be shining like diamonds forever
Rhyming
Live and let die never say never
Rhyming forever
Whatever
I’ll be shining like diamonds forever
Rhyming
Live and let die never say never
Rhyming forever
Whatever
I’ll be shining like diamonds forever
Rhyming
Live and let die never say never
Rhyming forever

[Outro]

If you is a chill faker, watching Moonraker
Under a palm tree in Jamaica
Prepare to meet your maker

I was wondering if Blak Twang was going to crowbar in Moonraker at some point. Alan Partridge would respect this song. I know I do, it’s a minor classic.

That’s a very respectable 18 similes for Blak Twang, way more than fellow South Londoner Roots Manuva managed. So he’s definitely top of the Brit leader board for now. I suppose I should pay it forward and upload my lyrics to Genius…

Thanks to all this Bond talk, all I can think about is dusting off my N64 and playing a bit of GoldenEye. I may not have a licence to kill, but I do have a licence to play as Oddjob and ruin your day.

The stats

Similes:18
Words:606
Words per simile:33.67
Length:4m 33s
Similes per minute:3.96
Hedges destroyed by drunk 17th Century Tsars:1

Leave a comment. Bonus points for similes.