Every now and again, something a little bit special comes along. Lionheart: Tussle With The Beast, the new album from east London rapper Klashnekoff, is one of those things. Produced by Nottingham's Joe Buhdha, it is easily the best hip-hop album released so far in 2007. It's going to take something exceptional to top the record, which has been two years in the making.
Those familiar with Klashnekoff since his debut single, 2001's "Dago Mentality", have known he was capable of something like this. Born Darren Kandler, the rapper who named himself after the freedom fighter's weapon of choice is great company. He's slightly vexed about most things, but also very funny and never less than cordial. Every now and again, he rises from his chair and paces up and down his front room waving his arms violently to illustrate his points.
"I've always wanted to do something with Buhdha," he says. "I respect the relationship we have, it's like a bigger brother, little brother type thing. But also, at the time I was dealing with the record labels and Buhdha saw the frustration. I was like: 'Yo they're telling me that they're gonna sign me,' but I wasn't making any music. He said: 'You know what? Instead of you wasting your time, why don't we make some tunes?"
It wasn't all plain sailing, however. Lionheart was delayed for six months or so when Klashnekoff and Joe had a not-so-minor falling out. "Everyone was telling me the album was ready and it was gonna go out. And that's when the beef started happening. The arguments kicked off." He suddenly wonders aloud whether he should be being quite so honest. "I'm not promoting my album very well here," he says with a laugh. "Damn, I wish I could do that generic shit." He adopts a typically gushing American accent. "Yeah, it was great, we just did it. We did it in like a week, man, you know what I'm saying? I just woke up and wrote all the songs. Our relationship is beautiful, we love each other, you know."
Despite all the drama, Buhdha and Klashnekoff have made a fine record. Lionheart continues the tradition of homegrown hip-hop records like Hijack's The Horns of Jericho, London Posse's Gangster Chronicle, and more recently, Skinnyman's Council Estate of Mind or Sway's This Is My Demo. And Buhdha has played his part in making the album what it is. If it wasn't for the producer, hip-hop legend Kool G Rap and dancehall don Capleton wouldn't have appeared on the set.
But the album is about a lot more than big-name collaborations. Songs like it's opener "The Revolution (Will Not Be Televised On Channel U)", current single "My Life", and "Question" are among those that position Klashnekoff as a bit of an English Krs-One in the sense that he can talk knowledgeably about the worst aspects of street life, but is determined to rise above it.
Such lyrical content means Klashnekoff's vexation while flicking through the folder of press cuttings sitting on his coffee table, is perhaps understandable. His gripe is that reviewers can't tell the difference between those rappers perpetuating stereotypes and those who can catch the attention of rowdy youths and make them listen. "If [this reviewer had] done any research, he wouldn't have made those comments. He's generalising, he sounds ignorant. Come to the 'hood and we can have a good conversation and I can show him some stuff he's never heard about. That's his job. But that's taking the piss out of me, bruv. That means you haven't even listened to my lyrics. I must be saying: [adopting a generic American thug-rapper voice] 'I got my uzi, got my gun and I'm gonna rob ya!'"
He warms to his theme "This is what's so funny. Ask any kid from Hackney, south, west or north London, they'll tell you I'm a positive rapper. So these people are so scared wherever they are, so hidden and so removed from what I'm surrounded by."
Anyone who thinks Klashnekoff is exaggerating should listen to the album's second single "Rest Of Our Lives", where he breaks down his upbringing and his relationship with his mother. It's the one thing he's reluctant to discuss. "Buhdha made this beat and the beat was beautiful," he begins. "I've always wanted to write about my mum and my experiences with her, and the relationship. I've always wanted to do that."
Has he played the song for her yet? "Don't ask me that question, man," he says, looking genuinely upset. "I don't mind, but no, I ain't played that tune to my mum. I told her about it from time ago. But it was one of those things."
'Lionheart: Tussle With the Beast' is out now on Riddim Killa/Low LifeReuse content