ALBUM NINJA TUNE RELEASE: APRIL 19, 1999 REVIEW: OCTOBER 14, 1999
Ninja Tune still keeps up the groove. Without this innovative label today's hip
hop/funk/electronica scene certainly would have been less colourful. With
founding act Coldcut as the prime mover, they have become something of a
pacesetter through the years.
The Herbaliser cherishes the Ninja Tune-tradition very well. On their third
album, "Very Mercenary", the focus is on a jazzy, sample driven hip
hop at a thoroughly orchestrated level. The vocal tracks (featuring artists
like Bahamadia, Roots Manuva and Dream Warriors) slightly reminds me of early
Us3 or Gang Starr while the instrumental tracks, like "Goldrush" and
"Moon Sequence", sometimes seem co-produced by a funkier John Barry. The
orchestral touch, however, has nothing to do with the past year's epidemic
crossbreeding of mainstream hip hop and classical music. The sampled strings on
"Very Mercenary" are carefully chosen, and never a blasphemous
violation on some famous classical composition.
The sometimes rather dark mood (like in the great "Who's the
Realest"), also reminds me of the pre-millennium tension you find on
UNKLE's "Psyence Fiction". "The Sensual Woman" includes
very cool flute progressions and is with its erotic simplicity truly seductive.
Despite lacking any obvious highlights, "Very Mercenary" shows that
the intentions of The Herbaliser are to further develop the art of hip hop. And
that is something most hip hop acts of today don't really bother to do.