If I learnt one thing from my night at Portsmouth’s Wedgewood Rooms last Thursday, it’s that there is some fantastic hip-hop music being made right now in the UK. If I’d left the venue before headliners Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip came on, however, I would’ve come out with a much more pessimistic view.
Support act iTCH pogoed onto the stage with the kind of over-compensating enthusiasm that can commonly be observed in acts whose music can’t do the talking on their behalf. As something of a fan of Itch’s former folk/punk outfit The King Blues, I was eager to see what their frontman would come up with when left to his own devices. The result was a profoundly disappointing brand of musically eclectic but lyrically generic rant-rap.
iTCH was joined on stage by a DJ wearing one of the more disconcerting novelty DJ masks that I’ve come across; a kind of deformed giant babies head. Equally disconcerting was the musically confused array of backing tracks he was pumping out, ranging from dubstep to nu metal to techno. The music was competently produced, but offered little in the way of musical interest or innovation.
Now, I didn’t anticipate iTCH’s solo efforts to deliver anything tonally ground-breaking, but I did expect his lyrical content to compensate for it. It didn’t – and that was what was really disappointing. The King Blues were one of the few socially and politically aware acts in contemporary UK music, and iTCH’s lyrics embraced a kind of left-leaning urban take on social and political societal injustice. Billy Bragg even brought them along on his ‘Left field in motion’ tour in 2011 – an indication of high praise from a source I hugely respect. But iTCH’s lyrics marched relentlessly from cliché to cliché.
Singles ‘Best Shot‘ and ‘Homeless Romantic‘ are the most pertinent examples. ‘Best Shot’ is yet another ‘I made it despite the odds being against me’ song which is unignorably bland and generic. ‘Homeless Romantic’ is like a musical version of some poorly faked Banksy; vaguely political in its punny, juxtapositional title, but when probed or questioned to any meaningful extent reveals itself to be an utterly empty stab at nothing in particular.
I think this analogy can also be applied to iTCH. On the surface he’s a ranting, socially aware artist – but he doesn’t really stand up to questioning. Add to that this blog post, in which the mother of his child suggests a discrepancy between his ideals and his actions bordering on the hypocritical. My disappointment was by this point utterly confounded.
iTCH is a badly faked Banksy of an artist. The kind you can buy down the market for a fiver. Clever puns and vaguely political convictions don’t make up for a lack of musical focus and lyrical content. Without the punk credentials of his band covering up for the weaknesses listed above, this Camden rapper is just Dappy with a couple of GCSE’s.