#ThrowbackThursday Looking back at Black the Ripper's classic 'Holla Black'
Author: Daniel David | Thursday 9th April 2020
This week we got the tragic news that Black the Ripper, the grime pioneer, had passed away. The North London MC has been on the scene for over 15 years, earning respect from people across the spectrum, from Grime artists to the backpack UK Hip Hop crowd. He, of course, was also known for his activism for the legalisation of cannabis, a campaign which garnered him a lot of attention from social media pages as he smoked in many places where smoking wasn't usually loud. This campaign would put him in front of eyes who might not have been even aware that he was such a great rapper. And he really was, his provocative lyrics made him one of the most exciting MCs in the country.
Black the Ripper had a crazy buzz when he first came out. I remember RWD forum hyping up his Axe FM sets and in particular his first mixtape ‘Black is Beautiful.’ The mixtape, made up of 25 tracks, showcased Samson’s lyrical ability over mainly classic Hip Hop beats. Some highlights include the intro where he spat over a range of classic Grime beats, including Dot Rotten’s Cha. When he catches the beat perfectly on the ‘Are You Really from the Endz’ beat and spits "my mate’s got a revolver to take your face off like John Travolta" I was gassed. Swing Who sees him spit over the classic Dead Prez ‘Hip Hop Beat’ with bars like “I might be short, yeah maybe, I’ll stick link your mum, bang your lady.’ The mixtape also exhibits Samson’s content. On ‘Letter to God’, he talks about his relationship with religion and God. On 21 Questions, over the iconic 50 Cent beat, he has 21 Questions for God. Black is Beautiful showed all the sides of a multifaceted artist. Samson had the bars that could light up a set, get a reload and get the crowd hype. But he also had songs that showed his intellect and vulnerability, and that’s what made him so special. There was a download link for this mixtape that was shared everywhere, but I was lucky enough to head to Wembley Market one day, and on the CD stall, where free copies of it that Samson himself had dropped off that day.
By the time Holla Black came out, his second mixtape out, Samson was really making a name for himself. Holla Black was released in December of 2006 and was hyped up by a radio appearance on Logan Sama on the week of the release. I myself ordered it from UKRecordShop receiving it just after it’s release. Today I wanted to go through some of my favourite tracks, recurring themes, lines that stood out to me and what they showed about Black the Ripper himself.
One of the early tracks isMy Minds Battles.’ Spitting over a dreary sample of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Take The Box’ provided by J. this song is a Winter anthem, the same way Mobb Deep reminds me of a cold New York day, this reminds me of a winter day in London, helped by Black the Ripper’s adlib ‘it’s cold outside, throw your hoods up.’ This to me is one of Samson’s best songs, he really opens up with lines like “The pain running through my veins is hard to explain, Lock me up but you still can't restrain my brain, I've been sent by God to come and change the game, I want money, fuck the fame, I stay underground like trains” The maturity that Samson shows on tracks like these is beyond his years.
‘Real on Roads’ sees him team up with Reading MC Invincible. Spitting over a Samplethief beat that sounds like something from a Western, the 2 go back to back spitting about the reality in their respective areas. ‘My Destiny’ sees Samson speak about quitting his job to focus on Music over a sped-up soul sample production from SRC. Samson shows how he stands out from others in the scene, focusing on the long term benefits and stacking money instead of spending it frivolously. He also spits about the downs he has had in his life, but how his determination got him out.
‘Can’t Give In’ sees Samson team up with regular collaborator Rhymestein. The 2 rhyme over another soul sample beat from Weapon X. Samson shows his determination to make it in music in any way he can while playing with the cards that are dealt with him “I’m gonna bust through the industry doors, bare face or with a mask whatever. Paranoid day today cause I break the law selling draw, but allow me I’m poor, working 9-5 what for, so I can waste my life working, like a twat, and still get taxed, Blair can get stuffed I don’t give a fuck” The last verse sees Samson and Rhymestein go back to back, trading bars with Samson finishing with “I got God, fuck a four-leaf clover.”
‘Missing You’ is dedicated to those Samson lost in his life, his Grandma and Uncle. The details on this track really help to paint a vivid image of his loved ones “I clearly remember, sleeping over at yours, breakfast was crisp and dinner was even better, rice and peas, chicken and potatoes on a plate, we all sat down and ate as you watched Songs of Praise.” The song is a perfect tribute and an example of how hard grief can be with lines like “seeing you go six feet deep, beneath the hurt worse than getting merked by any sort of weapon.”
‘Roads’ sees Black the Ripper link up with fellow North London MCs Chip, Skilla B and Cookie. Samson, Chip and Cookie actually released EPs together while they were all coming up called Motivation Music. Spitting over a sample of Spandau Ballet’s ‘Gold.’ Cookie kicks things off, with Chipmunk showing why he was so highly regarded from such a young age. Samson comes through at the end, once again showing his conviction: “When my mix cd lands, I’m gonna ease off with the grams I wanna make grands, cause shotting will only get man thrown in a can.”
‘Young Prophet’ sees Samson spitting straight for almost 2 minutes. This tune again shows that he had a long term plan for this music stuff with lines like “I want P’s galore, jamming with my fam in the West Indies on the seashore” The song also talks about the frustration of getting bothered by bouncers “and why the fuck do I get hassle every time I reach the door, why the bouncers get brave for? Searching me like I got a gauge or a chainsaw, yes I’m angry I’m aggy, my clothes are tacky cause I was raised poor.” We also get an insight into his mental health “I’m depressed, the stress gets on top of me” And shows his anti-authority nature “fuck the police and the government policies, it's hard to make p’s with the feds watching me.”
‘Can’t Control It’ sees Samson spitting over a guitar laced Goodchild beat. This is another one of Samson’s best songs, talking about the cycle of crime in deprived areas, and how he can’t control it. He kicks things off by talking about racial profiling “I know how it feels to live in a messed up area, Where nobody cares for ya, Police just stop search and hassle me. That angers me, All because stereotypical views put me in a certain, category, From the way, I lace my shoes to the slang I speak, Even down to the way my trousers hang off of me”, the chorus talks about black on black violence “How come most violence is black on, black, Face facts we're trapped, In a cycle that’s filled with rifles and gats” The second verse covers knife crime: “Broad daylight jackings oversized hooded jackets, Fatal stabbings, Welcome to London it all happens, Where every teen has a dream of rapping, But gets backtracked and starts shooting crack to bring the cash in, Jeans sagging, He's bragging cos the police nabbed him, Got a new phone but the fiends jacked him, The streets are attracting more and more youths that wanna be raw, Fighting over bullshit when everyone is poor, Single mothers left to raise their baby, While the fathers caged like an ape going crazy, This world is shady.” With the last verse talking about underage pregnancies: “It hurts me when girls are having babies at 13, It's not fun having to rely on your hubby, Your eating for two, You and the one in your tummy, Your hungry, But your man is on-road still keeping it gully, He's acting fuckery, Forgetting the truth, He's about to have a youth and you're gonna be the mummy, He doesn't see it does he, All you want is some love trust and money, While he's on guns lust and honey that are attractive, Cos until you drop that black kid, He'll just see you as a pregnant fat shit and that's it, Its drastic lives have been damaged, The streets are attractive, You smacked him he tore and left you stranded."
Don’t Need a Day Job sees Samson once again show his determination to make a success in music, not needing a day job to get paid. Samson recognised that his talent was deserving of recognition and credit, so why should he have a 9-5? He even says “it’s rare you’ll hear me on radio, more time I’m in the studio banging out mixtapes, my intention’s to make dough” the focus was always on making money.
Samson teams up with Natch for ‘Roads are Rough’ over a Theology beat. Samson paints a picture of the things he has seen on the roads, lashing out at the police for being racist, the toll that living that life can have, the struggles to eat when living week to week and the stress that environment can bring.
Samson’ has questions for God on the Bully produced track ‘Questions.’ Asking questions about police harassment, the tension in the ends, the cycle that people get trapped in and a general question on the meaning and purpose of life. ‘Reflecting’ is another highlight of the mixtape, with Samson spitting over another Goodchild beat. For 3 minutes, Samson spits with no hook, with the song taking the form of reflecting on everything while bunning. This song features one my favourite lines from him: “The stresses of life bring me down too much, I don’t like hanging around in a crowd too tough” Samson also shows the importance of the lyrics he is writing: “Poems I spit are amazing, even better if you’ve been blazing, it makes you open your eyes and realise that this world needs changing, murders, rapings, burglars, convicts escaping, and duct taping the person that snaked him. And it’s the same shit in every ends we’re restrained in” And asks rappers to talk about other things: “And to all of you rappers, talking about your ice, your whip, there’s much more to life, stop trying to survive and live.”
The closing track, ‘Let Out My Pain’ sees Samson spitting over haunting piano keys from Bully. Some of the lines on this track are ominous considering his untimely death. Lines like “I’ve only been given a certain amount of time to spit these rhymes before I die, I could fall to the floor and cry with tears in my eyes.” Samson questions his own mortality “cause one day I might just get knifed and left on the floor lifeless.” He gives a deeper look into his upbringing and outlook: “Whenever I think of all of the times I’ve been told lies since a child, single-parent families and poverty could turn anyone wild. I tried to get through life with a smile, but it’s hard when so many men is on arms.” He also talks about the spiritual battle within the music scene “nobody is praising everyone’s sinning”
Black the Ripper was a special talent. His reflective nature made for thoughtful lyrics. He was always questioning things. But he also showed maturity and wisdom beyond his age. This mixtape really solidified his status within the UK music scene, and his continued success was a testament to his work ethic and determination. Since his death, there has been an outpouring of love from various people within the scene. This shows how many lives Samson touched, how integral he was to the scene. Many people will be revisiting his music in these next few days, many will be discovering his music for the first time. For those who do, they have an insight into one of the best MCs from this country, whose powerful, thought-provoking lyrics made him stand out from his early days until now. He was able to spit knowledge without being preachy, able to throw up gun fingers but also sit back and think in the same bar. Black the Ripper will be missed by the UK scene, but his music will live on.