Outside of Monie Love and Malcolm McClaren’s collaboration with The World Famous Supreme Team Show on World’s Famous, I was not aware of any 80s hip-hop artists from the UK, so it was a pleasure to research and listen to Born This Way, the 1989 debut album from British artists Cookie Crew.
Formed in 1983, Cookie Crew (and British hip-hop at large) drew heavy influence and inspiration from the USA. The group made its radio debut in 1987 on UK house group Beatmasters’ song Rok Da House. Released later that same year, the duo’s first single Females (their most successful song in the US) combined elements of American graffiti, rap-flow, breakdancing, and DJing. Two years later, Born This Way was released in the UK, US, Canada, Greece, and Europe (Collective).
The first few tracks on the album see the rappers energetically trading lines during the same verse. From The South demonstrates this perfectly, “Touching down with a mic, not a gun”. No weapons or violence, the duo use their lyrics as their show of power. On the next track, Come on and Get Some, listeners get a better taste of each MC’s individuality, punctuated by a great sample from Curtis Mayfield’s Super Fly:
You ask why we named ourselves Cookie Crew
Food for thought, sweet and humble
But these kind of cookies do not crumble!
The fifth track on the album, Feelin’ Proud, is one of my personal favorites. It’s a song filled with lyrical positivity:
Proud to Be Black…
Stand up strong and be a leader…
You got a point to make? We’d like to know you…
Black women and girls hearing these empowering words from black women – so powerful! They let us know we should be proud of who we are and that we can form influences based on what we believe is golden. This spirit of affirmation sees an interesting cultural intersection in Black is the Word, where the duo says, “I don’t preach black power, but I’m proud of it.” I wonder how black power was interpreted in the UK in the 1980s. Based on this lyric, it seems the American movement may have been considered militaristic, which the duo clarify is not their personal message.
Rhymes & Careers is another standout track, both in lyrical quality and production. With a sample off The Soul Searchers’ classic Ashley’s Roachclip, Cookie Crew proclaim they need to be respected as MCs:
You think it’s funny to call this crew biscuit?
If I was in your shoes, I wouldn’t really risk it!
Born This Way was more than just a duo collaboration, and the rappers acknowledge this throughout. Multiple producers and DJs contributed to the project and Daddy-O and Dazzle get direct shoutouts and time to flex their DJ skills on the record. The last track, Dazzle’s Theme is a straight hip-hop instrumental feature. On the CD release of the album, there are two additional remix tracks of Got To Keep On and Places And Spaces as well.
Overall, Born This Way is a very upbeat and fun party record. The women show confidence throughout the album and demand success from their audience. Some of the lyrics can be difficult to grasp on first listen, so I recommend giving this album a few tries through, from start to finish. It was good to hear from a female rap duo, as they are still a rarity in hip-hop.
In 1991, Cookie Crew released their second album, Fade to Black. Unfortunately, this title saw little commercial success and foreshadowed the group’s decile. Their record label urged them to create crossover/pop music when the artists themselves wanted to stay true to their hip-hop roots, a trait I appreciate.
But in all my travels, we remain the same
Stayed up to par, no ego trippin
– Places and Spaces for Your Mind
- Lowdown – Documentary about UK Hip Hop
- Interview with Cookie Crew in 2013