The Late 80s was a very interesting time for hip hop music both in the US and over here in the UK. I remember as a kid getting in to the hip hop culture by watching the film Break dance as well as hearing the Fat Boys, The Beastie Boys and Run-DMC. At the time I would have been about 8 or 9 years old. However when I really fell in love with hip hop was a few years later in 88 or 89 when I first heard artists like Big Daddy Kane, Public Enemy and De La Soul. Along with the US rap superstars there were a handful of UK rappers that at the time had the same impact on me as a fan of the music. One of these UK hip hop pioneers was Overlord X. What I respect most about Overlord X is his consistency in making quality hip hop tracks, plus on every 12″ single he released there was at least one different track that did not appear on any of his albums. In 2012 this may not seem like a big issue but back in the late 80s and early 90s music (especially hip hop) was not as accessible as it is now. Even in 1990 hip hop records used to get filed in the dance or jazz section of a record shop.
My point is that on every Overlord X 12″ or single there would be a unique track making the singles as much of a worthwhile purchase as the albums. Overlord X along with his DJ Sir-Preme-Tee were one of the few early hip hop crews from the UK to make hip hop their own in terms of not rapping in an American accent. Overlord X‘s vocal style and music are somewhat unique to him while alongside his DJ Sir-Preme-Tee paved the way for a lot of UK hip hop DJ’s (on Wax especially) with tight and super funky scratches and cuts. Overlord X also had a crew of rappers, DJs & Performers called the X Possee who were from the East London borough of Hackney. I have decided to take a look back at the recording career of Overlord X to give some well deserved props and recognition to one of the UK’s classic hip hop Pioneers.
Overlord X‘s first track “Let there be rock” appeared on the “Music of life” compilation “Hard as Hell Vol 1” in 1987 along with tracks by Derek B, The Demon Boyz, MC Duke, CJ Mackintosh & Einstein, Asher D & Daddy Freddy, Thrashpack, Lady Sugar Sweet, and producer Simon Harris (under his alias DJ Hanway). The Entire album was produced by Simon Harris and seemed to kick start several of the first generation of UK rappers careers. Overlord X was one of the few artists that appeared on the compilation that did not release any other materiel on the “Music of life” label which went on to be one of the biggest outlets for UK hip hop artists in the late 80′s and early 90s.
Overlord X’s track “Let there be rock” was one of the only tracks in Overlord X‘s discography that he didn’t produce. According the the credits on the back of the release all tracks were produced by Simon Harris (With a few exceptions that were co produced by the artists) ”Let there be rock” also features another rapper that I’m led to believe is X Possee member Dark Heart. Although there is no mention of this in the credits you can definitely tell there is a second rapper on the track and the below youtube footage would suggest the rapper in question was Dark Heart. As a first release “Let there be rock” is a good attempt considering there was not much UK hip hop that was released prior to 1987 and some of what had been put out before was British people rapping in an American accent. The track itself sounds very influenced by popular hip hop at the time like Run DMC and The Beastie Boys. “Let there be rock” is only available on the “Hard as Hell vol 1” compilation.
Overlord X “Let there be rock”
1988 is when the next Overlord X track entitled “14 days in May” was released. “14 days in May” was released firstly on the compilation “Electro/Hip hop 20″ and shortly after as a 12″ Single on Hardcore records that was a subsidiary of the Street Sounds record label. The Electro/hip hop series played a big part in breaking hip hop music in the UK as a lot of the 12″ records were difficult to obtain at the time where as the Electro/hip hop series were widely available in the UK. On the same compilation that featured Overlord X were hip hop artists Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock, J.V.C F.O.R.C.E, Levi 167, Ultimate III, Rough N Smooth, Faze One, The Switch Rap Crew, and The MC I.B & Beat Creator.
The track “14 Days in May“ was written as a response to the execution of Edward Earl Johnson who was executed by the United States State of Mississippi for the murder of a policeman. His case came to the attention of the world when Edward Earl Johnson featured on the BBC documentary “Fourteen days in May” and had always protested his innocence. In spite of British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith’s attempts for a reprieve Edward was executed. Clive Stafford Smith made a follow up documentary that claimed to prove Johnson was innocent but this was after the execution. Overlord X also made a video for his track which can be seen below.
Overlord X “14 Days in May” Video 1988
The “14 Days in May” single brought Overlord X to the attention of Mango Street Records who initially signed him and the X Possee for some singles and an album. The X Possee consisted of rappers and DJs that were down with Overlord X most of which were also from Hackney in East London. Overlord X had also be joined by DJ Sir-Preme-Tee. Overlord X‘s second single and the first on Mango Street Records was “The Earth is Moving/Rough in Hackney“. Originally “Rough is Hackney” was credited as the X Possee but would later be included on Overlord X‘s first solo album. X holds down the main vocals on both tracks while members of the X Possee drop fill ins and back up vocals throughout the track. The releases on Mango Street all seem to carry a distinct Overlord X style of production and with DJ Sir-Preme-Tee holding down the scratches and cuts they had a winning formula. The “Earth is moving” was only available on the 12″ Single while “Rough in Hackney” also appears on Overlord X‘s first album “Weapon is my lyric“.
Overlord X “The earth is moving” 1988 Mango Street Records
A follow up single “2 Bad/Now I’m here” was released shortly after in 1988. “2 Bad” would later appear on the “weapon is my lyric” LP but “Now I’m here” is exclusive to the 12″ single. Keeping with the same formula as the previous single the B-side “Now I’m here” features guest vocals by several members of the X Possee.
Overlord X “2 Bad” 1988 Mango Street records
Overlord X dropped his first album entitled “Weapon is my lyric” in 1989. The album contained 7 brand new tracks plus the 2 singles “Rough in Hackney” & “2 Bad“. There was also a remake or part 2 of Overlord X‘s first single “14 days in May“ called “14 days in hell“. Overlord X wanted to include ”14 days in May” on the LP but Island Records who were the parent company of Mango Street Records did not want to pay the license fee that West side Records were asking to include the track. This resulted in X remaking the track under the new name “14 days in hell“. The CD version of “Weapon is my lyric” also contained the single “The Earth is moving“.
In my opinion the tracks on the album are all consistent in sound and style. Overlord X produced the entire album and holds down the main vocals throughout. On all of his previous singles Overlord X has recorded back up’s on his main vocals by slowing down the pitch of his voice. On the “Weapon is my lyric” album X introduces us to the first of his alter-ego’s which is the character Lord V. Lord V‘s voice is Overlord X with his vocals pitched down but the tracks have been recorded in such a way that it sounds like 2 different vocalists. Other back ups vocals on the album are by various members of the X Possee with DJ Sir-Preme-Tee holding down the scratches and cuts throughout. Alter ego Lord V also makes an appearance on the back of the album shown below.
It’s difficult to pick stand out tracks from the album as they all cover various topics and moods but one of my favourites is “Brutal Bass“. The intro briefly samples music from the film “The good the bad and the ugly” sound track (The ecstasy of gold) by Ennio Morricone before breaking in to a Rock Guitar sample reminiscent of early hip hop like Run DMC and Ice T.
Overlord X “Brutal Bass” from the 1989 “Weapon is my lyric” LP
Another stand out track for me is the album title track “Weapon is my lyric” that samples Sir Joe Quartermain‘s classic funk number ”I’ve got so much trouble in my mind“. Overlord X and alter ego Lord V drop rhymes back and forth with DJ Sir-Preme-Tee delivering an outstanding performance on the scratches and cuts. DJ Sir-Preme-Tee was way ahead of his time along with several other DJs from the UK like DJ Supreme, DJ Halo, and DJ Devastate. If you are a fan of the classic hip hop sound and you haven’t got this album already then its a highly recommended purchase.
Overlord X “Weapon is my lyric” from the 1989 LP “Weapon is my lyric”
The 3rd single from the “Weapon is my lyric” album also released in 1989 was called “Radical Kickbag” and was a remake of the album track “Kickbag“. “Kickbag” also appears on the B side of the single along with a remix of the “Weapon is my lyric” track. DJ Sir-Preme-Tee is joined by fellow X Possee turntablist DJ Super T on the scratches and cuts. ”Radical Kickbag” is built around a break beat sampled from Curtis Mayfield‘s track entitled “Make me believe in you” with horn samples from Pig Bags 1980s hit ”Papa’s got a brand new pig back“.
1989 must have been a busy year for Overlord X because as well as producing and recording his own album he was also producing beats for members of the X Possee who collectively released an album entitled “Project X” also on released in 1989 on Mango Street Records. The album was entirely produced by Overlord X and also features an exclusive Overlord X track called “The X and the V” which is basically a track where Overlord X elaborates about his alter ego Lord V. Also on the “Project X” album are tracks from X Possee vocalists Freshski Dames, Dark Heart, Kandie, Stingray, Midrange, and Magnificent Sam. DJ Sir-Preme-Tee & Super T also have a DJ based track called “Return of the breaks” which features both DJs cutting it up over various popular break beats.
Several singles were also released from the ”Project X” album by various members of the X Possee. Each single contains an extra track that was not included on the LP. All tracks were produced by Overlord X, and all were released in 1989 on Mango Street Records.
Freshski Dames “Kickin it live/Stay bad” 12″ Single
Kandie “Just like Kandie/Aint got the time” 12″ Single
Midrange “I got talent/Gimme some beat” 12″ Single
As 1989 drew to a close Overlord X has solidified himself as a major player in a UK hip hop scene that at times was struggling to find its own identity. Overlord X became internationally recognised as an artist but also as a producer. Mango Street Records had started to sign more UK hip hop artists as had the Music of life label and a unique collection of UK hip hop music was beginning to emerge.
In early 1990 Overlord X returned to the scene with DJ Sir-Preme-Tee and the X Possee and released the first 12″ single entitled “Powerhouse/They can’t handle it” from his second LP entitled “X vs the world“. The “Powerhouse” single introduced us to X‘s second alter ego called Sidekick. Whereas Lord V was Overlord X‘s voice with the pitch turned down Sidekick was Overlord X‘s voice with the pitch turned up. Years later US Rapper/Producer Madlib would use the same effect as his alter ego Quasimoto. Keeping with the same formula the B side to the 12″ single features back up vocals by members of the X Possee and is also exclusive to the 12″ single.
Overlord X “Power House” from the 1990 “X vs the world” Album
Later that year Overlord X dropped his second album entitled “X vs the world“. The album contains the single “Power house” plus 11 brand new tracks (12 if you purchased the CD or Cassette copy) and follows on from the previous projects with as much consistency in sound and feel. The theme of the entire album is very si-fi based. The first track “Prologue 1990” describes Overlord X travelling back in time to the planet earth on a mission to educate the masses. The album deals with several social and political issues including drug use, suppression, as well as Overlord X demonstrating his lyrical skills and abilities. Several members of the X Possee also guest on the album. Kandie and Midrange join Overlord X on the title track “X vs the world” while One to One, Midrange, and Sir-Preme-Tee, join Overlord X on the posse track “Lyrical Turmoil“. One of the other highlights from the album is a remake of “Planet rock” by Africa Bambatta & The Soul Sonic Force. Overlord X‘s version is called “Planet Hackney” where X describes a far off world that he, Lord V & Sidekick are from. DJ Sir-Preme-Tee‘s scratches and cuts are also a big part of the track and are as on point as ever. The album concludes with a track called “You cant do it in London” where Overlord X airs his thoughts on Gangsta rap even calling out NWA.
“X vs the world” was one of the hip hop albums that was released prior to the music industry legislating and regulating the use of samples. If the album was to be remade today I would imagine it would be almost impossible to clear all the samples used to create the album and even if the licenses were obtained it would not be cost effective. The artwork on the “X vs the world” album is also amazing and was created by artist Joe Jusco. Once again a worthwhile purchase for any fans of classic hip hop. Here are a few highlights from the album.
Overlord X “Planet Hackney” from the 1990 “X vs the world” LP
Overlord X “Suppression” from the 1990 “X vs the world” LP
Overlord X “You can’t do it in London” from the 1990 “X vs the world” LP
The second and final single from the “X vs the world” album also released in 1990 was “You oughta get rushed/X keeps turning/Die hard“. The tracks “X keeps turning” and “Die hard” were not available on the LP. Controversially the track “Die hard” was a dis track aimed at fellow East London rapper and former Music of life label mate MC Duke. The two had a short lived war of words that has become a talking point for several UK hip hop fanatics over the years. The A side “You ought get rushed“ takes an anti drug stance and is the only other track from the “X vs the world” LP to feature X‘s second alter ego Sidekick.
Overlord X “You oughta get rushed” released 1990 on Mango Street Records
1990 was another incredibly successful year for Overlord X. The UK hip hop movement was growing and gaining popularity and a healthy and innovative scene had developed and began to spread in to Europe. 1990 saw the emergence of many more UK crews and independent record labels from across the country. Even some of the major record labels had signed UK hip hop artists giving the music and culture a bigger platform to grow.
Unfortunately from a fans perspective this was almost the end of the line for Overlord X‘s hip hop career. Although the UK hip hop movement was growing, the sound was also evolving, and by all accounts Overlord X was not interested in pursuing a further career in hip hop. Apparently a 3rd LP entitled “Mind Of A Menace“ was in the process of being recorded but Overlord X‘s record label Mango Street folded sometime around 1992. This signalled the end of any future Overlord X & X Possee releases. A final Overlord X track entitled “Reservation” was released by the label on the compilation album “Ragga Hip Hop Vol 2” in 1991. Rapper Midrange from the X Possee also had a track called “Youths in the ghetto“ that was produced by Overlord X on the same album.
Break to the beat would like to acknowledge Overlord X & The X Possee as first generation pioneers of the UK hip hop scene. Over time several unreleased Overlord X tracks have emerged. Below is one such track entitled “Prototype“. Further info on Overlord X can be found at the below website dedicated to the early years of British hip hop:
Overlord X “Prototype” Unreleased track from the early 90s
Read Break to the beat’s interview with Overlord X here: Overlord X Interview