When combining football and rap music, most will mull over very little more than what lay within the realms of John Barnes’ rapping cameos of decades gone by. The legendary, England and Liverpool winger was perhaps in the wrong place at the right time when the Reds reached the 1988 FA Cup final and as was traditional back then, released a song in preparation for the day at Wembley. In align with what is often referred to as the ‘Golden Age of Hip-Hop’, a long way away from Merseyside artists such as Run DMC, Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest were coming to the fore, bringing rap music and hip-hop culture to a mass audience.
“Liverpool FC is hot as hell, United, Tottenham, ‘Arsen-ell’, watch my lips and I will spell, because they don’t just play but they can rap as well.” – John Barnes, 1988
Bruce Grobelaar, John Aldridge and a sample of the club’s finest manager, Bill Shankly feature on the ‘Anfield Rap,’ but it was the output of John Barnes which captured the imagination of an audience which was surely befuddled. Barnes, whose verse includes a mis-pronouncing of his own surname in order to rhyme with the word ‘bananas,’ went on to feature in England’s World Cup song before Italia 90, in a song created by New Order, which has more than held it’s own against more recent efforts from the likes of Embrace and *shudders* Ant and Dec.
Yet, there is a lot more to the relationship between football and rap than John Barnes’ dabble into the music industry to project a couple of verses only just worthy of some sirens and explosive sound effects in Charlie Sloth’s studio.
As deservedly-celebrated as his rhymes are and despite me knowing the words probably as well as Barnes himself does, I’d like to share some different examples of football referencing rap music and vice-versa. Examples that will make you cringe considerably less than these efforts from hip-hop’s ‘Golden Era,’ that must’ve been bronzed slightly as a result of football’s input.
Don’t expect each offering to be as literal as the above, some exemplar might only include one lyric or one reference to the sport, but if like me you have an obsession with the cultures that both football and rap music connote, you’ll enjoy witnessing them combine like Xavi and Iniesta in their prime. *SIRENS*
Football and Rap – I
For the first helping of this feature we have two songs where the football-relative aspects are obvious. The first incorporates a well-known figure and icon of British football, who would be the last person you’d expect to see on the rap scene.
Paul Scholes, one of England’s most gifted midfielders of all-time is paid homage to by Black Josh, a Mancunian rapper and avid United fan. Like the central midfielder, he also ‘came through in ’93.‘ In this, the year the versatile rapper was born, Scholes made his first team debut for United, graduating from the Class of ’92 with flying colours of red and ginger courtesy of his club shirt and hair.
In the song simply titled ‘Paul Scholes,’ the admiration the Blah Records man has for the former United number 18 is clear, using him for various similes and metaphors throughout. Josh also spits over an old-school beat that sounds like it’s come from straight from the era in which Scholes made his name. At risk of sounding like a GCSE Media student, I’ll leave my analysis there and let the song speak for itself.
This other song was produced almost a decade before the one it succeeds, via a rapping duo who I’ve always felt are somewhat underrated. The Mitchell Brothers were the first act signed to The Beats, the label founded by the legendary Mike Skinner and according to their Wikipedia have been in ‘hiatus’ since 2008.
Their debut album, ‘A Breath of Fresh Attire‘ was released in 2005 and included records such as ‘Alone With the TV,’ ‘Harvey Nicks‘ and ‘Routine Check‘, which featured another English-great in the form of Kano along with Skinner, himself. At the time, these songs were definite hits. Not so much in terms of radio play, but more so in the fact that they were exchanged freely on school playgrounds and at bus stops through Bluetooth and infrared.
‘When the Whistle Blows‘ may not be the strongest track on the album, but it’s crucial in setting the tone of the entire composition which depicts life in Britain at the time of release. The way the song starts with bickering over favoured football teams and leads into lyrics that could be heard on the terraces at football matches around the country is something to admire, reflecting the sub-culture that football provides in British society.