East Man’s ‘Red, White & Zero’ Is The Underrated Grime Gem Of 2018

Words: Jesse Bernard

It’s no surprise that it was the silent, creeper albums of 2018 that stood above many of the biggest releases in British music. Few, however, will come to have as much impact in years to come as Red, White & Zero, the compilation album from producer Anthoney Hart, aka East Man. “We have been losing London to Babylon but we are busy making a new place. The edges of the city have become fertile,” writes British historian Paul Gilroy in the album’s liner notes. What does this new place look like, and what does the music coming from this alien environment sound like?

According to Anthoney Hart, that new sound is ‘Hi Tek’. It’s a term he coined to describe and perhaps best reflect his project East Man and the collaborative album Red, White & Zero, featuring a host of MCs from London such as Saint P, Lyrical Strally, Killa P, Irah and more. Released via Planet Mu, the 12-track offering consists of a range of stripped-back production that primarily brings influence from electronic, techno, drum & bass and dancehall music.

Paul Gilroy goes on to write, “Even without words, this music speaks for itself and tells a story. It calls out to be understood while seeking ways to escape interpretation.” On tracks such as “Stratford”, there are no vocals apart from the one line, he never saw me in Stratford, which is repeated throughout the song. It’s here that the album really shouts out loud and speaks of a new London, almost unrecognisable but in the shadows, you can still find remnants of the past.

Red, White & Zero is knowingly polemic in its production and grime has rarely suffered from an inability to be just that. Where the vocals are sometimes distant or vacant entirely, the abrasiveness and sometimes wonkiness of Hart’s production—much like 1-800 DINOSAUR Presents Trim—points to where grime could go in the future, since many claim it’s apparently dead. Nevertheless, this isn’t necessarily a project built to showcase the talents of a crop of MCs but rather tell a story—one that is unfolding before our very eyes, here in the capital.

Imagine all of the underground scenes are at a dance—grime, jungle, dancehall, garage, techno, you name it. A decade ago, each of these scenes would’ve stood in separate areas of the rave, purposely avoiding brushing shoulders with each other. The story’s a little different now: the scenes have converged and now meet in the middle. The ‘artist’ creates something with pretensions of ‘high art’, but with no real understanding or knowledge to impart, just brazen signifiers. “The audience lap it up as they feel it makes them seem clever and intellectual if they like it,” said Hart in an interview with AQNB. An interesting reveal as Red, White & Zero does well to avoid being trapped in a pretentious, ‘post-grime’ bubble.

Red, White & Zero certainly isn’t an album that best depicts the popular sounds coming out of the capital right now. However, in taking an approach that bridges many of the underground scenes together, East Man—via the voices of these bright emcees and his own skilled production—presents the story of London: past, present, and future.

Posted on December 19, 2018