Originally Published: 4th May 2020
We’re only five months into the new decade, and it’s already been one of the strangest that many of us can remember. The COVID-19 pandemic has tragically claimed many lives, and has made the rest of us prisoners in our own homes. During these unprecedented times of uncertainty, the spread of misinformation has only been eclipsed by the spread of the virus itself.
With mainstream media outlets purposefully under-reporting the death toll, many of us turn to the people who already have our ear, the musicians, as a source of honesty amidst the skulduggery and deceit. As of April the 6th, we’ve got one less place to turn with the tragic passing of Black The Ripper.
Black The Ripper, or Samson (as he’s sometimes known), in recent years became increasingly synonymous with the cannabis legalisation movement, as his unique brand of civil disobedience (hot boxing a pod on the London Eye and standing outside Scotland Yard with two large plants) garnered millions of views in an attempt to bring the absurdity of cannabis prohibition to the fore. This is something which in a post Corona Great Britain, might well re-enter public debate, as the impending economic recession could be kept at bay with the multi billion pound cash injection that legalisation is reported to bring.
Being an astute businessman, Black The Ripper predicted the eventual paradigm shift and set up a cannabis business in earnest, Dank of England. The shop sells everything from clothing to a range of smoking accessories, and even boasts its own strain available to smoke in Amsterdam.
Whatever your opinions on legalisation, there was really only one opinion you could have about Black’s ability as an MC. Many people’s introduction to Black The Ripper was his incendiary displays on Axe FM in 2005. Live on air, Black decimated several MCs in a series of freestyle battles, with perhaps the exception of Rhymestein, there was a gulf between Black The Ripper and the opposition. The vigour in which he took each MC apart set the forums alight, and earmarked him as an heir apparent hailing from an illustrious North London lineage of MCs consisting of fellow compatriots Skepta, JME, Chip and CasisDead. Black was just as comfortable in the studio making songs, as he was collecting the scalps of those who dared to cross swords with him.
Black was prolific when it came to releasing music, and will be immortalised by the 25 projects he leaves behind. His first classic would come early on in his career, with his second mixtape Holla Black. The tape was the perfect synthesis of everything that made Black the Ripper such a captivating MC. Black’s frenzied energy was barely contained by the confines of the WAV, and was always infectious whatever the subject matter. His pen on Holla Black provided a diverse range of reportage on everything from loss, street politics, love and of course a healthy dose of braggadocio. Black had delivered a bonafide classic, with something for everyone’s palettes, leaving many of his contemporaries servings looking decidedly bland in comparison.
Black was always unapologetically outspoken in his music, and fans were drawn to his ability to package digestible conscious lyricism, with his witty bravado. He was able to recognise that overdosing listeners on conscious lyricism can make the listening experience become laborious, rather than the pleasurable escapism that most of us crave. Black’s duality meant that he was capable of straddling both lanes simultaneously, and work with artists like Chip, Nafe Smallz and Ghetts – but also Lowkey and Akala – feeling equally at home on both frontiers.
The latter part of his career saw him combine his two passions – weed and music – as he took his war on prohibition into the domain he reigned supreme over. Although many fans bemoaned the direction the THC fuelled muse had taken him in, the quality of the music undoubtedly remained high (pun intended). Black had zeroed in on his love for the most divisive plant on the planet, and cultivated ten projects packed with stoner anthems that have become as ubiquitous as clouds of smoke in weed enthusiasts rooms the world over.
What we’ll miss most about Black (aside from his wacky range of weed related defiances in the face of our very draconian authorities), is his fearless honesty. Black was never afraid to be himself, he shared this with us on his music. By inviting us into this way of thinking, many of us have been able to vicariously embody this same fearlessness, hopefully with some of it trickling into our realities. Dean ‘Black the Ripper’ West will be sorely missed, but the music will ensure that he’s never forgotten.