Book: Sounds Northern
Chapter: 9. The Missing Star of MC Tunes
MC Tunes (born Nicholas William Dennis Hodgson, 1970) is a British rapper from Manchester, who achieved commercial and artistic success, while fronting a British electronic music group, 808 State. He played a significant role in the Madchester music scene during the 1980s and 1990s, yet failed to achieve global success or even sustain a national fame, as demonstrated by the fact that his second record, to be released by ZTT Records in the early 1990s, was rejected by the label and only released in 2015 in a limited edition format.
The career of MC Tunes plays into two well established narratives; the first is of the working class artist, entertainer or sports star who finds success, but then cannot cope with sudden wealth and celebrity. The second is of the northern working class artist who is ‘discovered’ by the London based music industry and then exploited commercially before being discarded. Neither of these narratives provides a complete or satisfactory description of a career which was shaped by a complex set of specific circumstances.
This chapter, drawing on interviews with MC Tunes, conducted by the authors, a documentary by Howard Walmsley and the existing research on music industry in Manchester during the period of Madchester and beyond, will try to examine the factors in MC Tunes’ meteoric fame and its decline. We will draw attention to three types of factors. One is the weakness of the music industry in the North, as demonstrated also by Tony Wilson’s failure to sustain his project of creating a commercially successful popular music industry in Manchester. The second is the specificity of the genres with which MC Tunes was identified, namely rap. Finally we will draw attention to personal factors in MC Tunes’ decline, most importantly his rock star lifestyle.
Our second objective is to account for the recent attempts to preserve and disseminate MC Tunes’ work, as demonstrated by the release of his second record, and the role played in it by various individuals and institutions based in the North, such as the University of Central Lancashire. We argue that the factors affecting the recent interest in MC Tunes are also complex. One factor is the development of commercial entertainment and tourism opportunities based around the heritage of the Manchester music scene of the 1980s and 1990s. Another factor may be the commercial success of grime. The early work of MC Tunes has much in common with grime including use of rap over electronic beats and samples and a lyrical content that often deals with the darker side of urban life; the gritty reality of the daily lives of young people on the housing estates of the inner cities (his 1990 song Own Worst Enemy is a good example). One key difference between grime and the work of MC Tunes is the style of vocal delivery. In the 1980s MC Tunes rapped in an American accent, copying the black US rap style in the same way that in the 1960s bands like the Rolling Stones copied the singing styles of black Rhythm and Blues artists. However, while most rock and pop music is now delivered in a ‘transatlantic’ style of delivery, within grime and other forms of UK music, the use of local and regional accents has become the norm. As a result the vocal style of MC Tunes in his early work may be seen as ‘inauthentic’ and this may be a reason why he is not more often cited as an influence on the current scene.