A press release accompanying one of his early singles said of his background that he “was born in the east end of London and has lived there for most of his 22 years apart from three years in Trinidad [he was raised by his Trinidadian mother, a nurse] and a few months spent in New York some two years ago”; it was partly this relatively ordinary background that many could identify with and made him marketable on the UK hip hop and rap scenes. The other contributing factor was his ear for a commercial musical hook which enabled his work to ‘cross over’ from specialist clubs and radios shows into the general market. The press release went on to explain how he became a rapper: “He left school to become a DJ but after becoming bored with the way music was developing he decided (with the help of Music Of Life) to make a record.”
His time as a mobile DJ (at clubs such as Wag in Soho) and as a radio DJ (and on the pirate radio stations) gave him an awareness and appreciation of a number of subgenres of music; he played a mix of soul, funk and rap. His knowledge led to the Music Of Life label hiring him as an adviser to the team compiling an album of hip-hop tracks for the UK market, and he was able to suggest whose work it was worth licensing for the collection. The team was short of material to fill the required playing time, and Boland offered to contribute a song himself, Rock The Beat, which he recorded under the name Derek B. The label recognized the potential and released it as a 12” single in 1987. Championed by commercial radio DJs in London (he was well known to club and radio DJs in the capital, especially for his Good Groove radio show and his DJing and MCing at various club nights), the single became a hit and Music Of Life decided to invest in their new artist.
In 1988 – which was he made those ‘Top Of The Pops’ and Smash Hits appearances – he had an astonishingly successful year. He had two consecutive Top 20 singles with Goodgroove and Bad Young Brother, the second of which was released via Phonogram, who he signed with that year and who honoured him with his own label, Tuff Audio. He was on the bill for the Wembley concert to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday (alongside some big names) and he toured the world with Public Enemy and Run DMC in the autumn. Footnotes to those significant achievements include his co-writing of Anfield Rap (Red Machine in Full Effect) for Liverpool Football Club to release as a single prior to (their defeat at) the FA Cup final that year.
“His raps are often a reflection of his experiences in London Clubland and this is true of the new single which encapsulates the usual exaggeration found in rap records, but as Derek says ‘if you take me serious you must be a drip’,” the press release mentioned above (also from 1988) said. Ultimately it was the issue of being taken seriously that scuppered his chances of a long-term career as a performing artist. His album, Bullet From A Gun, despite being loaded with plenty of British cultural references, was delivered with a very American-sounding vocal style for someone who grew up in Woodford. His individuality was questioned, somewhat unfairly as the overriding influences for the genre he was working in were American ones. He subsequently concentrated on production work and continued to DJ, although with a much lower profile in the second half of his life. Boland died young, not yet 45 when he had the heart attack that killed him. His work deserves re-appraisal but he is often overlooked due to the brevity of his commercial recording career.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Jun. 20
Q-TIPS (Paul Young) Tracks Of My Tears (Chrysalis CHS2420)
ULTRAVOX (Midge Ure) Sleepwalk (Chrysalis CHS2441)
The UNDERTONES Wednesday Week (Sire SIR4042)
DANNY WILSON (Gary Clark) Davy [Re-issue] (Virgin VS1095)
DEREK B We’ve Got The Juice (Tuff Audio DRKB2)