70. Smiley Culture – Cockney Translation (1984)

This is such a fantastic song.

Smiley Culture, born and raised in South London and probably one of the first MCs in Britain, offers a fast-talking class in translation as he juxtaposes two London dialects for us — the patois spoken within the city’s Caribbean community and the traditional Cockney dialect spoken by white, working-class East Enders. The song is hilarious and the video is especially awesome. Check it out:

(If you need a little help, you can find lyrics here.)

It’s worth noting that since 1984, a new dialect has emerged in London, one that linguists now call “Multicultural London English” (MLE), but which is more commonly known as “Jafaican” (as in “fake Jamaican”). In large part, this is a blending of the two dialects we hear in “Cockney Translation,” one that emerged because a lot of East End kids tried to adopt Caribbean accents, only semi-successfully. But in effect, in the past few decades MLE has become an accent unto itself, one that has a great deal more to do with class than it does with race or ethnicity.

And Smiley Culture, I’m sorry to report, died earlier this year, of a stab wound to the heart that he received during a police raid on his home. Police claim the wound was self-inflicted, and an independent commission investigated the matter but found there was not enough evidence of police wrongdoing to prosecute. A great many people remain skeptical of the official account; and some have even cited the death of Smiley Culture to be one of the precipitating factors behind this summer’s riots. A sad story, whatever the truth may be.

Smiley Culture



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