Better late than never, here’s the monthly round up of all things “urban”.
February picked up where January left off. This time, in place of Wiley, the spotlight was hogged by another grime heavyweight: Stormzy. For the past couple of weeks, everywhere you’ve looked, there he was. On stage at the Brits with Ed Sheeran, finally dropping his long-awaited debut album, and hitting the DIY PR trail harder than anyone else, with numerous surprise pop-up performances and TV appearances.
The album in question is “Gang Signs & Prayer”, and boy is it good – packed full of grime bangers, interspersed with on trend slow jams, the wait was totally worth it. I’m not the biggest fan of these love songs, but with grime albums they certainly help to break up what would otherwise be an all too aggressive affair. The only problem being that they are all too formulaic these days, whether about significant others, mothers or God.
Putting my struggles with Stormzy singing to one side, there are more than enough highlights to get my attention. “Cold” is grime at its purest. “Bad Boys” lowers the energy levels and packs a serious chorus from one of last month’s big tips, J Hus. On “Mr Skeng” the MC calls out all of those that previously doubted him. His smash hit freestyle “Shut Up” features towards the end of the album, and even though it’s still a massive tune, its inclusion stinks of additional tracks to score higher in the new chart format – an issue that was covered excellently last year by Fact Magazine.
By now you’ll have heard “Big For Your Boots”: Sir Spyro continues his unbelievable purple patch with a beat so energetic and raw that you can’t help but shuffle wherever you are. Stormzy doesn’t hold back on the vocal, and there are bars in here that will be hailed for years to come. The video is the perfect accompaniment, directed by filmmaker Daps, and starring some of the most talented creative women around right now – Maya Jama in the chicken shop makes me weak at the knees!
With the month he’s had, Stormzy will be viewed as a masterclass in do it yourself PR for a long time.
Elsewhere in grime, there wasn’t much action, with the exception of a pair of strong singles.
Grim Sickers led the way with his Mike Skinner approved single, “Kane”. Featuring JME on the remix, all month this one has left me wanting to end every sentence with the same word.
The aforementioned Sir Spyro came good again with the lead track from his forthcoming EP with North London MC Capo Lee. “Stop Talk” features a beat made almost entirely from mobile phone samples, as Capo Lee tells anyone and everyone to shut up.
Staying this side of the pond, a handful of promising releases finally saw the light of day. Last month, I mentioned how much I was anticipating the new album from Devlin. “The Devil In” unfortunately didn’t live up to my expectations. For me it was the shortage of 140 bpm that did it. Devlin’s flow has always been the perfect match for a grime beat, and here it was just too rap heavy for my tastes.
Not to say that UK rap isn’t to my liking. Hot on the heels of his 2016 hit “Trapper Of The Year”, North West London’s Nines released “One Foot Out”. At 49 minutes, and 15 tracks, it’s a blistering statement of intent that sets a new standard for rap in the UK. It’s racking up streaming numbers alarmingly quickly, so make sure you’re not left behind on this one!
Having first heard his vocal talents on Sbtrkt’s 2011 self-titled debut album, Sampha’s “Process” has been a long time coming. Neo-soul is certainly the music industry’s flavour of the month, what with Rag’n’Bone Man’s album riding high as well, but Sampha does it with a difference. He’s appeared on tracks with Drake, Kanye, Frank Ocean and Solange, but it’s nice to finally see him take centre stage, and the high praise he’s receiving for “Process” is well-deserved.
Last month was fairly quiet on the American front (with the exception of the outstanding “Culture” by Migos – you can read my review here), so it was nice to see a flurry of activity in February.
The most active artist was easily Future. Mid-way through February, the Atlanta native released his 5th studio album, the self-titled “FUTURE”. A week later, he surprise released his 6th, “HNDRXX”. Both albums rate highly, but it’s the second of the two that really delivered – Complex went as far as suggesting that the album might turn out to be his masterpiece. One thing’s for sure: Future has further cemented his credentials as a hit-maker. Check out the album’s lead single “Selfish”, featuring Rihanna, below.
Another rapper to have a strong month was Big Sean. Backed with some serious guest vocals – Jeremih, Migos, Eminem, The Dream – “I Decided” is a concept album revolving around the theme of rebirth, exec produced by Kanye West. It might not hit home as well as his previous releases, but there’s a deeper, more introspective feel to the album that adds weight.”Bounce Back” and “Moves” in particular are worthy of your time.
Stepping away from hip hop, there were a few other releases on the other side of the pond that certainly struck a chord with me, the first of which came from The Internet and Odd Future’s Syd. The DJ/producer/singer’s first album sees her leaving the beat-making to others, while she steps up to the microphone solo. It’s got a real 90’s R&B feel to it – a sound I’m always down with, being an Aaliyah superfan. “Fin” might be a step in a different direction, but it feels well-thought out, and might just usher in a new superstar in the genre.
Away from the mainstream, THEY. are a self-proclaimed Grunge&B duo from LA. Stating their influences as Nirvana, Taking Back Sunday and Babyface, and having toured in support of Bryson Tiller, it’s certainly a fresh take on R&B. There’s a hint of The Weeknd’s early mixtapes (and possibly even boybands like Backstreet Boys?), and the group clearly aren’t afraid to forge their own path. I would expect “Nü Religion: Hyena” might just get enough people to take notice, that they’re able to move to the next level.
Speaking of those that are blazing their own trail, February brought the return of Thundercat from a 4 year break. The Grammy-winning, Kendrick Lamar collaborator revealed his latest, “Drunk”. The usual mix of all styles possible combine to great effect, and the result is an album that is serious, fun, groovy and melodic all at once.
In the world of club-friendly music, LA’s Kingdom stamped his mark on a UK-influenced sound that is growing nicely on the other side of the pond. Taking influences from UK funky and garage, and in particular the label Night Slugs (Kingdom’s own Fade To Mind label is an affiliate), we’re treated to a blend of electronica and R&B that will surely see him being called upon for productions for bigger names – indeed, Kingdom has already delivered some of his best work for Kelela and Dawn Richard.
Before I leave you, I should mention one upcoming release that almost has me wetting myself with excitement. On their own, Royal-T, DJ Q and Flava D are heavyweights of the current UK garage/bassline scene. Put them together, and the results are spectacular. Their debut album as the supergroup TQD is available for pre-order, prior to its release on 17th March – click play below and listen to “Vibsing Ting” right now! The night before its release, the trio are hosting an album launch party at XOYO, joined by the excellent Swindle and Skilliam – get tickets here, and find me somewhere on the dancefloor, with my eyes closed and my arms in the air.
Finally, if you have a spare two hours, go and listen to My Nu Leng’s Essential Mix before it disappears in just over a week. They embody everything I want to be as a DJ, and in terms of styles cover everything I love. I assure you you won’t be disappointed!
As always, if you discover something you love, or want to tell me what I’ve missed (or that I’m wrong!), then get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org. Again, most of the tracks mentioned above can be found in the Spotify playlist below. See you all in a month!