Like the rabid Brexiteer I dream of being, I’ve decided to focus entirely on the UK this month… It’s basically an MC takeover because there have been so many excellent homegrown cuts coming from all directions – street videos from the booming afrobeats scene levelling and freestyles from grime guys smashing it down – that I don’t have time or space to focus on anywhere else; it’s hard enough to look further than London right now. Anyhow, straight down to work.
IRAYMVMT vs Coast to Coast – #BieMu
The latest from Jaij Holland starts off typically fire – he kicks off with a trademark aggy stab pattern that’s all about hyping the dance, before unleashing those relentless claps. This track dropped after the IRAYMVMT kicked off a fake beef with Coast to Coast – aka the Black Butter signed Kwamz & Flava (and I’m assuming it’s their recent signing that stops them using the Kwamz & Flava name on this release) – so, anyway Jaij’s crew traded twitter insults with Kwamz and Flava, with all sorts of sidemen joining in, then after getting a bit of hype kicked off, they went and dropped #BieMu and revealed they were mates all along. I dunno if it’s corny or genius, but I guess you gotta do what you can to stand out in an increasingly crowded field. Most important, the beat on this is crazy – having spoken to Jaij, I know he’s got a million more in his locker – man doesn’t seem to give a shit about what anyone else is producing – while other producers are jumping on the sound Mr Eazi’s killing it with (See Skintight) Jaij’s just pounding out his own uptempo style.
Belly Squad x Abra Cadabra – Pick Up the Phone
I think we can all agree that Pick Up the Phone was Young Thug’s finest moment this year – and Thugga’s had a lot of fine moments. The track should, in theory, be unremixable, but that isn’t accounting for Belly Squad’s unfaltering Midas Touch. The reason they works so well reinterpreting the cut is that Young Thug’s original autotuned warble was so close to afrobeats in the first place- the trademark Belly Squad melancholic melody slots into the beat perfectly – it sounds like it was made for them. Their delivery here is kind of anti-grime, a whisper of menace and brag that has way more impact than any amount of overcooked holler. Unsurprisingly Abra Cadabra also tears it down – he won the Rated Award for best song earlier this month, and I’d say the smart money is on that track- Robbery- also snatching a surprise MOBO.
Ghost & Yus (#CXCV) – B4TR
This is my favourite freestyle for ages – the bars are pure good time pirate radio nonsense, the beat is a perfect flip of Gotta Get Thru This that doesn’t try too hard, and everyone sounds like they’re having the best time putting it together. This is one of those cuts that’s offering pure Easter Eggs to the long-time garage fan; just naming the origins of the classic bars Ghost & Yus are pinching is half the fun of playing the track. #CXCV have spent the past year getting known for their afrobeats sound (and having a fairly good natured beef with fellow Hackney crew #NSG, which I wrote about earlier here), right here they’re demonstrating the strength in the UK scene atm – MCs are getting to the point where they switch between styles and sounds without dropping the ball, and that kind of depth = careers that can grow.
Nick Hook ft Novelist – Can’t Tell Me Nothing
One for the suburban boyracer crew, Can’t Tell Me Nothing is pure muscle music. It’s made from trappy 808 kicks boshing under fidgety, grime melodies. Producer Nick Hook is a New Yorker who’s got a grip on making a sound that speaks to the UK – there’s minor key, multi layered synth work that nods to classic rave, and a breakdown featuring interviews taken from the UK riots – tbh it’s pretty depressing that riot footage can still be mined – 5 years on and it’s not like things have got better in intervening years. Nov is on standard form, spitting reload bars like his life depends on it. I’m still hoping he goes back to jumping on the weirdo beats that made Take Time a hit, bnut til then this is still hitting the spot.
Awate – Shine Ancient EP
And stepping back from the dancefloor, here’s Awate proving that UK Hip Hop is banging rn. The 5 tracks on Shine Ancient address four groundless cases the police have fought and lost against Awate, and his reflections on what their attempts to criminalise young black men mean in a wider context. The result is a mix of classic story-telling and bombs of knowledge delivered in Awate’s versatile, laidback flow. His voice switches between rapping and singing with ease, and his hold on the fundamentals of rhyming are evident throughout- on Fever he begins a verse “I was raised in the city where you don’t know who to trust/ where the mayor makes you pay a tenner just to get the bus”, keeps rhyming that last syllable for another 16, then finishes- as the beat drops away- on “I went to school, exclusion drove me nuts// My skin colour means I’m always wearing cuffs.” It’s klaxon sounds and rewind time. The beats, pulled together by Dcypha’s Turkish are dusty, sample-built boombap – the kind of sound that crusty old miseries call ‘real hip hop’ (we’ll have none of that divisive shit here, thanks) – they’re full of satisfying crackles and plenty of Stax soul horn blasts. Shine Ancient is a proper EP – cohesive in sound and content – and Awate is looking like one to watch. I sense a sick album in the pipeline.