P110 – ‘P110 the Album’ (Review)

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OZ Records (2017)

After racking up over 100,000,000 views on their broadcasting channel, it was only right that P110 released an album to showcase their limitless pool of talent. Featuring a select bunch of MCs from all over the map, ‘P110 the Album’ demonstrates that a mixture of gritty and soulful soundscapes serves as the perfect platform to reconcile the various dialects, accents and flows that the UK scene has to offer.

Consisting of eight tracks, eight MCs (plus some accent vocals from Shadow) and a run-time that falls just short of half an hour, each member works overtime to make sure their personal stamp is left on the tape. The initial sequence – as you can imagine – is a declaration of biblical proportions. Jaykae, undoubtedly Birmingham’s most passionate MC, spits tenaciously amidst eerie choral lines and soft bongos, flipping the script on one of P110’s more popular digital features: ‘Hood’s hottest I’m the hottest in my hood / You best believe because I’m not misunderstood / You’re not a shotter not a thug’.

The following two tracks continue in a similar vein. Fredo, who dropped a monstrous trap hit in the form of ‘They Ain’t 100’ last year, delivers another gem for the DJs to shell down functions with. ‘Nothings New’, with its schizophrenic, arpeggiated synths and thundering bass, finds Fredo firing off more effortless bravado, ensuring each bar’s final syllable comes slapping down on the kick drum for added drama. Back in Brum, however, Tempa whips up some 140bpm sorcery for ‘Who Said’. Clanging cymbals, plucked strings and distorted bass generate an unparalleled urgency for his relentless vocal assault: ‘Went to the bar with ya ting / Says she wanna hold six shots like I carry the beatah / One of Birmingham’s ‘ardest spitters and I don’t need to do no feachahhh’.

Staying on the topic of Brum, Stardom puts in a solid performance on ‘Lizzy’. However, his efforts are slightly marred by the mix: Stardom’s vocal is a little too low and constantly jostles for space with the 808. As a result, attempting to dissect his lyrics amongst the raucous instrumentation becomes a pretty strenuous task. That being said, he’s clearly got bars.

Moving forward, however, Nottingham’s Splinta sands off the edges with his beautifully soulful cut ‘Getting Mine’. Featuring a gorgeous sample of Submotion Orchestra’s ‘All Yours’ (also flipped by Bryson Tiller), Splinta uses this poignant ambience as a vehicle to exhibit some of the darker elements of his psyche: ‘I’ve been stressed / I’ve been depressed and I’ve been broken / I ain’t lyin’/ Fallin’ down but I keep gettin’ back up and I keep on tryin’. Similarly, Ard Adz blesses us with ‘Thinking’ – a pensive, acoustic guitar-driven track that offers a refreshing counterpoint to some of the tape’s darker cuts.

The best two tracks on this thing, however, have to go to Aystar and Mist (it’s worth noting that Shadow on the Beat gets behind the boards for both of these). Hailing from Liverpool, Aystar’s throaty, warbly flow glides effortlessly over Shadow’s plucks and snares; never has such a softly spoken Scouser sounded so menacing! He can be funny too, though: ‘Pull up at the drive-thru at Maccies casually’. Mist, on the other hand, has his bouncy Brum-hop on lock, and doesn’t disappoint with ‘These Days’. Shadow dials in a bendy bassline which is juxtaposed perfectly with some pitched-up, hypnotic vocal yaps – and all Mist has to do is go in: ‘These days man are broke out there rude boy no salary (ahh) / Niggas can’t fuck with my squad nah nah can’t fuck with my faculty (nah nah nah nah) / Cah man a ride out real late rude boy boom bang cause casualties’.

What is it about Mist’s delivery that’s so mesmerising? Is it hearing a Birmingham MC spit with the articulacy that you’d expect from Skepta? Is it how comfortable he sounds behind the mic? Or perhaps it’s the catchy phrases he uses to pad out his cadences? It’s probably all of the above, however, one thing is for sure: Mist and Shadow on the beat are a match made in sonic heaven.

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Drake – ‘More Life’ (Review)

more life
OVO Sound / YME / Cash Money / Republic (2017)

With the arrival of ‘More Life’, Drake’s debut playlist, a lot of the questions regarding Aubrey’s alliance with British musicians have been answered. It’s not about OVO expansion. It’s not a question of whether the UK ‘needs’ his help or not; ‘More Life’ demonstrates that the relationship, and what it has culminated in, is entirely symbiotic.

But to think that ‘More Life’ is primarily concerned with the UK would be blinkered (and besides, if you want to explore this aspect further – Semtex has you covered with that and a lot more). With ‘More Life’, Drizzy spreads his musical net wider than ever before: grime, hip-hop, pop, house, dancehall, R&B and British drill all coexist on one project. And geographically, he’s on some Michael Palin shit; Drizzy enlists artists and sonics from all over the world. That’s the beauty of a labelling it a playlist – you don’t have to do anything crazy thematically, you don’t have to worry about the run-time. It’s a vehicle for exploration and fun, and ‘More Life’ demonstrates an abundance of both.

Just take the first half of the project. We start somewhere between Atlanta and OVO HQ with ‘Free Smoke’, moving swiftly on to meet Giggs in London for ‘No Long Talk’, then to some lounge in Ibiza (‘Passionfruit’), South Africa (‘Get It Together’), Nigeria (‘Madiba Riddim’), Jamaica (‘Blem’) and finally back to London for Sampha’s poignant ‘4422’. For this stretch of the album, Drake becomes a musical chameleon, deftly altering his dialect, attitude, cadences and melodies to suit each cultural adventure.

The pinnacle, however, has to be the Jorja Smith and Black Coffee-assisted ‘Get It Together’. Black Coffee dials in a wonderfully minimal 4×4 beat with pulsing polyrhythms, and litters the track delicately with African percussion and ominous piano stabs. What makes this track so special, though, is how sparingly Drake utilises himself: Jorja’s gorgeous, husky vocals glide solo over the beat for a good minute-and-a-half before Aubrey joins, whose harmonisation with Jorja on the hypnotic hook is made all the more mesmerising by his prior absence.

What’s really important about these songs, and the whole playlist for that matter, is that Drake is having fun. And when Drizzy’s having fun – everyone’s having fun. On ‘VIEWS’, though, despite its staggering commercial success, Drake was playing defence. His bars were cagey, bitter and worryingly introspective, and he acknowledges this more than once on ‘More Life’. As ‘Can’t Have Everything’ draws to a close, Aubrey’s mother has some choice words for him: “I’m a bit concerned about the negative tone I’m hearing in your voice these days… That attitude will just hold you back in this life”.

Similarly, on the project’s closer ‘Do Not Disturb’ – where he manages to exhibit more about his psychology than most rappers could in an album – Drake offers, ‘I was an angry yout when I was writing ‘VIEWS’/ Saw a side of myself that I just never knew’. This kind of apologetic reflection is what made Drake so universally likeable in the first place, however, it doesn’t stop him from throwing the odd barb here and there. ‘How you let the kid fighting ghost-writing rumours turn you to a ghost?’, he taunts on ‘Free Smoke’ (obviously aimed at Meek), but when Boi-1da’s drums are slapping and Drake’s four-minutes deep into a vocal assault – you let him off.

Anyway, moving on, what other benefits does Drake reap from labelling his project a playlist? Well, given the digitalisation of music and the rise of streaming services, it demonstrates a fair degree of business acumen from the OVO boss, but more importantly, it allows him to delegate some of the workload to a generous array of featured artists. Skepta makes the most of his two-minute slot by detonating his self-titled interlude, Giggs bludgeons his verses on ‘KMT’ and ‘No Long Talk’, and Kanye and PARTY feature back-to-back on ‘Glow’ and ‘Since Way Back’ respectively for the project’s final quarter – generating a dreamy ten-minute slot.

Young Thug and Drizzy’s chemistry, however, steals the show. On both ‘Sacrifices’ and ‘Ice Melts’, Thugga shuns the vocal filters, trading bars and melodies with Drake as if they were frequent collaborators (it’s a shame the whole Cash Money drama stopped that from happening). But my favourite’s got to be ‘Ice Melts’; raps and melodies blur into an impressive feat of vocal acrobatics, as the pair skip gleefully over Supah Mario’s warm, bouncy production. I can only hope their musical and personal relationship goes from strength to strength.

So, in short, ‘More Life’ is about a global artist generating a global sound. Drake is an omnivorous consumer of music, and his music is consumed by pretty much every demographic imaginable. Acknowledging and reconciling these two facts, then, is Drake’s master stroke.