As 2019 draws to an end, in this post I will be reviewing three of my most favourite albums to have come from this year. (I am aware it’s only November and 2019 hasn’t quite ended – I’m living life risky and publishing this though and in the event that an exceptional album drops in the next month, I shall revise and update this post).
If you know me personally, you’ll know that I am a very big fan of rap. A 12-year-old Fahmida got her first taste of rap with some good old Eminem and between the ages of 13-15, I was being musically nurtured on the likes of J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar.
The music scene has changed a lot since those times. Grime particularly, has in recent years really come to the fore and become an eminent part of London culture, with artists such as Skepta and Stormzy having paved the way for grime to enter into the mainstream.
I’ll be looking at the work of one very notable grime artist, Kano, a little later in this post but for the moment I’ll begin with Dave, a rapper who is making waves in the music industry.
With his debut album, ‘Psychodrama’, Dave is one of the biggest names to have emerged from 2019. Aged just 20, the South London rapper has established himself as one of the UK’s greatest musical talents.
His 11-track album is an exploration of themes of identity and upbringing, with the artist using the form of a conversation with his therapist to present to us what is at the crux of it, an account of life as Dave. That is – life behind the fame, life behind the great feats of success he has reached at the tender age of 20 and; how one adjusts to it all.
Overall, ‘Psychodrama’ is less so a stand-up-and-dance-to album and more a sit-down-and-have-a-deep-think-about album. It is distinctive in the rawness of it all. It is powerful in the candour of Dave’s brilliant lyricism. His opening-up of what it is to be him.
What it is to have grown up in Streatham where opportunities are rare and fairness is rarer still. What it’s like to have grown up with a brother in jail and in a single-parent family which he explains in ‘Screwface Capital’ as meaning that: “I ain’t got a memory of when dad was around/ Still a child when I turned man of the house”.
It isn’t often that as listeners we come away from having listened to an album feeling as though we really understand an artist. But that’s what Dave does – he helps us understand.
And there’s bravery in that. Because in having produced this album, Dave hasn’t gone with the easy option of rapping about ‘bitches’, sex, money and drugs or any of the glamour of being the successful superstar that he is.
He raps about the less beautiful side of it all. His trauma. His struggles. Real life.
It’s tough stuff. And an incredibly bold move for an artist who could have easily released an album with club-bangers and made his way to the top of the charts that way. Instead, he opened up his heart and poured out his raw emotions in a most thought-provoking album and gave it to his listeners.
Everything about ‘Psychodrama’, much like the artist who produced it, is bold and brave. And I’m so glad Dave has made it to the top of the charts with this album and gained the recognition he so rightfully deserves for ‘Psychodrama’.
More recently, I have been blown away by the work of one of the pioneers and cult legends of grime. Reminding us that grime is very much in the best of hands, Kano returned in August of this year with his sixth studio album: ‘Hoodies All Summer’.
And the best bit about it all? Kano didn’t even just bless us once this year, he blessed us twice over.
Having released his album in August, a month later, Kano, ever the gift that keeps giving, returned to our screens as Sully in Netflix’s production of ‘Top Boy’. I could sit here all day and write about the brilliance of the multi-talented artist’s performance but, I’ll spare you the digression. I have a job to do here – I’m reviewing Kano’s album!
After his MOBO award-winning album ‘Made in the Manor’, one of the most respected and influential grime MCs in the game, Kano, has, after a three-year hiatus, made his return to the scene in 2019 with his highly-anticipated album ‘Hoodies All Summer’.
As fans, we have been waiting for his return since the drop of the music video to ‘Trouble’/ ‘Class of Deja’. If you haven’t seen it already, I’d highly recommend watching it because the music video alone speaks volumes about what is to be expected from ‘Hoodies All Summer’.
And what’s that, you might ask?
Well, this is no ordinary artist and no ordinary album. This is Kano and he’s here, “live and direct from the belly of the beast”, with a message.
In ‘Good Youtes Walk Amongst Evil’, Kano informs us that he’s here on a mission, serving us music with meaning: “Life of a lyricist in the times that we’re living in/ Gotta speak mind of the biggest things/ Shine is irrelevant, the grind is imperative”.
You see right from the very beginning of the album, in Track 1, ‘Free Years Later’, while he essentially fills us in on what’s been happening in the last three years, Kano immediately draws attention to the fact that institutional racism is still a problem and that it’s still ongoing.
“Look how they raided Stormzy”, he says, making a point of the fact that even when black artists reach pinnacles of success (much like Stormzy with his headline show at Glastonbury), they continue to be wrongfully persecuted by the police. And yet again, in ‘Teardrops’, he gives us the example of Lebron James: “If they can spray paint “Nigga” on Lebron James crib/ That means a black card ain’t shit when that’s the shade your face is”.
This theme of questioning and highlighting oppression and a lack of justice is prevalent throughout the album, which on the whole, is in essence a social commentary on how the black community have been, and are continuing to be, failed by the police and those in power. In fact, excerpts from the news, riots and political activists have even been included in the tracks, pushing forward a powerful message on the warzone that has become of our streets in inner-city London and the consequential need for change and accountability from those at the top.
While for some, the album might be too much in the sense that Kano comes at us with a direct truth of the situation at hand, ultimately no matter how difficult it may be to listen to such truths, we’ve got to be grateful that someone is doing something about it. And there’s no-one better than Kano for the job, a true pioneer of grime, using the medium of music to push forward an important and much needed message of a need for change.
Oh and, (for those who have yet to listen to the album in particular), I should point out that just because Kano is rapping about hard-hitting, deep topics, that isn’t to say his music and that this album is one that you just sit down, despair about and have a little cry to.
It’s a call to attention. And a celebration too, of the resilience of the black community in tracks such as ‘Can’t Hold We Down’.
Have a listen to ‘Can’t Hold We Down’, will you, and let me know if you too, are having the most fun in the mornings, doing your make-up and belting out a: “Everybody ody-ody-ody/ Needs somebody ody-ody-ody/ Everybody ody-ody-ody/ Needs somebody, somebody to love”.
And last but not least in the Top 3 Albums of 2019, we have Wretch 32 with his album ‘Upon Reflection’.
In comparison to Kano’s very didactic album which I’ve reviewed ahead of this, I feel that ‘Upon Reflection’, though it is certainly reflective, consists of slightly more light-hearted tracks. And that’s probably why, for me, it is, of the three albums I’ve reviewed in this post, my go-to album.
For instance, the upbeat track ‘All In’, with a feature from Burna Boy, is a fun track. Burna Boy brings us into the music with a “Yay, yeah, yay, yeah/ Yay, yeah, yay, yeah (Ay)/ Ay/ Ay/ Ay/ Ay/ Ay” before Wretch comes in with “Yeah I love you long time, love you long time, yeah/ Get weak in the knees when I get a strong whine up”. It’s just a very non-serious, sensual song sure to put you in a good mood, especially if you wake up cranky in the mornings. (Definitely not speaking about myself here – cranky, what even is that)?
The same can be said of ‘Spin Around’ and ‘Visiting Hours’ which have the same light-hearted vibes. They’re tracks that I gallivant about the house to in the mornings, with only half an eyelid’s worth of makeup to show for myself as I forget I have work to go to.
If there’s one track to bring me right back down to earth though, it is ‘Mummy’s Boy’ – one of the more introspective and insightful songs in the album.
“Mummy’s Boy”, a phrase typically used to make fun of a boy/man who is excessively attached to his mother, has been turned on its head so to speak, and used by Wretch 32 to mean something empowering. In fact, the 3-minute track is actually an ode to the women in his life, with the artist repeating one line in particular throughout the song, championing his Mum – “Call my Mama Zeus cause she’s worthy”.
The lyrics are self-explanatory as to why he holds women in high-esteem and it’s clear that the respect he has for women is as a direct result of his upbringing: “Five women I grew up with gave me strong vision”.
In this song, Wretch 32 essentially turns around and says “I am a Mummy’s boy – yes, she raised me, was both Mum and Dad to me and; protected me. And in turn, that’s made me who I am”. (I mean not in so many words – that wouldn’t be very catchy now, would it aha)?
Instead, the actual lyrics that tell us this are: “Became the man of the house and replaced the man missing/ That’s when you saw Mummy’s boy and saw there’s a Dad in him”. And in the following lines where he states ““Now I got a daughter and she’s Daddy’s girl/ Tell her she’s important cause’s she’s Daddy’s girl/ Social media won’t effect you like the man himself”, there’s a powerful message.
Rather boldly it tells us that even though he wasn’t raised by a Father, his Mother’s nurturing made him the female-respecting man and ever-present Father that he is now. There’s hope in that. And delivered in an album consisting of other very catchy songs, with the most brilliant of instrumentals, it’s clear to me that ‘Upon Reflection’ is a stand-out album which is why it is deserving of its place in my Top 3 Albums of 2019.