The evolution of the Black British Sound

The MOBOs awards have come and gone, meaning one thing…Award season has finally kicked off. I feel this is the perfect time to reflect on what I call the ‘Black Sound’. Considering how interesting it is a time for music, we should go back to understand where we’re headed. We have come a long way from our roots.

I’m a 90’s baby, and although I’m knowledgeable more on the 2000’s, I still look back in the archives and appreciate the music that made my era iconic. In order to fully appreciate what was then and how it is now, we should go back a little more.

Black music, I feel, in the UK really came alive in the 80’s. Soul was all the talk. We heralded the artistry of Sade as she carried out her dominance. Her 1984 debut album went to #2 in the UK, won her a BRIT award for Best Album and her subsequent tour was the beginning of her international acclaim. Tim Westwood had cracked mainstream radio and was determined to broadcast the best in ‘urban music’ to the masses. Soul II Soul had massive breakthrough R&B hits “Keep on Movin'” and “Back to Life” in 1989. Considered to have opened the door to the mainstream for black British R&B and Soul artists. They got nominated for Soul Train awards, BRIT awards and even won a couple Grammys.

The 90’s were a strong continuation on the foundation of the 80’s. Omar, Sade and Soul II Soul’s careers really took off. Not only that but Black music within the UK is finally getting mainstream appeal. R&B took centre stage. We could see an array of Black artists being awarded BRIT awards for their quality art including Seal and Gabrielle doing the double in ’94 and ’97. Kanya King had launched the MOBO Awards in 1996 which grew to be the premier music award show which celebrated those who created Black. It shone a light on the up-coming like Shola Ama and recognised the hard work of big names like Beverly Knight.

The turn of the century I feel is where Rap rose in prominence. Hail Wiley, Dizzee Rascal and Lethal Bizzle in being some of the frontrunners in the inception of Grime music. The tenacity of the art form attracted the youth, the forgotten and the whole underground. Mainstream media attention followed and the 2002 and 2003 Mercury Prizes for Ms Dynamite and Dizzee Rascal meant people were now standing up. Let’s not forget R&B now. Lemar? Craig David? Estelle? Our artists were cracking the mainstream and making waves in the States. If 22 Brit award and 6 Grammy award nominations are nothing to go by on how greatly R&B had developed, then I don’t know what will.

So here we are, at the end of the sixth year into the decade. British music has taken a move completely against the status quo. The rise of the independents has shown the mass that you don’t need a major label to ‘make noise’. Skepta followed in Dizzee’s footsteps 13 years later in winning a Mercury Prize. Krept & Konan cracked the top 20 charts with the mixtape ‘Young Kingz’ and Stormzy peaked at #8 with his single ‘Shut Up’. All of this was done with no major label backing. Couple this with Grime once again returning to the forefront and subsequently the new style of ‘Trap’ evolving from the underground. The likes of Section Boyz, 67 and Harlem Spartans have truly captured the minds of the youth in an N.W.A-esque fashion. Rap has truly stolen the show.

Now this, this is the sound of Black Britain.

#ShakkaTakesKOKO – A night for British music

Thursday 15th September was the date and KOKO was the place to be as the talented Shakka graced the stage and gave a headline show worth remembering. The MOBO award winner held nothing back giving fans – The Tribe – new music, surprises upon surprises and above all else an experience. I myself was in attendance with my own ‘tribe’ and our 13 strong group positioned ourselves right at the front so we could fully enjoy the show; and cli4whivaaeyhxhenjoy we most definitely did.

Shout outs are in order. First, to the DJ for the night Chuckie Online who kept the crowd alive inside while the countdown was on till the main event. Great mix of old school (some songs I hadn’t heard in a long time) and the new school had us vibing so you couldn’t help dance. Even treated to a cheeky dance cameo from the House of Alt guys. You guys rock!

Jay Prince was the sole opening act of the night. An upcoming London rapper is versatile, multi-talented and a producer in his own right. His brand of chilled Hip-Hop is 90’s style beats is matched with his modern flow. Reminds me of Hawk House or Little Simz. I’ll definitely check out his music.

On to the main event. The moment he opened with the intro to the Lost Boys, the crowd were all singing in unison but the moment he touched the stage, the Tribe ERUPTED. The energy was there from the get go and all the songs were just taken to a whole new level thanks to the band. Did I mention, there was a full live band. Yeah, he did that.
Shakka took us on a musical journey. His impressive catalogue is full of hits and so the nostalgia was in full force. We went back to Shakka Crown Affair and when he dropped Take Our Time, that was special. That was the first Shakka song I ever heard and had me hooked ever since. The Shakkapella POPPED OFF too. He sang the Somebody I Used To Know / Climax mash up and First surprise of the night was bringing out Vula Malinga – who sang it with him – and boy did it get hot. Her vocals and runs were giving us all life.

Keeping with the creative vibe, his second surprise was a very intimate cover of Coldplay’s Magic which then flowed into Controlla, which then flowed into Ojuelegba. It was just so cool how he brought the songs to life and make it work with an acoustic touch.
And in light of the recent police injustice, the sentiment in singing A Change Is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke did not go unnoticed. Heart-warming to say the least.

For the record, Just Want To See You is my favourite Shakka song. I would have fainted when it came on but I had to keep composure. Shout out to Mafro who killed the guitar solo and pretty much the entire show. Now it wouldn’t be a Shakka show without his biggest hits and if bringing out Frisco for Walking With Elephants wasn’t enough, he brought out JME to shut down Say Nada. Third surprise. I think at that point my eardrums were close to bursting and I stepped on 3 people in the moshpit. It was that intense.

 

At the end of it all, Junior the Drummer took his shirt off, I lost my voice, there’s a lot of new music to look forward to and Shakka is one of the best to do what he does.  I won’t lie, if you weren’t there you truly missed out. Nonetheless, onwards and upwards for Mr. 2K’s in 2017.

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Growing Over Life by Wretch 32

It’s finally arrived. It has been 5 years in the making but Wretch 32’s latest solo offering, in the form of Growing Over Life is an album that artists and fans in the UK ‘urban’ scene alike have been heavily anticipating and doesn’t fail to deliver.

Sonically, it’s an album that differs from the current status quo. British culture is at the moment riding high to the popular sounds of Grime and Trap, while this album takes a more Rap/Hip-Hop route which makes it all the more relevant. Thanks primarily go to the production team of Mikey Muzik & Mokeyzz as well as others. However, there are R&B/Pop and Drum & Bass undertones with songs like the successful lead single ‘6 Words’ and ‘All a Dream’ with Knox Brown on guest vocals. Both are upbeat and matched with soft, slow, soulful tracks like ‘Open Conversation & Mark Duggan’ the album takes you on a real journey.

Content-wise, it’s what you should expect from Wretch. Well thought-out punchlines and notable flow. Not many do it better. Nevertheless, at the very core we have Wretch discussing the important issues. ‘Pressure’ is a narrative which talks about just that – the struggles of [his own] Urban upbringing; family, friends and responsibilities. ‘Liberation’ is a war cry fuelled by the racial & social injustice and police brutality that exists within the UK. ’Something’ is a modern-day street serenade and accompanied with pianos, violins & Laura Mvula’s vocals it pulls at the heartstrings just like any other great R&B ballad would. Above all, it is Wretch 32’s storytelling ability which allows you the listener to sympathise with the protagonist.

The featured guests really make this album an eclectic album. Dancehall star Kranium, MOBO award-winning Shakka and Brit Award winner Emeli Sandé as well as those mentioned already. Not seeing all his previous singles make the final track-listing was surprising and while some may not like or appreciate the contemporary style, this is definitely an all-to-important release. It differs to Avelino and his joint release of last year Young Fire, Old Flame but it will go down as a classic album certainly.

Album haul? Losing My Religion, You’re a Man Now Boy and more.

Recently I went on a shopping spree. For music. I decided that I was able to spend a little and treat myself for managing my finances well and don’t regret it because they were quality purchases. I don’t buy music unless I have previewed the release so I know and believe in the quality of music. Here’s a break-down of some of what I decided to buy and I’ll try convince you that it’s worth buying too.

LED EP – Kierra Sheard

The “Princess of Gospel’s” follow-up project to her successful Graceland album is exactly that. A continuation of the new musical direction she’s following, a pop/rock concept with modern R&B nuances. With the right mix and appeal, it is keepi46170-ledng her artistry on-point and adding to her versatility as an artist. In my opinion, there are a few quality songs that I imagine in my head have the right flavour to have commercial success, ‘LED’ and ‘Real Friend’ are some of my personal favourites. I would go right ahead and blast those songs while cruising in my car (once I get one) or play while enjoying a workout. Up-tempo, Up-beat and Uplifting to the soul. Definitely a refreshing sound to the majestic, instrument-laden, powerhouse sound of contemporary Gospel right now but at the same time, she hasn’t abandoned her foundation. A worthwhile, inexpensive buy.

You’re a Man Now, Boy – Raleigh Ritchie

With acting credits in Adulthood and Game of Thrones, Ritchie’s first full length offering to the world You’re a Man Now, Boy is a significant contribution to repertoire of the new age, quality British music that has the identity to compete with the very best. A British man, who sings/raps British with songs that are contextually British, what more can you ask for? His unique vocals go hand in hand with the experimental, alternative R&B sound the album has, with a good mix of radio hits, club tracks, commercial singles, festival favourites and ballads. My stand-out track has to ‘Keep It Simple’ with Grime heavyweight Stormzy and is the only song with a feature on the entire 18-track album. I compare Raleigh Ritchie’s artistry as being the lovechild of early Kanye and Coldplay. With a real eclectic group working on the production, I believe there is something for everyone on this album in the sense that if people genuinely give this album a chance, they would be vibing along to it at the end.

Losing My Religion – Kirk Franklin

The figurehead for modern Gospel, Kirk Franklin’s latest, Losing My Religion is his first project in four years. Fans were greatly anticipating, especially with the almost spontaneous release of the soul-stirring lead single ‘Wanna Be Happy?’ and they were not disappointed. I only had to listen to it through once to be convinced that it is Grammy worthy. The album sonically and content-wise takes you on a journey. It addresses themes of facing and overcoming adversity, redemption & honesty while encapsulating the authentic realities of many people in America and the whole world. My favourite song has to be ‘When’ which features two of arguably the best living vocalists in existence, Kim Burrell and Lalah Hathaway. Anyone who appreciates vocals, will love this one. Production-wise, the album embodies a whole manner of instruments and sounds which work together pleasantly for the listeners enjoyment. Relevant yet an ode to Kirk Franklin as a musician and his legacy.

Charlene – Tweet

It has been more than 10 years since Tweet last released an album but it’s been worth the wait. “Gorgeous” were my first impressions of her new album Charlene (which is her first name) as a true homage to real R&B flows throughout its entirety. Famed for her international hit ‘Oops (Oh My)’ featuring good friend Missy Elliot back in 2002, Tweet’s https://i1.wp.com/static.spin.com/files/2016/02/tweet-charlene-new-album-missy-elliott-somebody-else-will-compressed.jpegartistry has come a long way since then. Themes of Love, Intimacy and overcoming adversity is passionately paired with the sounds of guitars and pianos, the foundation of good R&B and Soul. Missy Elliot happens to feature on what is my favourite song on the album ‘Somebody Else Will’ produced by none other than Timbaland himself; R&B arrangements with a Hip-Hop beat equaling another Timbaland classic. Any appreciator of R&B, Soul, vocals or real instruments will appreciate the realness and emotions in every song she wrote and fall in love with this album like I did. Grammy worthy.

 

A couple things I learnt from #TyeInLondon

Just over a week ago, I was privileged to see one of my long-time favourite artists, Tye Tribbett perform in London. For those who are unaware, Tye Tribbett is a Grammy Award winning gospel singer-songwriter and musician hailing from the US. He, along with his full band and choir, graced the Lighthouse Theatre in south London over two nights and I (against my own rationale at the time) went to both nights. It was definitely an experience I will never forget and the same can be said for those I went with. Being the analytical person that I am, I did take some things away with me from the experience which I will share with you.

1.      Tye is a performer

If you have watched the many YouTube videos featuring him you will know as well as I that Tye Tribbett is quite the performer. If you haven’t, go and search him up. Like seriously, go do it NOW. You won’t regret it. From the running, jumping, screaming, marching; His energy is electric and very infectious and he and his choir command every inch of the stage. Evidently a veteran at the game. I was so tired after the second night from all the praising. Then he had the audacity to do like two more encores. Where the energy comes from I don’t know but obviously the feeling you get from being on stage is next to none.

2.      Tye is a worshiper

As much as the performance element is necessary to be an artist live in concert, for Gospel artists in particular, the ministry is just as or if not more important. For the moments of high impact energy praise, there were also moments of powerful, out-pouring worship. There were moments where the worship engulfed Tye to the point where he would get emotional and literally bow down and surrender to the Spirit. On the first night, he literally performed back to back worship songs and even brought out Sonnie Badu at one point for an unexpected, impromptu mic toss (I didn’t even see him around and I was standing pretty much at the front). On the second night, he literally stopped and preached to the crowd during worship about not letting your situation consume you taking your focus away from God. He poured out everything he had and we gladly received.

3.      Tye has a clear standard of excellence

I can’t talk about Tye Tribbett and not mention his amazing team. First of all, his choir are all incredible singers in their own right. On the second night, almost every single one had their own solo, some were unanticipated but all smashed it vocally. It’s not just about the runs but their effortless execution, understanding of the music and the moment and also their worship vibe which made each solo powerful. They could all have music careers and they could all be successful, that’s how talented they are. And the band. THE BAND. The band were on point from start to finish. I do expect that if you are working with Tye Tribbett but boy, it was special. From when his keyboardist Brandon Jones gets a solo and slays vocally, you know that there’s something special there. The passion, the flawless execution and the ability to carry the crowd like they did.

4.      We all need to step our game up

Having the chance to talk to Thaddeus, Tye’s brother and bassist, (Mega talented and has a voice on him) and also his drummer and seeing how happy yet chilled they were about it all after the show got me in deep reflection. Sometimes we get too overwhelmed when these artists come over and do what essentially is normal to them. It’s their job of course but even before it became their job, they put it effort and countless hours working hard on their craft so they can be more than average. And it’s their standard of excellence which is common thing in America too and that’s partly why we in the UK idolise them so much. We, as singers or artists or musicians, can be on that level; we just need to break away from the comfort of mediocrity. We can’t be content with the idea that “it’s okay as long as they are doing it for God”. Definitely sure God the almighty and exceptional does not condone ‘Average’. There were times during the concert where I would look behind me into the crowd and I could see and identify many UK musicians and artists at the back. As much as they were vibing and enjoying the show, I am sure that they were also taking notes mentally and learning from the masters. I know that we are great and are in the process of becoming greater. It’s evident from some of the supporting acts who opened for Tye (word to Naomi Parchment, Matthew Allen and Faith Child). I am positive we will get there soon though I do think occasionally we need nights like this to bring the US and UK so we can learn from each other but to also just remind and keep the fire alive.

The Long Way Home by Krept & Konan

‘The Long Way Home’ is the latest release from British rap duo Krept & Konan. It serves as their first major project since becoming signed to Virgin EMI and their follow up from their highly successful Young Kingz mixtape. With guest features from the likes of Ed Sheeran and Skepta to YG and Rick Ross, the album is definitely making a statement as a major step up and rightly so. The project entered the Official Album Charts at #2, emphasising the power of having a movement in music but that is a post for another day.

One thing that stood out for me was the fact that despite the big names, there was still that ‘British/London sound’ that ran through the whole album, from the production to the flow to their famed adlibs which puts to rest the idea that they would sell out when going major.

One stand out track for me is ‘Drifting Away’. The solemn vibe created by the piano, especially at the very end, is perfect for the passion and realness expressed through the lyrics. Much like ‘Because of You’, they address the pressures of going major with the struggles of staying true to the streets.

Another stand out track ‘Certified’, featuring Rick Ross. Having him on the track increases the profile of this particular song. It seems like more than anything that this was one song that they really had fun with. You can’t help but notice the many punchlines and popular culture references, something that they are famed for. This is one ‘turn up track’ that would be live in the clubs. For Jeremih’s vocals and the bass laden beat, ‘Freak Of The Week’ is another track that should be played in the clubs and its popularity reflects its successful performance on the singles chart.

Another thing you can’t help but notice is that unlike Young Kings, you find the duo singing more on their songs, ‘Think About It’ being an example. I can’t help but feel that this is a result of going ‘mainstream’ and being partly influenced by the likes of Drake.

It’s not a perfect album. There were songs that I couldn’t help but feel to skip, ‘Do It For The Gang’ with Wiz Khalifa was one of them. It just sounded like every other typical Hip-Hop song and I don’t think it suits the theme. ‘I Don’t Know’ with Rebecca Garton isn’t particularly a bad song but it in my opinion can’t compare to ‘Dreams’ with Ed Sheeran and ‘Roses’ with Emeli Sandé.

Above all, it is an album where you can hear the passion that’s gone into it by them. On top of that, it’s an album that does navigate through the sounds of mainstream and of the hood. While some of the songs are suspect to sounding dated and stereotypical, the more thought-provoking songs on the album make it a good release from the South London duo, one that they should be proud of and one which should make people take these jokers a little more seriously.

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Anomaly by Lecrae

‘Anomaly’ is the 2014 release from Grammy Award winning rapper Lecrae. This release serves as his seventh studio album and his fourth body of work in the last 3 years. Despite the minimal features compared to his last album, Anomaly performed well commercially, debuting at #1 on the Billboard 200 and listening to the album in its entirety, one can understand why.

The album has an underlying theme musically, taking you on a journey of big production and orchestration which you can pick up from the first track ‘Outsiders’. It entices the listener in with symphony of violins and the grand piano right before the hip-hop beat comes through, something any rap fan would appreciate. The fusion of the two brings the best of both worlds. ‘Outsiders’ has to be one of my favourite songs. ‘Fear’ also follows a similar path with the chorus bassline.

Lecrae has always been one for messages that make you think and ‘Welcome to America’ does exactly that. It is a thought provoking narrative into the idea of “The American Dream” seen through different eyes. It’s a song so relevant to the times with the current Western social, economic and racial tensions.

“Say I Won’t” featuring label-mate Andy Mineo and ‘Nuthin’ are what I’d call “Turn-up tracks”. Every rapper has one. From the sweet bass to the fast-slow alternating flows, these are the sorts of songs you could play anywhere; cruising in the car, at the gym, in the club.

All I Need Is You is the one song on the album dedicated to his one very special lady. A modern day rappers serenade, the steel pan-like sound gives it a summer feel. You could play at your barbeque.

‘Good Bad Ugly’ is Lecrae at his most vulnerable and transparent. He details his imperfections and his story of struggles with abuse, dealing with abortion and promiscuity. All through emphasising the no one is perfect, especially Christians, and no one has to be in order to be a good person. More than the emotion portrayed in the musicality, he becomes more than just a rapper but a man who we all can relate to.

‘Messengers’ featuring for KING & COUNTRY is a great final song. It rounds off the album with a send-off vibe reminding listeners about ‘The Great Commission’ and the marching vibe created through the song with the drums is very uplifting.

You can tell that a lot of thought and planning had gone into the creation of ‘Anomaly’, musically as well as lyrically. It justifies its chart performance and the Grammy, Stellar, Billboard and BET Award wins.  The lack of features and big names makes it more personal. You get more of Lecrae the man as opposed to Lecrae the rapper with his Church Clothes mixtapes. Church Clothes and its sequel served its purpose in generating discussion and Anomaly is now setting the tone for future talk.

Wrong or Right by Kwabs

First post. Thought i’d start it off with a review I wrote a year ago…Enjoy.

‘Wrong or Right EP’ is the debut release from London based singer Kwabs. It is a 4 track EP with no featuring artists and includes a remix of the title track. I had only heard the name Kwabs here and there on places like MTV and so came under the assumption that he was an upcoming rapper like Nick Brewer and Isaac Danquah. So I was stunned when pressed play and listened to the title track and heard vocals that I could only compare to a ‘Marvin Gaye/Jacob Banks fusion’. It was a pleasant surprise nonetheless.

‘Wrong or Right’ is the first track of the EP. The electro/pop feel is significant but it’s really the powerful R&B vocals that will really pull you into the song like it did with me. There is a certain groove that builds up which should have you vibing along towards the end. It stands very well as a possible promotional single. I wouldn’t necessarily call it upbeat but it is definitely more upbeat than the song that follows in track-list order.

‘Last Stand’ is the second track. From the immediate onset I was able to feel the gloom that song carried to it, from the vocals, lyrics and production. There is more of a yearning in the vocals which is portrayed in the song and emphasised by the lyrics. The slow beat adds to this gloom. I can go as far to picture a video concept. Dark room, minimalistic, colourless.

‘Spirit Fade’ is the third track. I find this one harder for me to describe. It is a real experiment of sounds which I feel gives the track a unique flavour. It’s like an alternative, electro, folk mash, lovely to listen to if you just want to relax. I don’t feel though that the track tells a story as strongly as the previous ones do.

The remix to Wrong or Right puts a heavy club/trance feel to the song, a song I would  be vibing to only if I was in that sort of club environment

Let’s not take away from the artist that is Kwabs. He has a special sound that is carried throughout the EP. From this release, I sense a strong artistic identity that should do the industry a world of good.

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