The Coldest Winter Ever by Ms Banks – Strength in Versatility

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Women in Hip-Hop has always been seen to be such a taboo topic and one has never really understood why, it’s not as if they don’t exist. Not only has rap been made to be a competitive sport but also a male sport. Within the UK sphere, the more successful female artists create songs that at most merely graze the ‘urban’ surface.

But now we’re experiencing a resurgence and one of the front runners leading the movement is none other than Ms Banks. From humble beginnings and near obscurity, Ms Banks has propelled herself into the Rap spotlight. Not keeping us waiting for too long, she finally releases a full length project to sink our teeth into The Coldest Winter Ever.

Taking the name from the famous 1999 novel by the American rapper and author Sister Souljah, both projects share similarities. Like the book, Banks’ latest release centres on the trials and tribulations of the female protagonist. A nuanced body of work, it’s a story of love, friendships, career highs and lows and ultimately making it on top.

So it all kicks off with the “Intro” which is more like a riveting monologue backed to the sounds of hushed lullaby pianos and orchestral violins. In true poetic fashion, she gives us a foretaste of what is to come.

Judging from the singles that came before it, The Coldest Winter Ever was always going to be about showing off her versatility. We start proceedings by having two of the finest 5691ab6db1fc657a3592dffee21a6c9fupcoming artists from South London join forces for a heater. Ms Banks enlists the help of Drill ‘Cool Kid’ Loski from the Harlem Spartans for “R.I.P“, stepping into his world as she embodies the drill sound. As Loski comes through, both artists lay down their bars as they address all of the talk from the haters. She definitely doesn’t disappoint on the Drill vibe, as she also goes straight dark hood mode with the slow creeper that is third track “Bangs”.

One of my standouts has to be “Over (Your Shit)” for the very fact that it’s a side of Ms Banks we’re generally less accustomed to. It’s a smooth R&B cut which sees her trade bars and flow for vocals and intonation and changes the vibe completely. Ms Banks evokes a softer side as she looks back over a past relationship and professes it all as a form of release to get over the heartbreak.

We know she can be tough and gritty, we see that she can be soft and vulnerable. But with the Toddla T-produced riddim “Chat 2 Mi Gyal”, Ms Banks gets the space to be incredibly playful and free with her bars, upon bars. Another one of my standouts, it has the bounce of dancehall but the freestyle nature of real Hip-Hop with such an infectious rhythm that you just can’t help but bounce with.

The mixtape doesn’t harbour many features, which gives a listening experience that is quintessentially Ms Banks. For the most part, the lack of features doesn’t fare a big issue as she provides enough style diversity to suffice. Besides Loski, there are some other notable mentions.

Mulla” is about ‘exactly what it says on the tin’ in layman’s terms and is a hustler’s anthem for all the go-getters listening. Somewhere between singing and rapping Ms Banks finds the pockets within the Trap-esque beat where she seamlessly rides and she is contrasted by the raw grit of UK’s under-the-radar rappers Dutch. Two different vibes but the context is still the same captured sweetly by the catchy chorus.

Made It” is another retrospective cut featuring singer Montana who plays a bit part role on the hook and it’s straight up alternative R&B. While she reflects on the anguish that a past relationship caused from feeling undervalued, she shares her story in poetic form not for you to show sympathy but empathy as she lets go and overcomes.

msbanksfeaturedThe mixtape wouldn’t be complete without two of her biggest singles to date. “Come Thru” is simply another banger that should be on your UK Rap list, male or female. It holds a hard Hip-Hop sound encapsulated by the heavy bassline as oozes Black Girl Magic in such a boastful way. Now if you compare that with the upbeat urban pop sounds of “Day Ones” where she dedicates the track to the ones who have been supporting her from early yet she still manages to keep her authentic street self; it just goes to show that Ms Banks has a lot in her repertoire.

Ms Banks signs out paying homage with “Pen Game 2”.  After the viral success of Margs’ #PenGameChallenge on Twitter, it only made sense to have him feature on the track. It’s bold, boastful from the pair as they freestyle over one of the most hype beats you’ll hear in a while. It’s a real South London to East London connection.

As stated much earlier, The Coldest Winter Ever is a clear demonstration of the scope of artist that Ms Banks. While there were no major pleasant surprises to shout about, she did what many know and expect from her, just better. Her mixtape summarises the period of life she is in now; A young woman who acknowledges and appreciates the lessons of her past but is over it all and is ready to take off career-wise. Her proven ability to make a plethora of radio-ready cuts is just the first step on the road to being considered one of the best that the UK has.

Geography by Tom Misch – A whole lotta Soul

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What were you doing at 21? While some are graduating from university or starting their own career, seasoned producer, singer/songwriter and DJ Tom Misch was gearing up to release his debut studio album. A seasoned multi-instrumentalist, it took only one year at a conservatoire of music to realise that bedroom producing would be the avenue he would take in order to achieve his dreams. Now, after working with some amazing talent in front and behind the scenes, we have the culmination of efforts of his several self-released mixtapes and EPs – Geography.

Geography is an album that takes on many of Misch’s different influences. Main elements of Funk and Jazz are staple to his brand but also Soul and Disco in smaller parts cover the breadth of this album. Fans of his, especially long term, will appreciate even the most Tom Mischminute of details.

The intro “Before Paris” is a spoken-word like opener, with an unnamed man speaking on the importance of the art form – a relevant sentiment for an artist like Tom – and serves as of a prelude to set the tone for what essentially is the first track, “Lost in Paris” with a slick contribution from talented Grammy nominated US rapper GoldLink.

Bringing a clever fusion of two differing musical instincts and results in something pretty tasteful. It’s bright and upbeat, driven by eccentric electric guitar chords and groove bass finished with a jazzy brass section that is too die for. For a song that was inspired by losing a hard drive full of music, its surprisingly cheerful.

South of the River” ‘brings out the boogie’ with a real disco feel, packed with deep lying basslines and accentuated with violins that serve as the icing on the cake – something that in theory shouldn’t work but in reality it does. While there’s nothing disco about South London, Misch does a great job of saluting his hometown.

For how upbeat the album is from the offset and seems to be holistically, it isn’t without it’s slower jams. Take “Movie” for example. It’s eased into from the previous track with a little love story monologue and it then captivates with those trademark guitar inflections set against the soulful vocals from Misch. It also happens to be a family affair with Tom’s own sister, Polly Misch, adding to the blissful atmosphere it creates. Of all the downtempo tracks, probably one of the most powerful.

Another slow song that is worth notable mention is “You’re On My Mind” which for me evokes a warm fuzzy feeling in my core. Acoustic guitars are the perfect accompaniment for Misch’s take on a sweet serenade this time and gives off the perfect summer evenings kind of vibe.

As talented as Tom is and as eccentric the sounds laden on the album may be, it is the features on Geography that really elevate it and make it worth the listen. One being an unlikely pairing of Tom and legendary US Hip-Hop super group De La Soul on “It Runs Through Me”.

A heavily jazz inspired cut, driven by the electric and bass guitars and topped off with bright piano chords. Simple yet soulful and uplifting, the mood transports you to the late night jazz lounges. Props also to De La Soul who definitely make the song extra special, riding the beat bar for bar, making for a poised rap verse.TomMisch2

A couple tracks later, we are treated to hip-thruster that is “Disco Yes” with Poppy Ajuda. It’s undeniable by now that Tom loves his guitars & basslines. With some funky riffs and increased tempo from the previous tracks added to the mix, Poppy Ajudha’s guest vocals merged with Tom’s, it makes for one of the most impressive on the entire record.

For what it’s worth, “Water Baby” I believe is the best track on the album. Tom Misch enlists his fellow South Londoner Loyle Carner in this melting pot of groovy jazz, soul and hip-hop mixture. It’s signature Tom Misch’s style, blending hip-hop beats and soulful melodies, producing an eargasm that finds its place somewhere between passionate head-nodding and casual, easy listening.

Cos I Love You” serves as the penultimate track and rounds off the Disco bug that Tom evidently caught when making this album as he merges old styles with the new. It’s a mashup, of sorts, with samples and a borrowed chorus tightly wound together to form the most beautifully orchestrated dancing track I’ve heard in a while.

For an album that expertly executes a plethora of different vibes, it does suffer from what I deem as occasional ‘fillers’. While I can acknowledge that “Isn’t She Lovely” – Misch’s take on the Stevie Wonder classic – & “Tick Tock” serve more in the capacity of interlude, they don’t really add much to the flavour and texture of the album.

Having said that,” We’ve Come So Far” is a reasonable way to conclude proceedings as the experimental sounds of Tom’s repertoire progressively build on the track, each layer contributing to the eventual crescendo before fizzling out.
Despite critique, fans can be happy that we now have a full length project from the young singer/beat-maker that they can really stick their teeth into. It covers multiple bases; spanning different vibes and genres means there is something in there for most people. While there isn’t a flowing storyline or explicit theme per say, this can double up also as a portfolio, showing off Tom’s capabilities and emphasising his credibility as a top producer. He can only go from strength to strength from here.

Gang Signs & Prayers by Stormzy – Impressions, Thoughts, Appreciation

It is an album that had an incredible amount of hype well before the idea of the album was probably even conceptualised. From when ‘Know Me From’ dropped, it was only a matter of time. What is purely evident is the love that has been shown to Stormzy from then till now, industry and fans alike. His debut album, Gang Signs & Prayers is finally here.

If there’s anything I appreciate it is that it doesn’t have a ‘filler’ type of feel, even though it has a few interludes, each song is deserving. c5xhreiw8aqnuttI am definitely a fan of ‘Big for Your Boots’ which I’d recommend for anyone’s gym playlist. ‘Velvet’ is ultra-smooth and
reminds me of that 2000’s British R&B vibes. There’s just something about ‘Cigarettes and Cush’, combining the smooth piano and sax sounds, Lily Allen and Kehlani’s amazing vocals and heartfelt content that makes it a soulful ‘love ballad’ on the album. ‘Blinded By Your Grace pt.2’ is the definition of uplifting and inspirational. The choir and guitar shredding is pure euphoria. His faith in God comes through emphatically. Can’t hate it.

It is an album that low-key pays its homage. Anyone who is clued up enough to catch the “Where’s Carlos” reference on ‘Bad Boys’ and know the origin, kudos to you. The Crazy Titch interlude. Salutes to the legendary “Lady of Soul”, Ms. Jenny Francis. Having Wretch 32 himself on an interlude is paying homage to one of the greatest from this scene.

In a sense, it is a very British album. It doesn’t try to be what it isn’t sonically. You can tell it is not a Grime album by definition but definitely a Grime influenced album, from the use of instruments & fast tempo on certain tracks as well as the use of ‘samples’. The roster of English talent, the likes of Ghetts, MNEK, J Hus, Nao and Raleigh Ritchie is beautiful to see.

What this album has is clear themes that run throughout its entirety. Gang Signs & Prayers is an exploration… a presentation of his urban upbringing and the rugged exterior that it has produced (‘Return of the Rucksack’, ‘Mr Skeng’ etc.) and at the same time delving in-depth into his vulnerability and his inner most thoughts and emotions (‘Lay Me Bare’, ‘100 Bags’ etc.). It is a metaphor for the life he has lived.c5wkyukwyaagihs

I feel the album has GREATLY lived up to its expectations. It’s not an album on lyrical wizardry; that’s evidently not his style. Nonetheless his storytelling ability is definitive enough for listeners to hear and feel the emotion he lays in every song, whether it be pain, rage, pleasure, love or gratitude. A balance of the brash and the pensive.  Not eloquence but rather potency with his vocals and flow and beautiful sonics. This may possibly go down as a classic.
24th of February was officially National Stormzy Day and I definitely know why.

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://i0.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.