Honourable mentions: El Clasico’s in a League of Their Own!

This year Grime has been the gift that keeps on giving, we’ve had some EPIC releases, Wiley’s long awaited ‘Godfather’ album dropped to chase those January blues away and Wiley’s fellow Roll deep cohort, Manga Saint Hilare released one of the most authentic grime albums I’ve heard in the last few years with ‘Outbursts from the outskirts’ in May; we’ve also had the biblical blessings of Stormzy’s ‘Gang signs and prayers’ with the album earning Grime another nomination from the mercury prize awards, putting it in good company with last year’s mercury prize winner ‘Konnichiwa’ by Grime stalwart Skepta and the nostalgic ‘Made in the manor’ by the legendary Kano, which was also nominated for the mercury prize in 2016  It’s fair to say Grime is experiencing a repeat of the glory days the genre basked in when it shook and shocked the mainstream in the early 2000’s.

With or without the mainstream success the genre has garnered then and now, die-hard grime fans never lost faith in the genre or claimed that “Grime is dead” nope! We knew this beast of a genre did a penny wise the clown and hibernated underground away from the glare of the mainstream’s lenses, with its feisty spirit fully intact. The artists’ were content with dwelling underground creating freely without the greedy eyes of the record execs waiting to pounce and take the cream from the crop. Aside from the albums previously mentioned, two albums which have risen to the top of the crop and grabbed my attention not only for their variety and creativity but also because these two artists have pushed themselves out of their comfort zones and delivered albums which are surprising when compared with albums / singles from their earlier releases. These two albums surpassed my expectations and I was blindsided by the blockbuster feel of Fekky’s ‘El Clasico’ and the soul baring sensitivity of Chips’ ‘League of my own II’

CHIP
Chip can’t run out of bars!!

Admittedly Chip has always been a bowl of contention for me. Starting his career at the age of 16, he was championed by Wiley and his freestyle on Tim Westwood’s radio show alongside Ice kid showed an MC with hunger and flair; like many MC’s of the time he eventually signed to a major label and had a successful pop career much to the disappointment of the majority of grime heads. By the time Chip decided to make a return to the genre which first exposed his talents, many were sceptical. Some cited Chip as being disloyal to Grime by deserting the scene for pop, others asked ‘What would you do as a yute if you were offered a big label deal you’d take the opportunity to make P’s?’

Despite Chips’ return to Grime polarising fans, the fact remains he is an integral part of second generation grime and is not far off from staking claim to the title of “Veteran older” as predicted by Chip himself in his 2007 Tim Westwood freestyle. Chips’ return brought beefs, fiery freestyles and blistering attacks on his peers who saw him as an easy target to send for, his nemesis’ would spray hot oil in his direction and each time Chip would come back hard to deep fat fry the haters. At the time of Chips’ clashes with just about everyone, I could not understand why a talented MC with a bag of bars would waste his time responding to up and comings’ who were possibly trying to make their name off the back of his prior success, I opined that Chips’ energy and talent would be better spent on making a new album and that he didn’t need to prove himself to the new kids on the bars.

This year Chip has not only proved he cannot run out of bars he has crafted a mature and honest album with depth and substance with the release of ‘League of my own II (LOMO 2).’ This body of work feels like Chips’ coming of age album and allows us to dive a little deeper into what makes the walking bonfire blaze. ‘LOMO 2’ gives us an introspective and reflective Chip, who does not shy away from revealing his vulnerable side which took me by complete surprise and is in contrast to the war dubs Chip was slinging in quick succession for the past 2 years. ‘LOMO 2′ feels like a very personal project due to the fact family is a theme threaded throughout the album which opens with Chips’ dad uttering a chilled “Wa gwarn”; he advises Chip to put on his spiritual armour to ward off negativity which is advice we could all use in these dark times. It becomes clear you are about to hear something unique for the next hour, as half way through Chip’s dad giving worldly advice an earthy meditative chant begins to stir around his dads words turning the power up on their impact. Chip is able to switch up his flow from the moody tracks ‘Honestly’ and ‘Gets like that’ with ease as afro beat/dancehall Chip makes a frequent appearance on the tracks ‘ Snap snap’, ‘Good for you’, ‘YSN’ and ‘About time’ showcasing Chip’s ability to tap into current trends and do them justice. The horns on the no-nonsense ‘Confirmed’ are reminiscent of the horns on Kanye Wests victorious ‘All of the lights’ and Chip even explores RnB on the slow jam ‘Hit me up’ with a superb feature from Ella Mai. One of two Grime offerings on the album is the banger ’34 shots’ the fact that there are few grime tracks on the album points to the fact Chip is now ready to expand his sound and let listeners in to where his head is at right now. After 2 years of back to back war dubs, it feels as though the chilled tone of this album was a natural transition for Chip.

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The A-team, A is for Avirex! Chip, Fekky and garage great MC Neutrino

Standout track ‘Amazing minds’ blew my mind! The bars –EPIC “Brown eyes but they look red, I’ve been blazin, your eyes yeah they look red you’ve been hating.” The beat–EPIC – playing like two boxers in a sparring session; the drums pound steadily and increase to a double time rhythm as does the adrenaline as the track plays out. As the title of this track is plural we have SN1 soldier Giggs flexin’ his amazing mind with the bars “Man got my Nicki and meek milled her, and I got money but cheap thrilled her,” Giggs does what only he can by bringing the crud with the charm in one package. The absolutely breath-taking ‘Scene’ opens with one of the most featured artists of the year godfather Wiley giving his thoughts on why it’s better if people think grime is dead. It’s a brother in arms song with Chips’ closest peers and friends (Wiley, Jammer, D double E, JME and Miraa May on the bridge.) joining him to give their unique perspectives of how they came up in the scene and their views on the current condition of it. It is the most emotive and beautiful instrumental on the album with a dreamy underwater feel, laboured computer bleeps and a pensive piano on the bridge. Each MC on the track is to be applauded for the passion and realness they pour into each word of their bars; not only is it an extremely personal track, but the skill within their flows makes you realise why they are considered veterans if you were in any doubt.

The theme of Chips follow-up to his 2007 debut mixtape ‘League of my own’ is family – he spits bars with his musical fam on ‘Scene’, his brother Mario offers advice and states how proud he is of Chip, his dad imparts words of wisdom, and the album ends how it starts with a family gathering of sorts, with Chip expressing his heartfelt gratitude and affection for his sister, and also gives her boyfriend his blessing as he just wants her to be happy. (I couldn’t help but feel touched as it’s a side of Chip we rarely see.) Chip is honest about his brother Mario being on lockdown “My brothers gone they say he’s bang to rights, when they said kidnap I said – lawd a mercy, like how the f*ck we’re from a good home” but the ‘I think I’m gonna bawl like a baby’ moment comes when Chip tells the newest edition to his family, his one year old baby brother – that he has the family nose and he can’t wait to see him grow over the coming years, again demonstrating that not everything Chip spits is pepper riddim. Sonically, this feels like Chips at his most revealing and mature to date, which seems like the natural next step to take to enable the listener to get to know the man behind the bars.

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The ever flamboyant Fekky

Joining Chip in this two-man premiership league where Giggs reigns as coach (Giggs has fire features on both ‘League of my own II’ and ‘El clasico’) is the ever flamboyant Fekky. Fekky’s rise to the top has been fast and furious, coming to prominence with a reworking of Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Sittin’ here’ featuring Raskit himself, saw him gain the attention from veterans in the UK music scene such as Skepta and Chip who both feature on ‘El Clasico.’ His meteoric rise owning to his larger than life personality complete with memorable sound effects and catchy hooks peppered throughout his rhymes has seen him gain the respect of some of the biggest names in the game and has also seen the rapper earn a coveted spot on  ‘The Eskimo dance’s’ line up, a great feat for an event that primarily celebrates grime music. If Giggs is the road rap/atmospheric horror film music king, then Fekky is the fun, upbeat rap/trap prince in his delivery, style and presentation.

Having seen Fekky perform live at ‘Eskimo dance last year drenched in sweat and topless after throwing his top it into the crowd, he is an artist who knows how to hype a crowd and encourages crowd participation with his infectious energy levels and recognisable catchphrases. I have watched Fekky convert a lagging crowd from a tired audience who had been on their feet for 4 or 5 hours and just wanted to sit down because they were getting cramps, to a crowd fully turnt up as though they had just stepped into the venue feeling fresh. Watching Fekky perform it is evident he is a bold performer who loves to entertain and relishes his relatively new status as a respected artist with confidence and bravado; his debut album ‘El Clasico’ is no different. It takes all the elements Fekky brings to his live performances and injects them into the album.

Much like the man himself ‘El Clasico’ makes a grand entrance on its intro and feels like a trailer to a blockbuster movie with a Spanish voice echoing the words “El Clasico” throughout the intro and sporadically throughout the album, giving it a ‘City of god’ feature film feel throughout. Fekky is honest regarding his annoyance at people who have a lot to say when they are sat behind the safety of their computers but wouldn’t dare say anything to his face on the tracks ‘Say no more’ and ‘Cappin on the net.’ Summer hood anthem ‘Mad ting, sad ting’ warns against the temptations to bring road life into rap business “Cant mix up the road ting and rap ting, ‘cause them n**gas on the road darg are ratting and them n**gas in the rap ting are acting” the off-key piano riff and hook sticks in your head for days after first listen.

Fekky’s energetic grime counterpart Ghetts (Who also features on Chip’s ‘LOMO 2’) makes an appearance to rip up the riddim on high energy ‘Call me again.’ ‘Rnot’ is a straight up hip hop beat to head nod to as Fekky tells us about all the hot gyals he’s got, best bar alert on the track is – “ Just done a show in Ireland, got girls in the front tryna eye man.” Fekky is at his most revealing on the track ‘Paranoid’ in which he observes obvious changes with his day ones since he acquired fame and money. It’s apparent from Fekky’s outpouring on this track he is unsure of who is who and is re-assessing his friendships with people he thought he knew well. The legendary features on ‘El Clasico’ are impressive and it’s clear the co-signs have come with the respect he’s earned in such a short space of time. Skepta also steps up to offer his support on ‘Way too much’ which sees Fekky in wind up merchant mode, as he delivers his lyrics on the first verse in a confident sneer as he enjoys mocking the haters.

Standout tracks on the album are the buh buh bang(er’s) ‘Avirex’ for bringing back the garage great Neutrino with his classic garage hook from Oxide and Neutrino’s anthem ‘Remy on da floor’ I can almost taste the Alize and Remy’s when Neutrino laces ‘Avirex’ with THAT hook. The instrumental is atmospheric with an electronic and updated garage feel and a great track is elevated to fire when Chip drops his nostalgic verse reminding everyone just how long he’s been about with the lyrics “See garage and grime are some big man sounds…I was on sets when Neuch was blonde.” Another banger and my gym theme tune because it gives you the extra powers to bounce along to on the cross trainer (go on try it!), is ‘Gossip’ ft. road rap royal Giggs (He gets about doesn’t he, when does he sleep!) The track pays homage to 80’s rap by sampling the phenomenal Run DMC’s ‘Peter Piper’ throughout, which gives the track a classic feel and also gives the cut a sharp edge which Giggs and Fekky glide across effortlessly with charisma and magnetism.

It’s fitting that Chip and Fekky are my honourable mentions with the end of the year fast approaching, not only because they have collaborated together and share some guest features, but also because both represent the current merging and overlap of Grime and rap; with Chip being a Grime artist but making an album with a number of rap cuts and Fekky being a rapper but performing at grime event ‘The Eskimo dance’, and collaborating with Grime artists, he is often referred to a rapper who is grimey much like Giggs. Now more than ever before the lines are blurring between grime and UK rap and there are no clear-cut rules or definitions like there were approximately 5 years ago, much to some fans annoyance. I can only view the blurring of boundaries between both genres as a positive as new styles emerge and break new barriers all in the name of good music, allowing the artists of old and new the freedom to express themselves as they see fit through their creations. The lingering question on my mind is – Who really has “raw sauce, no ketchup?” Michael Dappah’s ‘Big Shaq’ or Fekky’s alter ego ‘Billi Sauce’ …There’s only one man who can settle this – Oh Jammerrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!

Picture credits: Kingsmedia, Island Records, Cash Motto, Vevo

Cammy Thomas

Watch where it all began for Chip

Watch where it all began for Fekky

Watch Fekky, Chip and MC Neutrino pattern up for the almighty ‘Avirex’