Album Review: New Gen

The aptly titled New Gen embodies what is the Urban Youth’s middle finger to the rest of the UK music industry.

Full of energetic peaks and pensive troughs, this body of completely original content is a sonic reminder that our urban scene is healthier than it has ever been and continues to grow from strength to strength.

“This album signifies the growth and evolution of British Urban music” — DJ way-v

New Gen is a thoughtfully sequenced compilation of our finest hip-hop, R&B and Grime. Thought provoking cuts by the likes of Dotty, Kojey Radical and Bonkaz are juxtaposed by the trappers and drillers that are Yxng Bane and 67. And the down tempo sounds of A2 are well balanced by the party anthems of Renz, Jevon and Wstrn.

The most exciting thing about the album, apart from being the first of its kind, is that there is not a single moment of compromise at any point along the journey. Too often our scene’s predecessors opted to sign deals and create content for the ‘wider audience’, leaving us clinging nostalgically onto to their old bangers. New Gen now represents the noisy new neighbour who puts the cup down without a coaster at the table (XL Recordings) which sits the likes of Adele, Jack White and Radiohead; three world renowned multi-platinum selling artists. Pretty dope huh?

The project captures what is a now a widely accepted and new-found supreme confidence in our musical expression. The effects of this are evidenced in the increasing number of artists birthed from the scene refusing to sign major deals, à la Stormzy and Skepta, whose latest unapologetically Grime independent release Konnichiwa went on to win the most prestigious music award in the land.

My hope is that the album will serve not solely as a reminder of how far we’ve come, but also as a sign of how bright the future is for OUR music. It’s about damn time our voice was heard! Urban UK, big up ya’selves.

Keep reading for a track by track breakdown:

1. Welcome to the New Gen (featuring Avelino & Bonkaz)

This short but sweet intro sees Bonkaz and the Young Fire, Avelino throw multiple punchlines at us as they go bar for bar on a relaxed hip hop instrumental. See how many of them you can catch. See what I did there… no? Never mind.

2. Rather Get Money (featuring TE Dness)

Second track in and the pace picks up. As the bouncy instrumental quickly sets the tone for the song, TE lets us know that whilst others are out there chasing girls and pretending to be what they’re not, he’s out here recording tracks, shutting down shows and getting his money up. Definitely one to get the ladies and mandem going!

3. Busy (featuring Ray Blk)

We are then introduced to the MOBO nominated and BBC Sound Of… winner, Ray Blk, and quickly see why she deservedly holds the crown. Those of you familiar with Ray’s work will know she does not shy away from vulnerability in her music. However, we see her sing (and rap!) with a refreshing confidence and swagger as she’s beginning realise she is here to stay. The sensational South London vocalist sticks a middle finger up to those who claim she’s switched up after finding fame. Staying true to her day 1’s and loved ones is all that matters. As for everyone else… she’s ‘Busy’.

4. My Ways (featuring AJ Tracey & J Warner)

Possessing urban music’s most distinctive flow, AJ Tracey somewhat romantically raps about leaving behind his past ways for his love interest. “If she ever cries fam I’m letting a shell go.” I guess we can call this one a roadman’s love song.

5. Man of The Hour (featuring Jevon)

A potent reminder that the scene spreads far and wide past the boundaries of inner city London. For many years now our northern friends have been knocking on the door yet nobody wanted to answer. They’re done knocking now and have decided to kick the door down. The emergence of West Midlands MC’s Mist and Jevon, and Liverpool based Aystar has forced us to recognise that non-Londoners bring a lot to the table.

The most noticeable feature of the song, besides the infamous piano sample, was his delivery. I found it quite fascinating how he clothed the seriousness of his content with a joyful instrumental and a skippy flow. There is definitely more to the track than you may first think. Pay special attention to his bars in this one.

6. All Saints Road interlude

What would the ‘New Gen’ be without first acknowledging one of the earliest influences and founding genres of the UK urban music scene? Some would say it’s an integral root in the recently blossomed tree of urban music.

This jungle-flavoured interlude causes one to briefly reminisce on the days where our music was only played on pirate radio and grants us an opportunity to see how far we’ve come.

7. Ring the Alarm (featuring Avelino & Tiggs Da Author)

The next song is a nod to the aforementioned. The Caribbean-infused guitar riffs on this upbeat and punchline heavy Avelino track is a perfect head rocker. In typical fashion, AV recites bars that would go over a majority of the most attentive listeners’ heads. His super-skillful lyricism is what crowned him as the Young Fire to Wretch 32’s Old Flame. Don’t worry Wretch, we’ve found your successor, ol’man. You can sit on the bench from here on in. Definitely hit up lyric genius for this one. Special shout outs to Tiggs for the infectious hook which further brought the track to life.

8. Money Haffi Mek (featuring Stefflon Don & Abracadabra)

A very solid introduction to the trap section of the album whilst loosely sticking to the Caribbean influences. I have often said that UK artists are capable of outdoing their American counterparts in this beat driven genre. Money Haffi Mek is a perfect example of this. I must say, I was impressed with Stefflon Don’s performance; her dexterous flow, floating in and out of pockets allowed her to effortlessly glide along the heavy instrumental with ease.

The feminine voice of Steff is perfectly married with the grit and raspiness of Abracadabra — on their second track together — who continues to body every beat he so much as breaths on. The song is a perfect example of his seamless transitioning from raw raps to smooth afro-rap style singing. If he continues this way the scene will be his oyster. With every genre in his back pocket he can switch from lane to lane as and when he pleases.

9. Flexing (featuring Renz)

*queue money march* Right hand, flexing! Left hand, flexing! New Gen’s executive producer Renz’s keen ear for music has transcended into this melodic trap number. This song is all about…you guessed it…flexing! The self-explanatory song is simply there to be enjoyed!

10. Top Floor (featuring Yxng Bane)

The Return of the Lone Wolf! I must say I wasn’t too sure about Bane’s recently adopted Afro-Rap stance. Whilst most have welcomed songs like Fine Wine and Shape of You Remix, I particularly enjoyed his conceptual Full Moon project. I think Bane is in his comfort zone on this trap instrumental. The braggadocios bars — “It’s the kid who rocks Givenchy like its Lojo” — and bass heavy beats are exactly what I love to hear from Bane as I flex like it’s my birthday. *howls*

11. Jackets (featuring 67)

“Fed’s wanna lock off man’s shows, so mans in trapped the hood” utters XL’s most recent signee, Nines at the beginning of the song. Something the 67 collective are all too familiar with. Monkey, Liques, LD and Dimzy all rap about the conflict between doing road and making music. They all want out of the streets but as they try to better themselves by doing music and selling out shows, police insist on throwing a spanner in the works. They just can’t win!

It must be said, they have won me over with this one. Without sounding like a hater, beyond Let’s Lurk I struggled to see what made the collective so special. In fairness to them, they have come a long way lyrically and picked the perfect beat to display this. The song is all about them rather than the beat; its slow but progressive nature makes room for experimentation with flows and sick bars. One thing I’ll always praise them for is their ability to come up with great hooks. The trend continues.

12. Fuck Your Feelings (featuring Kojey Radical)

Many may not know that Rapper? Poet? Kojey Radical — also one of my favourite artists — comes from a performance poetry background. Often falsely cited as a rapper, Kojey has fought against this constricting title, claiming instead that he has simply “found rhythm inside of poetry.”

So…poet Kojey Radical, once again lives up to the very nature of his name. His erratic flows and harsh cadences disregard the feelings of what we listeners feel a song should sound like. The title of the track also embodies its content; always one to avoid sugar coating in his music, Kojey speaks on some of the relatable struggles faced within black communities. However in spite of its absent father, political oppression and systematic injustice themes, the song somewhat has an overcoming nature about it. Mr Radical candidly urges the listener who cannot relate, or assumes the position if the oppressor, to spend a day where he comes from and walk in his shoes. Until then, fuck your feelings!

13. Life Support (featuring Bonkaz & Tiggs Da Author)

The song opens with what is best described as a spoken word piece by Bonkaz about his family relations. At the end of the piece the distinct horns sound off for beginning of the second half of the song. The instrumental builds its tempo but the content remains sombre. Bonkaz reminiscently shares tales of past times when life wasn’t so tough and “the only problem we had was our curfew”, and hopes to stay afloat in current bleak situations. His rapping quickens to a frantic pace as the song moves from past to present tense and is cut short by the sound of his life support machine being turned off. Quite a sinister and depressing ending.

14. Thoughts (featuring Dotty)

The simple drum pattern and the twinkle of the piano keys set the stage and the spotlight for Dotty’s deeply personal soliloquy. This vulnerable yet hardened pensive number give us a glimpse into the ‘Thoughts’ of a man with his mind on the past but his eyes fixed on the future; wishing for riches, a woman to settle down with and his brothers to share to his success. In this truly special song, he narrates a tale of breaking his past love’s heart, losing his way with religion and his deepest regrets. At the end of the track it is clear to see he is fresh from a period of self-evaluation, with the birth of his child and a loss of another providing the much needed impetus. Safe to say the song provoked me into some self-evaluation too!

15. Loose (featuring Wstrn)

The MOBO award winning rap/sung trio do what they do best on Loose and lift the mood completely. I must say, spirits needed lifting after the previous intense and lyrically dense songs. The soft vocals of Haile find rhythm on the poppy instrumental, as he sings about stunting on girls who paid him no attention until he became famous. He also successfully tries his hand at rapping alongside Akelle and Louis Rei. Definitely one to get up and dance to.

16. Vanilla Skies (featuring A2)

The under-the-influence sounds of a feminine voice at the beginning of the song envelops the general sound of A2 on this track. As I listen, I feel like I am either in a trip or am incredibly high. A2 sits comfortably in the middle of a rap, R&B and trap trifecta and does so with ease. A quality unique to A2 is his flow; almost as if he is simply talking to the listener, he seemingly levitates along the minimalist instrumental. The song will best be digested by the lady listeners who he serenades with his effortless singing and rapping.

17. Say Those Words Again (featuring J Warner)

A perfect ending to the album. Not too intense, not to sober, not too energetic. As the album finalises J Warner shows us why he was drafted and heavily featured on Wretch and Avelino’s Young Fire Old Flame and the New Gen project. At the start of the song, the talented singer/rapper uses his voice to create Indian style sounds, followed by an infectious bass guitar to kick start the track. He opens the song with “Are we the New Gen? Kinda, sorta. We ain't fixing, we breaking the law and order” which is exactly what this album has successfully come and done!

Some of New Gen: AJ Tracey, Ray BLK, WSTRN, Stefflon Don, Bonkaz, Renz.

The 17-track-long album is an exhaustive and overwhelming first listen. This, however, should not be taken negatively. The flow of the album and the quality of the music means there are little to no skippable moments and secures the projects replay value. The album as a whole is well put together and its wide array of music ensures there is a favourite track for every type of listener. The album does well to bring those who enjoy the introspect of poetry, the soulfulness of R&B and the intensity of rap together to share a moment of pride in what our scene has produced.

Yo XL… we’re gunna need that New Gen 2 soon!

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