It’s the last weekend of the month – with promises of a heatwave… It’s the UK though. Take that with a giant handful of salt. Onto the music. We start with the long-awaited (and possibly last?) album from A2. From there, ‘Seasonz’ is the current favourite. But that is likely to change – given the breadth of excellence on the project. Mereba’s new EP ‘AZEB’ has arrived and the simply-titled ‘Aye’ has been wheeled up a couple times already. West London affiliates Fredo and Central Cee connect on ‘Meant To Be’. Tamera combines with super-producer P2J for the sultry ‘Wickedest’. Finally, Toronto-based crooner Mustafa plucks Sampha from the shadows for a sombre B2B on ‘Capo’ in this week’s 5 For Friday.
A2 – Seasonz
At this point, it’s become a cliche to describe A2 as ‘’elusive’’ or ‘’low-key’’. He’s a private person, a ghost in the machine. Until you start listening to his music. It’s clear that music is his safe space. The place where the mask drops and he is at his most expressive. He makes music for himself first but also, with a love of the art in mind. But using his music in this way is what has given A2 such an incredibly devoted fanbase. Here, on ‘Seasonz’, he’s in classic form – opening with a statement that buys into his myth “You just want me for my genius” … before following up with “You just want me for a season”. In these two lines, you could decode a lot of A2’s major themes: loyalty, trust issues, love, the difficulty in establishing and maintaining a real connection with somebody else.
He cryptically spoke of this LP being his last. And you can hear throughout this project, an artist who has nothing to prove to anybody. Production is always where Deuce has thrived most. ‘Seasonz’ does not disappoint. It sounds like a warped take of Royksopp’s early 2000’s chillwave, mixed with clippings from Blade Runner’s dystopian Los Angeles. A2’s ease with creating big, cinematic atmospheres would make a pivot into film lightwork for the South London legend.
Stay Flee Get Lizzy feat. Fredo & Central Cee – Meant To Be
Sincere’s evolution from first-wave Grime MC into super-producer doesn’t get spoken about enough. His work on ‘Ay Caramba’ with Fredo, Young T and Bugsey has more than 500k plays on Spotify and several commercial placements as well as big features with Popcaan and more. It seems he’s trying to put some well-deserved shine onto himself as both an artist and producer with his upcoming album ‘Meant To Be’ – the first under his Stay Flee Get Lizzy rebrand. Combining two of West London’s current on-form talents works well. Fredo comes through in typical form “I done a lot, still lots to do / She asked me why I take risks with a lot to lose / That’s how a mobster moves” before Central Cee takes the baton and runs with it. There’s a lot said about Central but despite his critics, there is no denying his ability as a rapper. Here, he’s picked up a classic Grime flow, maybe pushed to it by Sincere – he carries it with casual ease. “All I need is a charger, less is more / Got a nank cah prevention is better than cure”. This track sounds a bit like London in ‘07. Not mad at it.
Mereba – Aye
Ethiopian singer-songwriter Mereba takes her time with her music. Between her last LP and this one, it’s been two years since she last dropped. Her music is rich, you can hear that everything that cuts is intentional. This EP is no different. The song starts with some scene-setting keypad noises, then into some distant spacey-feeling alarm sounds; it comes together a bit like a soundboard from Erykah Badu’s ‘But You Caint Use My Phone’. Like all good artists though, Mereba is inspired, not derivative. Getting into the song, she raps the whole chorus, with some everyday relatability bars “Aye, aye it’s a war like every day / keep my gold up in my safe / they won’t bring me to my knees…”. One of the best side effects of this new era of female rappers is that more vocalists are experimenting with how they deliver musically. In this Mereba’s pocket of artists, the more ethereal and heady ones, Solange is probably the closest example – she too enjoys breaking convention and slinging rhymes. As the song rolls on, it changes shape all the time. Sometimes there’s rapping, then harmonizing. Then spoken word, and finally the affirming crescendo where Mereba speaks of her “warrior blood”. It rises into something ascendant, inspiring. The focus switches from the everyday hustle, into a wider message of liberation for her people. Mereba takes her time with music because she knows how to make things sound timeless.
DMX – Bath Salts feat. Jay-Z and Nas
This trifecta right here is New York royalty. Both X and Nas may have had their differences with Jay in their lifetimes, but all issues are vanquished in the face of the greater good – respecting the life of the late, great Earl Simmons – known to the world as DMX. Produced expertly by his great friend Swizz Beatz, not one legend here disappoints. A classic NY beat, it’s grimy, bass-heavy, with a Doomsday alarm sounding loop, it has hints of Pharrell’s classic ‘Mr Me Too’ in how that bassline never stops buzzing around. Jay gets proceedings off with a surprise nod to the ex-wife of his protege “I’m the King of the summer / King of Zamunda / come be my Kardashian / Queen of the come-up” … this isn’t Jay on classic form, but there’s always a quotable that reminds you of his endless penchant for flexes “Every six months / I think I need a new bucket list”. Nas jumps on smoothly, one legend passing the baton onto the other: “All the favour of the days when the paper wasn’t major / But love was abundant / Before the God got the “God’s Son” upon the stomach”.
Nas is looking back on the early days in the game, thinking over their time in music. Before he finally passes the baton onto the man himself, X. Despite all the great things DMX achieved in music, there is a sense that he still had a whole lot more to give. More evolutions to re-establish himself with a new generation of listeners – who could take a lot away from him. Swizz has stitched this together with precision, X sounds as energetic and potent as ever. “Come through like (*gunshots*) ’til the squeezin’ is done / And that’s just squeezing one, imagine if we all let go / And turn your whole block into death row (Woo!)”. It’s a shame these three didn’t get a chance to create this in real-time. But the power of life is often learnt in death. Glad we got to hear these three rap avengers create all the same.
Mustafa feat. Sampha – Capo
Mustafa has had a major buzz since the release of ‘Air Forces’, a story about the lives his friends and family are living. The lives he poetically yearns to stop partaking in violence using the metaphor of Air Forces. The meme trope of keeping them crease-free, to send the message home in a clever fashion. His debut album ‘When Smoke Rises’ taps out with only 8 tracks, but similar to Pusha T’s ‘DAYTONA’ – it has the musical heft to do it. He speaks of the people he’s lost mournfully, beautifully – the survivor’s guilt is there to see “I stare at myself in the mirror for hours / I’ve held it all in / but I can’t go much longer”. Before a muffled set of tributes to his friends. Sampha, who too knows how to navigate the topic of loss, comes in powerfully “And the space is never gentle / It angers mе into the rubble / But I’m breathin’ finе”. Both Mustafa and Sampha are in mourning. Mustafa for his friends. Sampha, likely speaking to his late mother. But in grief, the strength comes from carrying on. Choosing to fight on in their memories. Now, hopefully, this brings about the return of Sampha on his own LP next.