Monday, 5 January 2009

Lowkey - Dear Listener (SO Empire/Hip Hop Village 2009)

I once caused a minor stir in the UK hip-hop community by suggesting Lowkey’s first release showed potential but felt rushed. I couldn’t wait to hear from him further down the line, and as further releases showed, he grew and grew and has turned into a fine upstanding vocalist, versatile and having in spades what so many vocalists/songwriters in the UK seem to lack these days. Guts. Much as we have sensitive songwriters with a lot of heart in abundance through these isles, they don’t have much guts. The guts to be as politically astute and willing to lay their politics on the line as Lowkey. He doesn’t just rap it, he protests it. He doesn’t talk in soundbites, he talks in stories and facts and news reportage reminiscent of an on-form Chuck D. Which is why Jon McClure gave him a leg-up to be part of the Mongrel collective, a supergroup of amazing talent, indie musicians playing at hip-hop with heart and guts, and Lowkey is one of the central voices at its core.

But what of ‘Dear Listener’, his first release in a few years, an album proper after the ‘Key to the Game’ mixtapes. Well, Lowkey has matured and developed and nurtured a voice so magnetic and articulate that this is a great album. A variety of big US producers like Quincey Tones and Scram Jones, as well as UK stalwarts Nutty P and Sivey all lace Lowkey with a diverse set of beats. Banger, ‘Revolution’ featuring McClure and beatboxing wunderkind, Faith SFX is a surefire fist-pump of a song, a riot of words and feelings, while ‘Tell Me Why’ bounces along that reggae-skank. ‘Everything Must Change’ is a highlight, a surefire powerhouse of diction and wordplay. My only gripe is that ‘Alphabet Assassin’, while lyrically ambitious is exhausting unlike the more playful Papoose and Blackalicious takes on the same theme, but this is only a small gripe as it helps to cement Lowkey as one of the UK’s most politically astute and charismatic lyricists. I was wrong to dismiss him in the early days but I was right about his potential as it’s come to fruition on this project, a collection of tightly-produced well-spoken songs.

They are Mongrel

Lowkey and Mongrel do the 'Alphabet Assassin' tune:

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