British hip-hop acts may not get as much attention globally compared to their counterparts in the United States.
But as the latest album by London rapper Little Simz will attest, they can more than match the American acts in artistry and lyrical heft.
The 25-year-old MC, whose real name is Simbi Ajikawo, navigates the travails of young adulthood with fiery fervour in Grey Area, her third album.
Working with Inflo, the producer known for the brilliant Love & Hate (2016) by English singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka, Little Simz’s flow is bolstered by decidedly organic backing tracks – the drums, the percussion, guitars and synths warmly fleet between jazz, funk, soul and punk.
The rapper, who made her debut with the 2010 mixtape Stratosphere, switches effortlessly between braggadocio and vulnerability.
“I’m Jay-Z on a bad day/Shakespeare on my worst days,” she declares on buoyant album opener Offence and dives head on into gender issues in the vitriolic Venom (“They would never wanna admit I’m the best here/From the mere fact that I’ve got ovaries”).
FATHER OF 4
She goes reflective on Sherbet Sunset, contemplating a relationship gone south and struggling to find the courage to admit her own failings: “How the **** you get twang, Simz? You smarter than that/But you don’t see it when you’re in it, that’s the hardest of facts”.
Honesty is also a big theme in Father Of 4, the debut solo album by Offset, one-third of US trap superstars Migos.
As the title lays bare, the 27-year-old seems intent on portraying himself as being more than the blinged-out, rags-to-riches rap act that he and the other two Migos members are known as.
He is a family man who may not always be there for his kin – the album is full of introspective verses where he admits to his past transgressions.
He addresses all his children – all from different mothers – in the title track and apologises for not being there in their early years when he was either struggling as a teenage dad or in jail at their birth.
Keenly aware that his off-again, on-again relationship with his wife, rap star Cardi B, has been in the limelight in recent times, he apologises for breaking promises and being a “selfish and messed-up husband”.
Cardi B guests on Clout, as husband and wife team up to castigate those who tried to profit off the rocky moments in their relationship.
But even as Offset contemplates what it means to survive his near-fatal car accident last year, he still cannot resist padding up the bulk of the album with his obsession for fancy cars, jewellery and other ostentatious displays of his wealth.
It’s a trope used time and again in his work with Migos and it weighs down what could have been a stronger, more contemplative album.
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