Newgen News 27 January 2017
Author: Alex Griffin

1st Listen Review: The New Gen album

27 January 2017

Since the collective, movement and mindset’s formulation at the first New Gen Live event back in 2015, the wheels have slowly been in motion leading towards this very moment today.

A wave of exciting and invigorating artists and creatives have found strength in numbers ever since, with frequent collaborations, a radio show, more live events and this right here: a full-length album.

Spearheaded by Bonkaz and Renz, the sonic landscapes of Soul and Jevon and, of course, the behind-the-scenes magic of Caroline SM – shouts the homie every time – their 17 track New Gen compilation album, released on the historic XL Recordings label, has finally arrived.

Bringing together the boldest and the best crop of rappers, MC’s and singers, the LP looks to make a real impactful and lasting mark on the scene in its wake. But has it lived up to its own lofty expectations?

We get to grips with the New Gen album in our first listen review below, containing our editor Griff’s immediate thoughts on the project, as he listens to it for the first time. Well sort of, as for the first time in first listen review history, a beer-fuelled listening party has preceded it.

First impressions are important. Let’s see whether the New Gen gang made them count. Be sure to stream or buy the album here too.

“Welcome To The New Gen” (ft. Avelino & Bonkaz)

We’re on track number one and I’m already very here for this. A dreamy, backwards sample kicks things off before Avelino digs straight in with the punchlines. Bonkaz joins him, going back to back with the verses, as two of the most technical rappers in the game show what kind of steel they’re made of. This is the perfect intro and vibe-setter for the rest of the project. “Funny how sometimes the real friends can be the new friends”, spits Bonkaz, applying the collective’s mantra straight off the bat. The compilation could be this one 17 times over and to be honest I’d leave happy. Very cold.

“Rather Get Money” (ft. TE dness)

Welp. These lot aren’t messing about. The beat on this one is absolutely huge. Think the glossy, bass-driven producky on Jay-Z’s “Tom Ford” and you’re nearly there with how hard this one is. TE comes with his hustler’s ambition during the verses and a catchy chorus, in what is bound to be one of the club’s favourite tunes from this project. It had one of the largest reactions at the listening session and its damn easy to see why. Listen to this one loud and waved or you ain’t doing it full justice.

“Busy” (ft. Ray BLK)

A change in tone again as BBC Sound Of 2017 winner Ray Blizzy clocks in for her guest appearance. The immediately bait Lauryn Hill comparisons are going to come flooding in, but to be honest, they’d be pretty on point. She floats with her stunning vocals over a sunny chorus, while displaying her versatility with some rapped verses; “I got the radio begging for one more”. This is the most straight hip-hop vibe the project has offered yet, with a funky and boom-bap inspired riddim. People are going to be surprised by this in the best way. The production and songwriting quality is super high again, with an intro, a traditional bridge and everything in between.

“My Way” (ft. AJ Tracey & J Warner)

Looking at the two names on the feature here – Ladbroke Grove grime donny AJ Tracey and R&B crooner J Warner – there’s already a conflict of interests, and by how the song starts it’s intriguing how it’s going to play out. It’s another warm rap instrumental featuring some baby-making adlibs from J, before AJ Tizzy brings his ever-dexterous flow to something a little different than his usual landscape. He’s shelling, but for the gyal; “What do you know about chicks with big lips and thick hips, tryna tempt man with lipstick?” The New Gen gang took AJ out of his world and threw him into theirs. It might not be him fully in his element, but it certainly shows the diversity of the project and him as an artist.

“Man Of The Hour” (ft. Jevon)

Is it bad that my immediate thought was how expensive this sample must have cost to clear? That’s the blessing of having a big label behind you like XL. Jevon is something like New Gen’s secret weapon. He’s been quietly locked in their studio crafting beats for all members of the crew, as well as working on his own music. If this is a taste of what else he’s got coming, Jev is set for a big 2017. He puts everything on full display here: his indie-influenced singing ability, his honest lyricism and his beat crafting acumen. Tiggs Da Author shows up for a surprise couple of guest vocals towards the end too.

“All Saints Road”

Likkle interlude break now. Featuring a ragga soundbite, this one sets the tone for the message behind the next tune…

“Ring The Alarm” (ft. Avelino & Tiggs Da Author)

You’ve probably heard this one prior to listening to the album, as it duly served its purpose as a lead single. Sonically, it sounds exactly like a lead single should, with some sounds catered for the radio, particularly during Tiggs Da Author’s clever chorus. The message behind the music though – and particularly the video – runs deeper than a simple radio joint, as Avelino and Tiggs talk roots, the feds and the Mangrove Carribean restaurant. If you hadn’t heard this one before, you’re gonna be humming those “awoooos” for the rest of the day.

“Money Haffi Mek” (ft. Stefflon Don & Abra Cadabra)

Another one that released prior to the album drop, albeit just at the start of this week. This is definitely going to be one of the biggest songs off the project too, with or without the star power of the featured artists. Once again, the dark and booming production keeps its values high. Steff’s patois tinged flow on the chorus has the same message as TE’s tune and is gonna get all the hustler’s motivated. The standout verse has to be from Abz though, who sounds like he smoked 15 zoots before hopping in the booth, attacking the trap riddim with a scratchy and aggressive 16 bars. Coming to Visions soon fam.

“Flexing” (ft. Renz)

Arguably one of the least known names on the project, but undoubtedly one of the most vital, is genre-bending artist Renz. He stands solo on “Flexing”, which has him singing about f*cking and smoking over another airy, trap-inspired instrumental. His verses are unabashed and shameless; “Oh you mad, because I do it for the ‘Gram” he sing-raps. This one might not be as huge as a couple of the songs we’ve heard so far, but it shows Renz’s knack for melody and adds another layer to the tapestry of sound on the LP thus far.

“Top Floor” (ft. Yxng Bane)

Ok, here we go again. After a slight break away from wall-caving club-bangers we’re straight back in the deep end. With an auto-tune drenched vocal – in the best way – Yxng Bane stakes his claim on the album. It’s adlib heavy and takes more of its cues from where American rap music is at right now, but works to great effect. “F*ck with me I get your mother gone, F*ck with me I get your daughter gone,” Bane ignorantly raps. This is music for the top floor for sure, screamed at the top of your lungs. Hard.

“Jackets” (ft. 67)

The final song I’ve already properly heard from the album and to be honest, have thoroughly rinsed out due to its quality. South London rap crew 67 are untouchable at the moment, but they raised their standards with this album, just like everybody else on here. I can’t think off top of an instrumental more glossy and finessed that they’ve rapped on than this. Dimzy’s chorus still sounds as fresh as it did upon release and holds on to the longevity of the track. Plus, how can the intro and outro from Nines be anything less than historic? One Foot Out is coming soon…

“Fuck Your Feelings” (ft. Kojey Radical)

Intro’d by Caroline herself, this one gets pretty meta. Kojey hears the original Jevon vocal on the radio, before things slip into trippy territory and his distinctive vocals take the wheel. A viscous instrumental provides the canvas for the rapper, poet and visual artist to display his intricate and unorthodox flow. “No sensei, Mr I’m Aggy/ Hooded up, screw face, no sign of daddy” Kojey raps in the complex verses. “Fuck Your Feelings” needs a couple of listens to fully uncover all the layers in his lyricism.

“Life Support” (ft. Bonkaz & Tiggs Da Author)

This is the most stripped-back the album has sounded yet. Bonkaz jumps straight in with some almost spoken word vocals in his smoky voice, addressing somebody special to him directly. The instrumental picks up with some joyous horns and drums by the time Tiggs’ comes through with another guest hook. The verses liven up with the change in tempo too, as Bonkz flexes his technical flow and talks about the ends.

“Thoughts” (ft. Dotty)

To be honest, I don’t know a whole lot about Dotty myself, so I’m assuming this is going to be an introduction for most. He’s bound to make a serious impact too. It’s straight bars across the entire piano-laden track, with no break for a chorus or a bridge – the first time this has happened on the whole LP. It’s soulful and introspective, providing an insight into Dotty’s mindset.

“Loose” (ft. WSTRN)

The chart-topping trio WSTRN are next to make their mark on the LP. Hook-lord Haile mans the chorus as expected, bringing the vintage R&B vibes to the tune. It’s an easy listening wave that’s catered for the radio and casual listeners, as all three members of the group do what they do best. Akelle sounds smooth as ever, Haile shows of this melodies and Louis spits some cheeky bars in his gravelly voice.

“Vanilla Skies” (ft. A2)

We’re still waiting for him to drop his debut album Blue, so it’s always great to get some new music from him. This is exactly that: an A2 song. It could appear on his own project, but it doesn’t sound out of place here either. Fuelled by drugs and women, it finds the South Londoner and sound architect in his element as he smoothly raps and longingly sings for the gyaldem. Light one to this and zone out.

“Say Those Words Again” (ft. J Warner)

Singer J Warner gets the honour of closing the project. Proceedings start surreal and experimental, before his silky vocals sooth over a synth. As the song builds, guitars play and the drums kick in; the party starts. “We’re breaking the law and order,” he half rap/half sings, reinforcing the disruption the New Gen gang have caused to the scene with the previous 16 songs. Curtains down.

Overall this has been a stand out compilation, although that word really doesn’t do it justice. It is not simply a collection of songs from artists thrown together. All of its parts have clearly been constructed in the same room as each other, with hours spent pouring over finessing production and perfecting mixes. The love and dedication from everybody involved truly shines though and this is sure to be flagged as a landmark in UK rap over the coming years. Salute New Gen!