Exclusives 31 May 2024
Author: Niall Smith

REVIEW: K-Trap – ‘Smile?’: a drill-coated character study of the unknown

31 May 2024
K-Trap's album Smile reviewed on GRM Daily.

In life, they say we never truly stop growing and changing. As humans, we wrangle with interpersonal relationships, grief,and euphoric successes on a daily basis to the point where there’s not a second in the day when we’re not submerged in the growing process: UK rap is no exception.

For beloved Lambeth drill star K-Trap, he decided to forego all the traditional methods of vulnerability and channel his fragmented thoughts, ideas and war-torn notions of regret into one 19-track album with the scope of a Netflix crime biopic.

The 28-year-old rapper’s Smile? is emblematic of a variety of things – an acronym for Similar Mindsets In Life’s Experiences – the record seeks to funnel the brooding, the bold and the vast unknown into a deeply personal character study that explores all of K-Trap’s inner demons in a madcap, drill-coded manner.

The album kicks off with a therapeutic monologue from DJ and record label mogul Tiffany Calver as she questions our lead on duality, his former mask-clad persona (questioning if the rapper’s still wearing his mask in spirit) and his trauma-riddled past. Listeners are then ejected from the therapy lounge and thrust into the jumpy “Classic Day”—a brief cinematic recap of K-Trap’s life layered over thick 808s. Fans, this is your typical K-Trap banger.

The next bulk of tracks (“Victory Lap”, “Heaven Or Hell”, “Messi”) open up the floodgates into uncharted waters, both in terms of production and theme. The former Carns Hill-produced cut boasts euphoric production and revels in K-Trap’s recent successes, whereas the RNDrill jam “Heaven & Hell” sees the rhymer brush past themes of duality cited in the intro once again: this time with relationships in the central frame, as opposed to the K-Trap mantle. “Messi” sees K-Trap play the field by switching up his flow for this short but sweet interlude that acts like a buffer for the project’s first half.

The Blade Brown collaboration “Mobsters” also affirms itself as a standout. The track could easily have snuck off the pair’s 2022 Joints project with back-and-forth flows and a bassy undercurrent. As the album takes its time with moody detours and bold themes, fans might find more solace in a track like “Mobsters” compared to something more sombre like the Sharna Bass-assisted “Next to You”.

With the assistance of rising bilingual vocalist Highlyy and beatmaker ATG, K-Trap’s “Different” is an afrobeat-tinged banger that beckons for summer’s arrival. With steady percussion, superior saxophone riffs, and spacey drums, “Different” is real club artillery. We expect to hear this one on the radio very soon.

“TBC” is one of the better true-blue drill cuts on the album. Oozing with tectonic flows and an equally molten Tuffi, Prod. Prince and LukasBL-produced backdrop, this song rises above some of the other hi-hat-riddled moments on the album, thanks to K-Trap’s sharp one-liners that really stick to your ribs across its three-minute sprint towards the listener’s satisfaction.

The penultimate track, “Grown Decisions” and the outro feel like one conjoined sermon thematically. Circling back to Tiffany Calver’s opening thesis, K-Trap gets introspective as he reminisces on days before rap, breaking down how he built up his creative empire brick-by-brick. Quietly smouldering with a bittersweet lo-fi instrumental, K-Trap’s thoughts and feelings take the lead, painting a vivid picture of his idealised future, rapping, “Out in the suburbs. If I tell the truth, I ain’t missing south. Then again, I’m lying, that’s where the music’s inspired.” 

Since his ascent in 2017, K-Trap’s eye-level storytelling and gritty realism have captured the ears and minds of fans across the UK. With six mixtapes under his belt, countless awards, and four UK Top 40s on his mantlepiece, Smile? is arguably K-Trap’s most mature and prestigious achievement thus far.

Unlike his previous projects, this LP’s strength lies in its authenticity and emotional depth rather than flashy production, which may be a detractor for some fans who were hoping for a straight banger from top to bottom like last year’s STRENGTH TO STRENGTH with Headie One.

Still, Smile? is a brave, and oddly emotive record in the drill ecosystem that hones in on K-Trap’s personal development and pen, cementing his place as a standout spitter in rap’s pantheon.

Stream Smile? below on GRM Daily: