Exclusives 3 August 2021
Author: Joe Simpson

GRM Exclusive: How ‘Adolescence’ proves Unknown T is more than just a drill artist

3 August 2021
Unknown T GRM

Unknown T has been at the forefront of UK drill ever since the release of “Homerton B” in 2018. The genre is one that in recent years has become saturated, owing to a lack of originality in terms of production as well as a pattern of diminishing lyrical creativity. The East London rapper however does not fall into this bracket, as he followed his hit single with the exceptional Rise Above Hate mixtape which dropped last year, and has managed to back up this greatness with his new project, Adolescence. In a time where all genres of UK rap are entering into the mainstream, there are clear tendencies from some to cash in on the sound which is most popular, yet it feels that with T at least, there is a higher level of craft and risk taking that elevates him from drill rapper to drill artist. Adolescence thus ironically shows a maturity beyond his 21 years, and sets him up to be one of the biggest names in the UK scene for many years to come.

The tape kicks off with a slew of unadulterated bangers, starting with “22 Double 0”. The use of flutes on the production by Chris Rich give the track an atmosphere of foreboding and intensity, before T unleashes his signature assault of flows and ad libs. His lyrical ability is further showcased on this track when he raps, ‘You can get clapped like a round of applause, No cap, jail cats in the gates indoors, Endorse on tools, I don’t speak to the porks’. The tone of Unknown T’s voice across the whole body of work adds a gritty, powerful presence, as the depth of his vocals contrast with the higher pitches of the production behind him. This is further seen on “Driller sh!t”, a lead single for the tape and a standout track which sees the East London native at his unrelenting best, showcasing a tireless array of fast flows, whilst managing to stay in the pocket of AXL’s warping, snare heavy beat. 

As much as T impresses both lyrically and in terms of holding a commanding microphone presence across the tape, the production across the record is simply outstanding. There seems to be a south-east Asian influence to the samples used on both “East”, and “Vin Diesel”, produced by R14 and Ghosty respectively. This brings an incredible contrast between the haunting vocal samples and the guttural gravity of T’s delivery. Chris Rich isn’t afraid to elevate the mood through the use of guitar on “Bible Love”, while the back end of the tape sees a concerted decision to move into the realm of the UK trap wave, as Sean Murdz and R14 beats are helped out by the features of Nafe Smallz and M Huncho on “No Forgiveness”, and “Wonderland”. Miink’s production on “Goodums” however helps make this track one of Unknown T’s best to date.

The stripped back piano, accompanied by a pitched up choir sample at the end of the track, which feels as if it it has taken influence from grime production, act as the perfect jumping off point for T to experiment with his bars. Here, the rapper talks about his “Goodums”, yet uses this term as a metaphor for his gun, similar to Pac’s “Me and My Girlfriend”, or K Koke’s legendary fire in the booth. This song encapsulates the progression of Unknown T as an artist across this tape, as he takes risks both in terms of production as well as testing himself lyrically in order to create a song that feels as if it might be career defining. 

Furthermore, when we talk about risk taking, there is no doubt that putting yourself back to back with Potter Payper on a track which takes most of it’s influence from UK rap, rather than drill, is taking yourself out of your comfort zone. However, Unknown T holds his own on “Trenches”, and this track goes off as one of the best on the tape. M1llionz also bodies his verse on “Vin Diesel”, and again elevates T to a higher level on the track, bringing raw energy and aggression on the hook. Digga D, another exciting talent who also has the potential to be the face of the drill genre, brings a mixture of vocals and bars to the final track, “Glee”. All of these features bring a sense of cohesion to this body of work and help to demonstrate what a varied and multitalented artist Unknown T really is, as he is able to go toe to toe with some of the best talent the UK has to offer, and come out unscathed. 

What certainly was most surprising to me across the whole tape was T’s vocals on “Sweet Lies”. Far too often rappers attempt to sing on their tapes or albums to add a sense of variation, but come up short. However, the rapper’s vocals on this track are excellent, and show another string to his bow that can certainly be utilised in the future. We can also see attempts at branching out and growth on tracks such as “Bible Love” and “Grandma Prayer”, as these see the 98’s man try and become more introspective, and the inclusion of these songs on the tape help to demonstrate a dichotomy between the stereotypical violence of the drill genre, and the faith and drive that Unknown T has within himself.

The rapper is thus attempting to take the drill sound to new heights, and has succeeded in creating an fantastically polished and nuanced body of work. What is scary for his competitors though, is that it feels as if there is still room left for him to grow. Through his music across his last two tapes, as well as his collaborations with Virgil Abloh and Places + Faces, we are seeing a multi-faceted artist emerge before our very eyes, thus making Adolescence a coming of age body of work for Unknown T.

Be sure to check out our list of the 11 most Essential Unknown T bangers right here