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Album Of The Week

Lead Review: Christian Eede On Flowdan's Disaster Piece
Christian Eede , July 21st, 2016 08:46

On Flowdan's second album — seven years since his last — Christian Eede finds the MC both rejecting the bandwagon populism of grime and embracing the full power of his own promise as an artist

While a number of his peers as an original member of Roll Deep - namely Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, Skepta and Tinchy Stryder - have all straddled the line between what is considered underground and chart-focused, Flowdan has firmly remained a part of the former camp since the seminal grime crew’s formation in 2003. Outside of Roll Deep, his biggest success has come in the form of a guest vocal on The Bug’s dubstep classic ‘Skeng’ in 2007, on which he turns in a vital appearance, all menacing braggadocio and sharp flow.

It’s fair to say that he has long been more of a team player than a distinctly solo artist with his first, and before now only, solo album only arriving in 2009 in the form of Original Dan, released via Wiley’s Eskibeat imprint. Where that album failed to deliver on selling the MC as a particularly effective solo artist, ‘Run’, for example, merely repeating all the tricks deployed on ‘Skeng’, only on a considerably less interesting plain, his second solo album offers a far better case for Flowdan as a lead artist. Particularly since favours are only called in from a distinctly small pool of guests in comparison to the collaboration-heavy Original Dan.

Opener ‘Chosen’ is a blaze of trap-referencing drums though crucially avoids the dated clichés and levels of sonic excess that befell the sound at the height of its popularity a few years ago. It’s an effective call to arms, Flowdan’s belligerent tone demanding we “stand up” and “seize the moment”. It’s also evident from the offset that we’re listening to a far more inspired MC than could be found back in 2009, the machine gun flow of ‘Skeng’ coming to the fore.

It’s difficult to look at Disaster Piece without considering the current climate of grime in which it is being released, with Skepta and Stormzy both making substantial tracks into the mainstream over the last year or so, vitally without compromising or watering down their sound and the genre’s core values. On ‘Grime’, one of the album’s immediate highlights, Flowdan lays out his case as a committed rep of the scene (“I represent grime to the max so let me see your gunfingers from the front to the back”) while taking to task those whose interest in the genre extends very little past the surface level. With the current danger of bandwagon-jumping that befalls the genre, owing to the chart success of the aforementioned Skepta and Stormzy, ‘Grime’ sees Flowdan decidedly rejecting part-time fans, recalling his roots and calling in production from veteran producer Dexplicit, whose on particularly strong form delivering an instrumental of dizzying violins.

‘Horror Show Style’ follows, laden with metallic bass and beats that recall heavy artillery fire. As on much of the album, the track sees Flowdan spitting with intention, sounding more on form than he has in many years. While perhaps the most accessible cut on the album, ‘No Way Out’, one of four tracks featuring singer Animai, is a further sermon on the MC’s ongoing rejection of populism (“I’ve still gotta step outside my comfort zone”) and driven as one of grime’s key voices (“I had things to achieve, I had food to bring home”). Once again, the track offers him a chance to call out the bandwagon-hoppers and those who’ve turned their back on the genre: “surrounded by enemies, friends, fakes, local celebrities trying to save face”. This is a distinctly interesting move given his standing as a member of Roll Deep, which, as previously detailed, has counted artists such as Dizzee Rascal, probably the biggest example of an MC who has moved away from his roots, among its numbers in the past.

Crucially, Disaster Piece sees Flowdan playing off some old friends, calling in guest verses from Manga and Tinchy Stryder, the former a current member of Roll Deep and the latter a one-time member of the collective. Stryder's verse on ‘Gunfingers’ is some way from his chart-bothering past over the last decade while ‘Dons And Divas’ finds Manga on typically searing form, the two MCs sparring off each other. Above all though, Disaster Piece is a chance finally for Flowdan to prove his worth as a lead artist, delivering on the promise glimpsed so many times in the past over the course of his work with Roll Deep and features on underground hits such as ‘Skeng’.

Disaster Piece is proof that Flowdan is still capable of the acerbic flow and rhymes that many have come to associate with the MC. Proof that he can stand on his own, the album actively pushes against the growing hordes of casual fans of the grime sound - an accomplished MC calling in production from some of the finest beatmakers of the genre and rhyming with a purpose, decidedly avoiding a number of established conventions within grime’s current chart-focused realms, while remaining true to the best elements of the sound and ethos of the genre.