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J Rick
No Retreat, No Surrender Luke Cartledge , October 7th, 2019 08:36

If anything, J Rick's new mixtape just has too many ideas, finds Luke Cartledge

Attempting to put No Retreat, No Surrender into context is an interesting exercise. Considering how strong a year 2019 has been so far for UK hip-hop and grime – Kano, Slowthai and Little Simz all having dropped genuine AOTY contenders, with many of the scene’s most prominent artists publicly endorsing and collaborating with one another – J Rick’s dynamic, fluid instrumentals stick out.

This is an uneven, magpie-ish hotchpotch of a record – exactly what a mixtape should be – audibly the work of an artist with no shortage of ideas or ambition, but perhaps a little yet to learn in terms of self-restraint. When it’s good, it’s really good, the production lithe and sprightly, the pivots from one theme to the next as organic as they are inventive. Rick has an endearingly light-fingered relationship with genre convention, nodding towards drill one minute, dancehall, dubstep, house and trap the next. The craftsmanship is slick and accomplished; however, the frenetic genre-hopping betrays not only the producer’s enthusiastic desire to find a distinctive voice of his own, but the fact that he’s not quite there yet.

There are several tracks here whose surplus of ideas sometimes overflows, restlessness stagnating into aimlessness. These occasional lulls aren’t exactly unpleasant, or even entirely without utility – they do serve to highlight the vitality of the rest of the music here – but they do make this otherwise exceptionally fluent mixtape stutter a little, labouring points that one suspects Rick would be quite capable of making eloquently, if only he’d been a little more rigorous in the edit. A record that demonstrates such an instinctive talent for flitting between otherwise disparate styles, gleefully pressing things together to see what can be squeezed out, doesn’t really benefit from taking frequents breathers for wallpaper trip-hop interludes or ‘jazzy’ Bonobo-esque noodling.

Having said all that, there’s much to admire here. As the production mastermind behind one of the year’s other breakthrough acts, Octavian, J Rick occupies a prime position on the vanguard of UK rap, and No Retreat, No Surrender is only going to further consolidate that status. The features on the mixtape – the layered, close-mic intimacy of Obongjayer’s vocal on ‘Surprise’, Octavian’s oddly introspective-yet-snarky feature on ‘Want’ – are testament to this, sparse yet skilfully deployed, moments in which some of the country’s brightest and best offer Rick their considerable support without ever stealing his limelight.

If J Rick seems like something of an outlier just now (in stylistic terms, if not social), he won’t stay that way for long: on this evidence, his role on the cutting edge of the UK rap scene and its attendant genres seems assured. Given the time and space to find the voice that he spends much of this mixtape seeking, he could be on the cusp of something very special indeed.