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Pa Salieu
Send Them To Coventry James Butterworth , November 25th, 2020 09:39

The debut mixtape from the midlands' premiere new MC marks the thrilling arrival of a vital new voice in UK hip hop, finds James Butterworth

Few rappers ascend to fame as rapidly as Pa Salieu. After releasing a few tunes in 2018 and 2019, the 22-year-old from Hillside in Coventry became a hit success earlier this year with his single ‘Frontline’. The song’s music video, where he relays tales of block life and street crime over punchy snares and warped female vocal snippets, has now racked up over three million YouTube views. Following a slew of further singles and features, Pa Salieu releases his debut mixtape Send Them To Coventry. It’s every bit as vital and arresting as expected.

One of Pa Salieu’s most notable strengths is his vocal range. Treading the line between rapping and singing, he has frequently been compared to J Hus, a fellow British artist of Gambian origin. Able to switch from deep, almost demonic tones to a smooth, more melodic style, he also invokes Jamaican vocalists like Vybz Kartel and Tommy Lee Sparta. Whatever comparisons can be made with other artists though, Pa Salieu has built his own identity, and it shines through repeatedly on this project.

In recent years Coventry has had fewer big hip hop acts than many other British cities – Jay1 and Panjabi MC being notable exceptions – and Pa Salieu is keen to put his city on the map. He doesn’t sugarcoat things, however. “My name is Pa and I’m from Hillside / Buss gun, dodge slugs, got touched, skipped death”, he raps on opener ‘Block Boy’, referring to a shooting he survived last year. “I come from a city of violence”, he states on ‘Over There’, playing on Coventry’s first three letters C-O-V. In these lines you get the impression of a young man keen to assert his street credentials.

But vulnerability surfaces elsewhere. “My name is Pa, and I got a lot of enemies… [people] want me dead and I can’t blame them”, he says on ‘More Paper’, one of the softer tracks on the album. “When my brother died, I swear I lost myself, I blamed myself”, he confesses later in the song. Pa Salieu lays bare the pain and scars underlying the aggression and bravado in some of his lyrics.

If it all sounds somewhat morose, other tracks draw the spotlight away from violence and trauma. Ragga-influenced ‘B*K’ sees Pa Salieu celebrating his skin tone, music and culture on a flute melody interspersed with grimey blips and snares. He joins up with singer Mahalia on the project’s final track, ‘Energy’, an ode to motivation and self-belief – “they just want your fall ‘cause of jealousy / Protect your energy” he raps on the hook.

Send Them To Coventry is an album bursting with life. Pa Salieu sounds confident and convincing whatever style he turns his hand to. Whether or not it’s the best album of 2020, it’s surely one of the most interesting, and should be a strong contender for awards in the coming months. If Pa Salieu keeps on following his current trajectory, expect him to be a household name in a few years’ time.