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If Only You Knew: Grime & Drill For February Reviewed By Aaron Bishop
Aaron Bishop , February 10th, 2021 10:10

Aaron Bishop selects his highlights from the UK underground scene including projects and singles from names such as Fredo, Chip, Novelist and Benny Banks


If you were expecting this year to be any different to last year – judging by how things have gone in the first four weeks – you may be disappointed. Plunged into another national lockdown, it is unclear when things are set to return to some sort of normality, with the UK government pinning all their hopes on the success of the multiple vaccines that are in play.

Feeling like the fourteenth month of 2020 or 2020+1 as I’ve seen it referred to on social media, it is fair to say that 2021 has got off to a rough start the world over (I’m looking at you Donald Trump).

But for all the doom and gloom, from a musical perspective the UK has indeed started this year where it left off the last and thankfully so. Last year was a stellar 12 months in regards to the world of rap, drill and grime with a whole host of singles and projects that showcased both the talent and growth of the scene from both mainstay veterans and hungry newcomers. Already this year we have seen things that we did not expect. From Bugzy Malone and Chip officially squashing their five-year beef to Groundworks dropping a cypher with some of the best and most talented drill artists in the game.

When it comes to Chip and Bugzy, their beef was actually ended at a Giggs’ dinner a few years ago where the pair met for the first time, had a conversation and let bygones be bygones. But their single ‘Notorious’ taken from Bugzy’s upcoming Resurrection album will mark the first time the pair have featured on the same song, something the scene has been waiting on for a while. It also adds some buzz to Chip who has released his Snakes & Ladders mixtape which will be looked at in greater detail in one of the capsules below.

We’ve also seen not one but two videos from both Novelist and Benny Banks, an early album of the year contender from Fredo and collaborations between a host of artists already. Starting as we mean to go on, it was always likely that many heavy hitters would return this year having taken some time out last year due to the pandemic. Tours, shows and festivals are still likely to be off the table, with many already being cancelled. But if the music that we get in their absence is going to be of this quality, then when the world does open up again, we may be in for the time of our lives.

Fredo - Money Can’t Buy Happiness

After returning with his universally acclaimed 'Daily Duppy' and condemning his post-lockdown single from last year ‘Hickory Dickory’, Fredo has continued his evolution from street rapper to top tier artist with help from Santan Dave, who executive produced Money Can’t Buy Happiness. Charting first week at number 2, the West Londoner delivers his most complete project to date, switching up his flows and getting deeper and more pensive with his song-writing (alongside the usual nods to money and drip), over brooding, atmospheric instrumentation. The features are minimal but only add to the project which in my view at least is an early contender for album of the year. For fans that were underwhelmed with his debut, this is the Fredo album you’ve been waiting for and is likely to be considered one of, if not his best, by the time he puts down the microphone.

Benny Banks - ‘Tooth For A Tooth’

Regarded by many as a UK road rap legend after signing a deal in 2013, Benny Banks released Bada Bing and made it onto the Fast And Furious 6 soundtrack. The deal didn’t work out for him and since then he’s returned to music intermittently but this year something feels different. He started the year with 'Eye For An Eye' and his latest track 'Tooth For A Tooth' confirms to me that something is bubbling. The energy of the old Benny is back and he seems to have found a sound that doesn’t compromise his style. It bodes well for whatever project is almost certainly in the works and if this momentum continues to build, he could firmly place his name right back into the conversation of all things UK rap by the end of the year.

Jevon - Fell In Love In Brasil

In 2018 I hailed Jevon as one to watch calling him “a gifted lyricist, and song craftsman who manages to mix humour, wordplay and aggression into his bars” as well as producing to a high quality too. If I was an artist working on an album, he is the man I would sound out to executive produce the project. Three years (and a few projects) later though and he’s finally released his own debut full length Fell In Love In Brasil and it has been worth the wait. Choosing to tap into his South American roots, his Brazilian heritage, he in turn adds a new dynamic to UK rap introducing an enlivening concoction of sounds, melodies and of course bars to proceedings. Jevon’s talent has taken him all over the world but on his debut we learn more about him as a West Londoner as he executes his vision and provides an ambitious offering that is completely different to anything else in the scene. He’s always been in his own lane and Fell In Love In Brasil is likely to make quite a few new fans fall in love with him and his art.

Novelist - ‘Calm’

Novelist is an artist that has always done things on his own terms. His 2018 Mercury Prize-nominated debut album Novelist Guy is a testament to that, as it was written and produced entirely by the man himself. Last year he dropped multiple projects, including a beat tape, all during the pandemic. This year he’s started off just as strong with an early contender for video of the year in 'Calm' as a present to his fans on his 24th birthday.

The track was originally released the same year as his album with an eerie instrumental produced by the man himself accompanied by bold, steadfast lyrics. Directed by Ehsan, the video compliments the dark and broody energy of song and sees the Lewisham legend roaming the streets with danger lurking on every corner but never swayed he moves through it all buoyed by the strength of his message and his faith in God.

Teeway - 5th Chapter

South Norwood’s Teeway is already setting the pace amongst his drill peers this year. After bursting onto the scene with his track ‘Feeling It’ on OVO’s Top Boy soundtrack in 2019, even within a pandemic, 2020 saw him up the levels. Drops like ‘Dinner Time’ and ‘Private Ryan’ alongside ‘Year Of The Real’ with the heavyweights that are Pa Salieu and M1llionz have positioned Teeway as the next breakout star in drill for 2021. It could be said that he senses the momentum building himself. As one of the standout performers in the Groundworks Cypher he has gone on to release his debut EP, 5th Chapter and has already teased another project for later in the year. Comprised of six tracks, the project sees him delivering more of what fans have come to love from him: no-nonsense, straight-talking bars, effortless flows, assured delivery and storytelling prowess.

Sainte - Local MVP

If I had to describe Sainte’s sound in one word it would simply be: smooth. Part of the YSM Collective, the Leicester-born rapper raps about real-life experiences and things he wants to manifest for himself and his team with a laid-back style that is simply a vibe. He makes it seem effortless choosing to rap over beats that are heavily inspired by American hip hop but meshed with his Leicester accent sounds like nothing else coming out of the UK right now. His EP Local MVP is only four tracks long and included his breakout song ‘Champagne Shots’ but is a worthy introduction to the up and coming rapper and something he is sure to build on as the year goes on. He previously played basketball at semi-pro level before taking music more seriously while at university and once you hear his project you’ll agree that he’s made the right choice.

Digga D x AJ Tracey - ‘Bringing It Back’

Out of all the link ups this year could bring, if I told you that Digga D and AJ Tracey were going to combine on a track I doubt it would be at the top of many peoples lists - but it works. The track pays homage to Digga D’s ‘Next Up?’ freestyle and AJ Tracey’s #MicCheck freestyle ‘Packages’, their most recognised freestyles to date. This year is already shaping up to be a big one for both artists with AJ’s second album finished and Digga coming off of a strong year which saw him release two singles (one certified Silver) as well as a documentary. A new project from him has also been completed, its release a matter of when not if, making for an intriguing next few months for the pair.

Chip - Snakes & Ladders

Capturing the raw and spirited energy of a young Chipmunk coupled with the maturity and strings he’s added to his bow throughout the years in terms of diverse sounds, flows and melodies, Chip’s first project of the year Snakes & Ladders serves as perhaps the best representation so far of who he is as an artist. That’s without even mentioning the album-quality features present on a project that is billed as a mixtape. 
The versatility on display is ramped up to the max, whether he’s shelling on tracks like 'Allow It', skating on garage on 'No Reason', jumping on Afropop with the likes of Kida Kudz and Tiwa Savage, getting introspective on 'Own World' or tapping into his spiritual side '0420' dedicated to his good friend, the late great Black The Ripper, it is remarkable just how effortless it all is for him. Musically maturing like fine wine, what is also noticeable is the same versatility for which he was maligned for ten years ago is the same thing for which he is celebrated for now. Even amongst some of the features, his influence on them is evident. Headie One probably says it best on 'Done Know': "Growing up in Tottenham, tryna learn how to rhyme like Chippy” with the King Of Drill adding to a long line of rappers that have felt the same both on and off the record.

Central Cee - ‘Pinging (6 Figures)’

With his Wild West mixtape announced for a March release, West London’s Central Cee has followed up the success of ‘Day In The Life’ and ‘Loading’ from the end of last year with ‘Pinging (6 Figures)’. While technically a drill track, the song has an upbeat energy around it, helped by the melodic through line by the producer, ITCHY. The song is another example of what we can expect from the full 14-track project when it drops and is said to have no features. Speaking about the upcoming release he said, “Just being in West London and having all the different cultural sounds around me growing up played a huge part in what I’m making today, that was my early stage before I started discovering music I could relate to more.”

Teks Sinatra- Home For Winter

Consisting of eight tracks, Teks Sinatra’s debut project Home For Winter comes across as more of a series of confessionals than an EP but it’s this introspection and level of honesty that is likely to endear him to rap fans across the country and beyond. Whether he’s talking about failed relationships with women, strained relations with his father or thinking back on bad decisions he’s made in the past and the lessons he’s learned, he manages to explore personal topics in an engaging and relatable way that will have you pressing the replay button to make sure you’ve taken in his words properly. Short and sweet, the project doesn’t overstay its welcome but does its job in officially representing Teks and what he’s all about. Previously released tracks ‘Role Model’, ‘Blank Sheet’ and ‘Dargy’ all make appearances but the good news, as he stated on Instagram when the EP dropped: "This is just the start."