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If Only You Knew: Grime & Drill For June Reviewed By Aaron Bishop
Aaron Bishop , June 28th, 2021 08:13

Aaron Bishop selects his highlights from the UK underground scene including projects and singles from names such as Little Simz, Wretch 32, Meekz Manny and A2

Little Simz

The growing success of the UK rap scene in mainstream circles is a topic I have explored in previous column entries. Acts such as AJ Tracey, Central Cee, Dave and more have all found their way into the Top 5, kicking in the door for other acts to follow suit. 

COVID-19 created a difficult period for many musicians. The absence of touring saw more reliance on streaming to entice audiences to buy concert tickets and keep them primed for when the world reopened again.

But for all the success of UK rap and drill, particularly over the last 18 months, one thing that has eluded these campaigns on the whole, is sustainability. Too often a project will achieve chart success and just as quickly as it comes, it goes. The next stage in the evolution of the scene is to achieve longevity in these mainstream spaces and that is why Russ Millions and Tion Wayne’s achievements with 'Body' are so special.

Becoming the first drill song to reach number one in the UK, the song spent three weeks in the top spot and has spent eleven weeks in the chart in total, all in the top 10. It also topped the charts in Australia, Ireland and New Zealand, and peaked within the top 10 of five European countries making it a worldwide smash.

Helped by a viral dance challenge on the social media application TikTok, as well as various remixes, the momentum of this track has eclipsed releases from artists with much bigger profiles, followings and power than the pair.

Methods such as remixes and social media challenges are increasingly used to market songs. Last year Young T & Bugsey did the same for their now MOBO Award-winning song 'Don’t Rush' which even gained success in America (as covered in a previous column). How long the industry can keep deploying the same tactics is a moot point, but at least in regards to the more underground artists, creativity and out of the box ideas remain key. These methods have proved successful during a time where resources and opportunities were scarce. As the world slowly opens back up again, here’s hoping that we see more of this in the future.

Little Simz – ‘Woman’ ft Cleo Sol

Like many of us during the lockdown period, Little Simz was locked away, waiting for the right time to re-integrate. Her last album was released back in 2019 – the same year that she made her acting debut in the revived Top Boy franchise – with the Mercury Music Prize-nominated GREY Area. Although giving fans a stopgap EP entitled Drop 6 last year, her official return to music came with the politically charged ‘Introvert’, the lead single to her upcoming fourth album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. Written for the most part throughout the lockdown period, in both London and Berlin, the project is said to explore her struggles in opening up about her personal life in an industry where everyone is expected to be “an extrovert”. Her new LP is not expected until early September, which speaks to the thoughtfulness of the rollout that as we enter June, we have received not one, but two tracks from the album, the second being ‘Woman’ featuring Cleo Sol. This is not the pair's first collaboration, as every time they link up they create magic and this song carries on that trend. Celebrating women around the world and directed by Simz herself, the video is elaborate and luxurious and features some familiar faces from Zeze Millz and Jourdan Dunn to Joy Crookes and Denai Moore.

Wretch 32 – little BIG Man

Wretch 32 is a GOAT. Ask anyone. Whether they listen to him or not, are fans of him or not. They will tell you. He is GOATED. Without a doubt one of the greatest of all time, whether we’re talking about the UK or overseas. He’s like a wise uncle who is forever dropping gems that may go over your head at the time, but whose words and teachings will come to the pass at some point or another and leave you smiling at the foresight. After ending last year by becoming Creative Director at the newly formed 0207 Def Jam label, many thought that maybe that was him signalling the end of his rapping career. But thankfully that is not the case. His new EP, little BIG Man, sees the North London rapper spit from the perspective of a teenager, addressing some of the issues young people face after being released from prison (such as criminal activities and drug addiction) and the cycle that it breeds. With features from the likes of SL, Nafe Smallz, K-Trap and M Huncho among others the EP is definitely tapped in to the newer generation of UK rap and is accompanied by a short film. Partnering up with the Shelter for their Fight For Home campaign only goes to highlight the complexity and reality of the situations of which the project explores. It is yet another important entry in an essential catalogue of music from the legendary figure that is Wretch 32.

Sainte – ‘Old Times’

I only came across Leicester’s Sainte earlier this year but if you’re looking for an artist who’s still relatively unknown but destined for big things then he’s definitely someone you should be listening to. He can be filed next to the likes of Knucks and DC but really he’s in a lane of his own and he proves it once more with ‘Old Times’. Just in time for the good weather, the track has real West Coast-style bounce, perfect for riding in the whip with the hydraulics going. Meanwhile the visuals see Sainte cooling with his boys with some VHS style effects and a couple of dance moves thrown in for good measure. It remains to be seen what the rest of the year has in store for the Midlands rapper but he’s slowly building an impressive catalogue for himself one song, video and project at a time.

A2 – Just So You Know

A2 is widely regarded as one of the most talented artists the UK. His woozy brand of rap blended with R&B has seen many a fan bewildered at how underrated he is. And perhaps this Croydon wordsmith too feels both underrated and unappreciated, as he has indicated that his latest LP Just So You Know will be his last; freeing him up to pursue other creative ventures. You’re lucky if you’ve managed to hear the LP from start to finish without interruption as a lot of the tracks have been taken down and put back up on streaming services at various points since the project's initial release. Regardless, early reactions from fans suggest that if this is in fact his musical swansong it is another worthy entry in an impeccable catalogue. Personally, it is not my favourite project from the South Londoner but there are a lot of good moments, and the quality is undeniable. If it wasn’t clear before that A2 was one of the best, then it is now, just so you know.

Clavish – ‘How It Goes’

Clavish has come a long way since he freestyled on Kenny Allstar's 'Voice Of The Streets' platform in 2019. Before he starts spitting you can hear Kenny tell him, “Remember, you deserve to be here”; and true enough he hasn’t looked back since. With a slew of releases dropping in spite of the global pandemic, the North Londoner ended 2020 with arguably the hardest Daily Duppy freestyle of the year, laying down the foundations for a promising 2021. All of which makes his debut offering of the year that much more exciting. Linking up with the in-demand producer TSB, Clavish returns with ‘How It Goes’, spitting about the lessons he’s learned on his journey so far with the nonchalant delivery that has become his trademark. Clavish fell into rapping, it wasn’t something he ever intended on getting into, but it seems to be treating him well as the visuals see him in the finest garms and flexing in both a Mercedes and a Lamborghini. Still one of the youngest in the game his star is still on the rise but if you’re not locked in already, you should be.

Ms Banks – ‘Pull Up’ ft K Trap

Ms Banks feels like an ever-present figure, (especially when it comes to female representation) in UK rap. So it’s hard to believe that her last project was two years ago with 2019’s Coldest Winter Ever Part II. But as we get to the halfway point of the year, the South-East Londoner is back with her first offering of 2021 – a collaboration with K-Trap entitled, ‘Pull Up’. Produced by Cadenza, the song is an up-tempo blend of trap and drill, while the video sees Ms Banks pull off a heist in cinematic fashion through a video directed by the in-demand Wowa, also a frequent collaborator. While ‘Pull Up’ may not a be a track that is going to gain Ms Banks many new fans (even with a verse from fellow South Londoner K-Trap), it is still a fun re-introduction for her and a song that is likely to have the fans she already has eager for more.

Last Night In Paris, Reezy Rye, Trigga, Jordon Wi-Fi – ‘Crash’

As far back as 2013, Last Night In Paris have dabbled in the fields of music, film, art and fashion, even picking up comparisons to Odd Future. But while members have come and gone over the years, and they have gone through a period of relative quiet since 2018, this year has proved to be something of a renaissance for the London-based collective with their fourth single of the year coming in the form of 'Crash'. Featuring the members: Jordon Wi-Fi, Reezy Rye and Trigga Tre and produced in-house by Tyme, the track sees the collective at their musical best with each rapper skating over the trap-infused instrumental. Serving as a metaphor for not giving up on their dreams, the release coincides with their ‘Give Back Project’ which is a self-funded initiative shedding light on black owned businesses within the community. More information is set to be revealed in the near future but not content with chasing their own dreams, they’re actively helping others to fulfil theirs too!

Meekz Manny – ‘Respect The Come Up’

When Manchester’s Meekz announced his return with ‘Respect The Come Up’ following his break after his debut project Can’t Stop Won’t Stop last summer, it seemed that fans were just excited for the visuals as they were for the music. Similarly to the likes of Mist before him, Meekz has become synonymous with out of the box visuals and his latest is no different. Filmed (almost) completely in a heavily customised helicopter, and directed by KC Locke, the video sees him flying over the London skyline at sunset. The song itself however is a more reflective cut with Meekz reminiscing over moments in his life before fame and how far he has come since then. After making it into the Top 40 last year, this break has rejuvenated an artist that many see as next up. Sounding controlled and confident on this one, Meekz Manny is back in full effect and won’t be leaving again any time soon.

ZeeTee – ‘Paul Walker’

With his buzz rising with every release, ZeeTee’s ‘Paul Walker’ is his second of the year and captured my attention as soon as I saw a snippet of the video on social media. Named after the late Paul Walker who most people will remember from the Fast & Furious franchise, the song sees ZeeTee tackle themes such as brotherhood, family and things of a white nature. The South Londoner blends his flow which sees him almost glide over the beat, with clever wordplay and a raw energy that added with the consistency he’s shown thus far, over a longer period of time, will see a lot of eyes on him. Produced by Fiide, the haunting instrumental is laced with the familiar high hats and bass that are associated with drill but come through just subtle enough as to not take away from ZeeTee and his assured delivery.

Jords, Masego, Kadiata – Enemies

Jords turned a lot of heads last year with his debut album Almost An Adult, delivering an honest and refreshing experience alongside a short film. But now album number two is ready and raring to go, and he kicks things off by linking up with Kadiata and Jamaican-American singer Masego on ‘Enemies’. The song is an ode to overcoming what life throws at you, including ever-changing relationships with friends and family. Over bouncy, funky house-inspired production the trio live like kings with visuals directed by Edem Wornoo. Speaking about the upcoming sophomore record Jords said, "This next album is all about exploring my Blackness through rhythm and exploring the feeling of nostalgia. Funky house, reggae, bashment, garage & grime were the soundtrack to my teenage years, and that is what we explored on the next album."