Ever since the 2015 arrival of NEW GEN—a London-based collective of young artists and creatives—we knew it was only a matter of time before a body of work dropped that documented the city's diverse, underground music scene.
To say this is a rap album would be a slight misstep because, although it leans heavily towards U.S. trap sounds, its strengths lie in the fusion of grime, R&B, spoken word and UK drill. Speaking with Noisey last year, XL Recordings A&R Caroline SM said of her project (with Bonkaz and Renz): "When you listen to the album, the sounds are so broad. People are obsessed with grime—which was great to push us through the door. Now that we've had that moment, let's look at what else is going on."
Growing from music events and a radio show, NEW GEN has not only evolved into an eclectic musical project, but a mantra that each artist involved carries with them. At no point does the album leave listeners wondering what type of album it is, but if one thing's transparent, it's that the NEW GEN compilation is a lens into London's unique, idiosyncratic music scene. And there couldn't be a more pivotal time to release it, what with the The Brits finally giving props to Britain's urban music elite.
There's a confidence that exudes throughout the 17-track set, and that can only come from a shared belief among all the artists involved that took a chance on themselves—and each other. This is our track-by-track review.
"Welcome To The New Gen"
The tandem of Avelino and Bonkaz sets the pace very early on and it highlights how far both rappers have come since 2015. The pair deliver a combination of scintillating bars over the track's melodious production, in turn creating an introduction that's more than worthy of a few replays.
"Rather Get Money"
TE dness, like many of the artists on the album, is a far cry from being an overnight success. The lively, vibrant "Rather Get Money" accentuates the reason why TE has gone from strength to strength over the course of the past year. His cadence is ferocious once he gets into his rhythm.
R&B-soul singer Ray BLK, winner of this year's BBC Sound Of... list, kicked off 2017 with a momentum that only suggested she was more than willing to take all the spoils this year. Displaying her rapping ability, Ray BLK more than proves her multi-layered abilities with her imperious and commanding presence on the mic.
The strength of this offering lies within its versatility, and with the R&G-infused "My Ways", the pace of the album is set four tracks in. AJ Tracey's dexterous flow combined with J. Warner's heartfelt hook, conjure school-like memories where grime was, and still is, very much the soundtrack to our romantic lives.
"Man Of The Hour"
West Midlands MC Jevon has long been tipped for success by the likes of Sian Anderson and Annie Mac and it's inconceivable, considering the versatility shown on "Man Of The Hour". Straying away from the grime sound, "Man Of The Hour"'s bouncy personality and Jevon's relentless flow prove that beyond the M25, artists more than deserve our attention.
Serving as the album's Executive Producer, Renz adopts a more melodic flow on the album's midway point, "Flexing". Another of the album's more noticeable traits is the anthemic theme that runs throughout; statements are made, and "Flexing" serves as one of the more rousing tracks on the LP.
"All Saints Road"
The jungle-inspired "All Saints Road", the album's only skit, is an aural cue to Notting Hill Carnival which also serves as a prequel to "Ring The Alarm".
"Ring The Alarm"
Since Young Fire, Old Flame and FYO were released last year, Avelino has positioned himself as one of the most prolific lyricists to rise up from these shores. "Ring The Alarm" combines a soft reggae tone with Tiggs Da Author's slicing vocals providing a bed for Avelino to signal why he's one of the hardest around.
"Money Haffi Mek"
Stefflon Don and Abra Cadabra, two rappers who saw out 2016 in fine fashion, turned things up a notch on the bass-loaded trap cut "Money Haffi Mek". Setting the tempo, Stefflon Don serves up a string of quotable bars with Abra Cadabra's following suit with a grainy, undaunted flow.
"Loose" sees rap-R&B trio WSTRN add their softer vibe to the set. Gently winding down the album that has provided a snapshot to London's current underground scene, WSTRN represent the R&B legacy the city's always been able to boast. If NEW GEN needed to put out a single or two to really showcase the pronounced potential this contingent of talent has, "Loose" should be one of those examples.
"We Run The Block" kick-started Bonkaz' NEW GEN affiliation back in 2015 and has been representative of an emerging crop of rappers telling their own stories. A stray from his more hard-hitting material, "Life Support" is a reflective retracing of times where youthfulness didn't come with so many trials and tribulations.
"Fuck Your Feelings"
If NEW GEN could be credited for one thing, it's the ability to bring something new and interesting out of each artist involved. Kojey Radical has forever been known for his majestic spoken word, and often lends himself to rapping with cadence, but on the subdued "Fuck Your Feelings", his lyricism couldn't be more visceral.
Yxng Bane has a habit of blending a myriad of sounds that lean more towards the trap sound, that provides the bedrock for this project. The melodic rap flows and harmonies have been Yxng Bane's port of call—often drawing comparisons to the likes of Future—but on "Top Floor", there's something undeniably British and more mesmerising about the track, despite the stylised delivery.
The enigmatic A2 seamlessly traverses the thin line between R&B and rap, which he's been known for since emerging back in 2015. "Vanilla Skies" isn't a far cry from his own solo work but in keeping with the avant-garde approach to NEW GEN, the minimalist production combined with A2's razor-sharp delivery presents a nimbleness required to ascend to the UK's pantheon of underground talent.
By the time "Jackets" arrives, listeners were probably expecting the first drill offering on the album in the form of Brixton crew, 67. Slightly left of what they're known for creating with their drill sound, "Jackets" proves the south London outfit's ability to maintain their cohesive songwriting while blending it with a signature London trap sound.
Earnest and musing, Dotty offers up a blistering account of the thoughts resting on his mind. Observing the environment around him, much of which influences the sound of NEW GEN, he candidly takes a trip back to the ends, to reflect on the changes he hopes to see for his people in the environment that made him.
"Say Those Words Again"
The J. Warner finale couldn't be more fitting. Creating a body of work isn't easy, but to foster an environment that brings the best out of every artist is a feat worth celebrating. Over the past few years, NEW GEN has carefully crafted a space for itself in London's music scene—allowing emerging artists to realise their own latent potential—and something tells me they're here to stay.