Arguably UK rap's most influential creator, Darren 'Klashnekoff' Kandler has left an indelible mark on British music, beginning with his 2004 debut album, The Sagas Of Klashnekoff, and continuing with classic tomes like the 2007 classic Lionheart: Tussle With The Beast. Still, he remains one of the scene's less visible figures, opting to release albums every two or three years and then retreating from the public eye. However, it's been roughly seven years since his last project, F**k The Long Talk, so his long-awaited return with this year's IONA is an even more momentous occasion, especially now UK rap's riding high as the country's dominant cultural force.
IONA doesn't just mark the return of an icon, it also gives us a chance to see just how much Klash has matured as a lyricist, and as a person, in the intervening years. Much of the album carries an inward-looking tone, and the raw tales of East London street life are still there, but they're delivered with weariness rather than anger. That's also reflected in the laid-back productions, injecting the album with a bittersweet twinkle that takes the listener back to more optimistic times. There's still fire in Klash's belly, though, and the recurring team-ups with K9, Ricko Capito and Maverick Sabre make for a dynamic and focused reflection on the state of the UK and its flourishing rap scene.
"This song was actually written before my mum passed away. I was recording in Nottingham at the time, when I received a phone call telling me that my mum had become ill. The lyrics came to me straight away; I actually wrote them to a Donny Hathaway sample, 'Free'. Smasher and Arron made the beat using that as the inspiration. New Machine added instrumentation and even brought in musicians to sprinkle some magic on the end of the track."
"Worth It" f/ Maverick Sabre
"'Worth It' was one of the last songs to be added. It was actually a demo I'd recorded with New Machine—we had planned to use for a collaborative project with Maverick Sabre. While finishing off the album, I came across it randomly in my inbox and thought it would fit perfectly. Again, New Machine added more music and touches to this one."
"Uncle Derek Says..."
"The voice note is from my Uncle Derek, who was one of the only family members that had my back throughout the whole period. It links to the theme of the next track, which is 'Hand on Heart'."
"Hand On Heart"
"This was the first song I wrote after my mum passed away, and the first song to give me the inspiration to make this album. It was the first time I could openly express some of the pain and betrayal I experienced. Still can't believe family would try snake me for my marge p's... It's sad, but I learned that even in death, nothing is sacred to some humans."
"One Time" f/ Ricko Capito
"'One Time' is one of the many songs that me and Funky DL created during the period of my mum being ill. As well as a producer, he was also like a brother to me; we would spend hours in the studio sometimes, just talking about life, before sessions would start. I had moved back into my mum's flat and wrote this song in my old bedroom. It encapsulates the story of coming back to Hackney after many years and seeing the effects of gentrification, knife crime and the effects of drug addiction."
"The Road Is Long" f/ K9, Ricko Capito
"'The Road is Long' was created while I was living outside of London. I was in a studio session with B Clever, K9 and my oldest son. B Clever made the beat, and K9 spontaneously wrote to it. [Laughs] Under the influence of alcohol, I started to sing the hook, and then Rico was added later down the line."
"Initially, I wanted all my skits on the album to be voice notes. That was the original idea: to bring a personal element to the project, and just give insight to the type of personal messages I was receiving from loved ones and friends. It ties into the theme of the next track, 'My Brother's Keeper'. Around the same time, both me and Rico suffered great loss and that note encapsulates the deep bond that was formed."
"'M.B.K.' started as a guitar acoustic and was going to be an interlude with me rapping. DL flipped the beat and took it to a whole other level! I cant lie: it's probably my favorite song on the album."
"Chi" f/ K9, Ricko Capito
"Around the time my mum was ill, I was taking K9 and Rico to all my studio sessions to lay down stuff for two projects—my own, and our collaborative one. 'Chi' is a song that was created at Nutty P's studio—it's his beat—and it's one of the many songs we did together. Because the album is so personal, I needed a sound to break it up and bring balance."
"We made this beat during a session with Smasher and Arron; Arron just started vibing on the piano, and Smasher gave it shape. I had it for a while and didn't write to it. I had the opening line for years; the rest wrote itself almost. It's a story about a relationship I had around the time—it's self-explanatory and, technically, it's an interlude."
"Keep Going On" f/ K9
"Lyrically, this song is an honest one. It's a candid description of my perspective as a grown man—as an artist, too. It took many sessions to get right, as I'd originally recorded a demo version and was trying to get the same delivery. It was made by K9's brother, Gaps, and DL touched it all up."
"Stay Wise" f/ K9, Ricko Capito
"The lyrics to this song was originally written to a B Clever beat—while I was in Portishead—but the audio quality of the sample was bad so I needed another beat. While recording with Smasher, he played the 'Stay Wise' beat and I thought it would work perfectly with the originally written lyrics. I brought Rico in for the hook, and the rest is history."
"This is a sound-byte that I found, which conveyed how I felt... It spoke for me."
"Angels" f/ Maverick Sabre
"New Machine and Maverick Sabre approached me prior to the IONA project and expressed to me how I had inspired them. They wanted to do a collaborative project, a whole EP, and so they sent me a number of tracks and I fell in love with 'Angels'. But for years, I just couldn't write to it. The beat included the hook and I didn't believe in the concept of 'Angels'. Then I had an experience that changed my whole perspective on that and I was inspired to write to it. After the song was recorded, I spoke to a friend who explained that their friend had passed from a brain tumor and that he was a big Klashnekoff fan—his name was Frankie. She screenshotted me his last message to her a week before he died, and it was a song from Focus Mode called 'No Escape'. She sent me a poem she had written for him and I asked her if it would be okay for me to use it. She said that he would have been honored."