Ben Grenrock puts Molly in his soup.
Welcome to a place with no cars, no pollution. A place without guns, where all disputes are settled by a measurement of raw skill. Somewhere in which entire landscapes are made material just by speaking them into existence. Oases of lychee-flavored soda sparkle amidst dunes of crystalline powders, and the sun never ceases to shine despite veritable fog banks of herb smoke. Everyone is invited. Every night’s a party. Welcome to utopia.
No, this isn’t a description of a futuristic Amsterdam. This is the world of MADLean, South London’s best MC you’ve never heard of. If you can survive the helixes of British-slang-laced bars that pour forth from around his ever-present spliff, he’ll be more than happy to admit you to the paradise he’s crafted on his debut album Batteries Not Included. Just make sure to never, ever mispronounce his name (listen to skit “1WORD” and I’m sure you never will).
Though he can’t have been born before the early-mid nineties, there’s something undeniably old school about MADLean; something that’s more than just a symptom of the jazz heavy production of beatsmith Klemenza, rich with muted trumpets, soulful clarinets, closed snare hits, and Fender Rhodes sparkle. MADLean’s delivery has a certain playfulness to it that’s largely absent from the vocal chords of today’s young rappers like Earl Sweatshirt and Chester Watson, who favor the monotone croak of a coffin lid. MADLean’s flow is considerably bouncier, reminiscent of a young Fatlip of the Pharcyde who’s consumed just enough Ketamine to make everything slow way down and begin to wobble.
In addition to his delivery, the subject matter of Batteries Not Included holds a pleasant simplicity that induces nostalgia for a simpler, pre-horror-core age and for the wonton freedom of youth. Expanding on the hip-hop happy-place he builds for us on opener “-IN,” one in which, “supplies replenish right inside the moment that they finish / and the illest beats are sent to me every other minute,” the track “SDHH” succinctly explains where MADLean’s interests lie. An acronym for sex, drugs, and hip-hop, “SDHH” is an ode to the basic desires that lie at the heart of a young MC. When his, “three favorite things,” (or as ‘Lean would say, “free, favorite, fings”) collide in some subterranean nook Southeast of the Thames over a beat as smooth and sensual as what Klemenza provides, what more could a rapper possibly want?
MADLean’s ecstatic depiction of the London underground scene is not without it’s perils, nearly all of them self-induced; “mixing crystals with white wine,” renders his, “stomach more fucked than the victim of some dumb knife crime,” and the throbbing speakers at the front of a club must be gripped like a “lifeline” as one’s faculties dissolve faster than a, “half a gram into a double rum and coke.” But when compared to the larger issues plaguing the world around him, these self-destructive hurdles are a small price to pay for the ability to wholeheartedly enjoy life despite whatever is going on outside of a club’s walls. Rather than expound on what troubles him or spit venom at agents of darkness, MADLean just remarks that from the inside of a rave, “The world looks weird / Got me scratching my head and poor excuse for a beard / Oh dear,” before wiping the sweat from his overheated brow, stretching his clenched jaw, and going off in search of ciphers to dominate, girls to chase, and something good to twist up in a king-skin.
There may not be all that much high-stakes substance to this kind of lifestyle or to the lyrics on Batteries Not Included as a whole, but the record gifts its listeners the same brand of hedonistic escapism that MADLean experiences on his nights out. And these days, moments of pleasure and irreverence are a welcome respite from our troubling reality. His tight rhyme schemes and satisfyingly in-the-pocket flow are the perfect guide to his small smoky world—in which the greatest villains are the blokes trying to guilt girls into intercourse by ingenuously buying them drinks, who MADLean rails against on “Chirpse,” and where the motes of loss or depression floating around on closer “Peace!!” are easily whisked away by good music, good friendships, and good weed—so evocatively rendered for us on the record.
Batteries Not Included was released independently in 2013. Since then, MADLean has been signed to indie label In The Balance Records, but has only deigned to descend from his “happy cloud” once or twice to release several videos and songs via YouTube and SoundCloud. The latest of these videos, a 2015 collaboration with producer Ben Hauke entitled “Pack2,” shows a marked maturation from his work on Batteries. Though from the first line it’s apparent that MADLean’s proclivities for party drugs persist, he displays several asymmetrical flourishes in his flow, stacks rhymes far higher than he has on previous recordings, and pushes his lyrical content to some new depths, all while maintaining the endorphin-rush vibe he’s brought to the mic since first grasping it.
The video for “Pack2” was purportedly released in promotion of an album due out in 2016. That album has yet to materialize. It’s possible that due to the world’s current climate MADLean can’t be bothered to emerge from his fantasyland of excess and pleasure. And who can blame him? But let’s hope MADLean does make an appearance soon—at least for long enough to provide us with a new sonic conduit to that carefree world—and that it’s just been a few too many heavy benders causing the delay. Until then, we have Batteries Not Included in all its escapist glory. If you’re not familiar with the lexicon of Peckham or Brixton, look up what it means to “bun a zoot,” then do it, and throw on the record.