May 22, 2017

slackk a little light

Son Raw needs to sleep in complete darkness.

Hindsight being 20/20, Slackk’s Palm Tree Fire will go down as the blueprint for producers seeking to expand grime’s sonic palette into art house territory. Sticking to the genre’s tempo and structures when his contemporaries were deconstructing those same tropes, Slackk’s debut LP nevertheless sounded nothing like your standard beat tape, tapping into grime’s latent cinematic qualities and his idiosyncratic flair for the dramatic to craft something completely unique. Like a great neo-Noir, it’s an album that demands a lot its audience in terms of obscure reference points, but if you’re in the know, it’s pretty much the best shit ever. For my money, there are very few instrumental albums that even belong in the conversation alongside it this decade.

A Little Light carries on the Slackk project without rocking the boat—the 140BPM grid is now optional and as per the title things aren’t quite as grim—but he still sounds like he’s scoring a futuristic Yakuza flick from source material no one else would think of connecting. Tracks like “Desert Eagle” and “Picture” play tricks with your sense of time and perspective, coming off like Cannes ready incidental queues that could simultaneously serve as freestyle fodder for the most interesting emcees on Rinse or Radar Radio.

Elsewhere, when he ventures outside of grime’s boundaries, the shapes change but the emotional charge remains—from “Maze’s” synth washes to “Deluxe Night Edition’s” shifty ambient garage and “Reasons” uplifting chords, we’re in a world forged from some of the toughest music in UK history but also some of its most nakedly vulnerable. It’s a particularly interesting sound at a time when chart-ready emcees are attempting to sand down grime’s rougher edges in a bid for accessibility. Here, Slackk reminds us that grime’s always had a soft side and it’s indivisible from its weird side.

If there’s a snag to this more expansive worldview, it comes at the expense of the singular cohesion that made Palm Tree Fire a model for a generation’s worth of producers, many of whom first gained attention through Slackk’s radio sets. And yet oddly enough, the last thing I’d want from Slackk is a “grimier” record—my favorite moments are those like the 28 second “Sefton Park West” or the horn-led “Zip Me Up,” compositions that abandon grime completely but crank the drama and cinematic strangeness even further into the unknown.

At the risk of using the dreaded M word, these mature efforts, the ones that most look beyond the DJ world, feel like the start of something that can use grime as a jumping off point while connecting with latent influences that were always lurking in the background of Slackk’s music. In this way, A Little Light not only reconfigures the past like the best of Slackk’s music, it also points towards a future.