Son Raw has never met a BPM he didn’t like. Maybe 55.
UK emceeing has never been more diverse. From grime veterans schooling a new generation at 140BPM, to UK Drill artists fighting for freedom of expression in the face of government oppression, to the current global-minded fusion of dancehall, afrobeats and Drake’s swagger-jacking pop, there’s room in England for almost every imaginable approach to spitting. Where black music in the UK once had to fight tooth in nail for resources and press freely given to guitar bands, the present and future is music in England is decidedly multicultural, beat-based and informed by the musical traditions of the eastern Atlantic.
But while this spotlight afforded to black acts is great, for my money, the UK’s best rhymes last year emerged from the shadows. Manonmars, AKA Bristol’s Jack Richardson, doesn’t fit in any of the above scenes. A member of Bristol’s Young Echo crew, his music is experimental to the core, fitting far more comfortably next to Tricky’s weirdest moments or America’s lo-fi rap flagbearer Earl Sweatshirt than say, Octavian’s chart ambitions. His self titled debut album slipped deceptively under the radar last year, partially owing to the fact that Young Echo’s reach is limited among rap fans, but also because it’s a record that demands patience and never insists on itself, crawling at a lethargic pace somewhere between a DJ Screw tape and a slug on edibles.
Give it time and an attentive ear however, and Manonmars reveals itself to not only be England’s best, most underrated rap record of 2018, but also a debut that very much deserves to be part of the conversation in terms of lo-fi rap’s global rise.
Across a concise 30 minutes, Manonmars teams up with his secret weapon, production duo O$VMV$M, AKA Sam Barrett (of Kahn & Neek fame) and Amos Childs. Their woozy, pitched down beats provide ample space for what sounds like an extended freestyle session, full of non sequiturs, stray thoughts and downcast mumbles, with the words popping in and out of the foggy beats like a spectre. Beyond contributing to a cohesive atmosphere, these beats also allow the record to stand apart from releases by Earl, Chester Watson, Denmark Vessey or Standing on the Corner – rather than sun-kissed jazz textures, Manonmars goes for a deep, dark, Bristolian murk. Tricky’s influence is impossible to understate here, and his glacial-paced, skunk-stained approaches on records like Nearly God or Pre-Millennium Tension are clear spiritual predecessors. Digging a bit deeper, the record also feels like rap’s answer to the Caretaker, an idiosyncratic project exploring the meaning and effects of nostalgia.
These are far from typical reference points for a rap record, so it’s down to the rhymes to keep things grounded. Without Richardson’s words, this would yet another experimental release with a limited appeal beyond the very open-minded and those with exceptionally strong THC tolerances. Having honed his approach via hosting Young Echo’s regular radio series, Manonmars’ approach is playful enough to offset the gloom while dark enough not to undermine it. The result is a record that’s perfect for the afterparty: a long walk home, or the wee hours of the morning where everything is a battle between the THC in your system and your desire to sleep.