These recommendations are carefully ‘ear’-picked each month from a selection of bold, contemporary artists who are experimenting at the boundaries of genre and sound. Some of what we’ve been listening to, some that’s kept us moving, inspired. A few even offering a pertinent lens through which to view issues of identity & belonging within the geopolitics of our fragmenting world. With each complete album, there’s a story waiting to be told – offering a holistic peak into the artist’s ruminations.
This month is filled with a few concept albums that need to be listened to in their entirety to fully grasp the sonic world the artists are trying to create. We find ourselves predominantly moving around the UK, with one trip to Pittsburgh.
We begin with a loose concept album by Mac Miller, The Divine Feminine. One of his most ambitious projects at the time, but also one where listeners saw a fully realised artist. This album deals with the idea of love in its widest and most open definition. Mac showcases his lyricism, his command of music, as well as moments when to step back and let his collaborators take the spotlight, notably: Ariana Grande, Anderson .Paak, Ty Dolla $ign, CeeLo Green, and Kendrick Lamar.
Then we move to the debut studio album by UK artist Stormzy, Gang Signs & Prayer. What could be described as a coming of age, or matured display of the grime MC, the album showcases the two notable sides that make up Michael Omari, aka Stormzy, aka Wicked SkengMan, aka Stiff Chocolate. Stormzy puts everything on the table. We are treated to bold and brash songs and anthems like “Big for Your Boots” or “First things First”, a warning call to all those who might think of challenging him, right alongside more vulnerable tracks like “Blinded by Your Grace” and “Velvet”. With this project, he demonstrates the multifaceted nature of human existence, through his South London lens.
Next we move to another ambitious debut project: Psychodrama by DAVE. Through the narrative device of conversations with his therapist –Dave presents us with his innermost thoughts, fears, and ambitions. We are treated to tracks that unapologetically describe the black British experience, as well as abusive relationships, specifically in tracks “Black” and “Lesley”. Even tracks that might feel ‘lighter’, like “Location” or “Disaster”, hit home about the unique experiences of black life in the UK.
One artist’s quiet hand is present guiding these two English artists, and we’d be remiss without recognising, esteemed producer Fraser T. Smith, contribution to both projects. For those who aren’t familiar with him, he’s had a heavy hand in much of Adele and Sam Smith’s work.
Next we have another debut album, by Brighton producer and rapper duo Frankie Stew and Harvey Gunn. They bring 11 years of friendship and musical partnership to Breathing Exercises. This album is unique in its sound that is simultaneously British as it is universal. Here we get a different glimpse into life as an artist with frank and open songs that deal with love, loss, and Good Will Hunting. Frankie Stew’s lyrical skills are clear to see and they are matched perfectly by Harvey Gunn’s production prowess.
Finally, we end this month with Mercury Prize nominated debut album (yes, this month has coincidentally been all about them) Yesterday’s Gone by Loyle Carner. For many listeners this was the first full project of the British MC that they heard and it really sets the tone for Carner’s idiosyncratic, confessional style of Hip-Hop. We see his musical influences present themselves through the filter of Carner’s world as he takes us through the many moods and experiences of his life: dealing with topics of race and colour, relationships and love, and the motivations behind it all. It is an accomplished and complete piece of work that has something for everyone.
Enjoy the concept album filled ride!
mac miller – the divine feminine
The Divine Feminine, the fourth studio album by American rapper Mac Miller is a concept record of sorts about love as it relates to the female form and beyond. Released on September 16, 2016, the album features guest appearances from Kendrick Lamar, Anderson Paak, Ty Dolla Sign, and Ariana Grande, among others.
stormzy – gang signs & prayer
Gang Signs & Prayer is the debut studio album by British rapper and breakout grime MC Stormzy. Released on February 2017 independently through Merky Records, it is Stormzy’s first major commercial release, following the Dreamers Disease EP (2014). A detailed portrait and full-throated riot, switching between clapping back at lesser rappers and serving up smoothed-out Quiet Stormzy.
dave – psychodrama
Psychodrama is the debut studio album by British rapper Dave, released on 8 March 2019. It follows his first two EPs, Six Paths and Game Over. The album features guest appearances from J Hus, Burna Boy and Ruelle, executive produced by both Dave and Fraser T. Smith.
frankie stew and harvey gunn – breathing exercises
Frankie Stew & Harvey Gunn are a Rap and production duo from Brighton, UK, and through nine years of friendship and musical partnership they have honed a unique sound that takes equal influence from hip-hop and rap, to UK garage, grime and dance music, resulting in a debut album that is emotive, original and unmistakably British.
loyle carner – yesterday’s gone
English hip hop artist Loyle Carner’s debut studio album Yesterday’s Gone was released on 20 January 2017. An emotive and confessional piece of work, the album was nominated for the 2017 Mercury Prize and included on numerous end-of-year lists, ranking at number one on The Independent’s list of 30 best albums of the year.