Gaika: Basic Volume review – gripping new voice of British rap
Quite apart from Gaika’s bracing lyrics, the sound of his voice alone makes the Brixton MC the most arresting British rapper of his generation. Heavily accented with a Caribbean twang, it’s a combination of the Congos’ and Horace Andy’s vibrato-laden dub croon, Future’s psychically troubled rambles, Young Thug’s improvisatory melody, Tricky’s calm snarl, and the fierce focus of drill’s new school. And yet it is entirely his own, with the declamatory tone of a soapbox preacher who won’t break eye contact with you.
This magnificent instrument chatters and soars over an impressively diverse set of mostly dancehall-leaning productions. Hackers & Jackers features the kind of prison-yard chaos that the Bomb Squad made for Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, but Dre Skull’s mournful pair of tracks allow Gaika to issue tender billets doux, promising to keep his lover warm amid “ghetto strife”. Immigrant Sons (Pesos & Gas)features a gorgeously pretty riddim by Sophie – like a soft Dijon version of DJ Mustard – with Gaika longing to see “youth in rebellion”, while Crown & Key, one of the best rap tracks of the year, is even more explicit in its call for civil disobedience. Gaika sides with “shottas putting bleach in your liver” in a dystopian fantasy of violent retribution against London, “a city that’s built on blood”. Its gargantuan backing could have been made for Rick Ross.
The strength of its truly anthemic chorus isn’t quite matched on the softer numbers, which could perhaps have benefitted from a more songwriterly approach – Warlord Shoes and 36 Oaths meander, and rely a little too heavily on that startling voice alone. It’s quite beyond his control, of course, but you also get the sense that he might be, as per fellow rapper Earl Sweatshirt’s gripe, “too black for the white kids, and too white for the black” – too discomfiting for a dinner party crowd but too odd and artsy for a mainstream one. That would be a terrible shame – this is a terrifically impressive and populist debut that can speak to anyone trying to deal with our fractious world.