American-lite rap from North West London's latest hip hop contender...
Ben Wood 2007-09-28
Hip-hop is like boxing. There is unimaginable riches and hero status for those few at the top, who are usually American; while thousands of grafters of more modest ability struggling to eke out a living. For all his attitude, Def 1 is definitely in the latter category.
A North West Londoner of African parentage, this is the rapper’s debut album. It comes out filled with talk of ‘keeping it real’. But, in a crowded marketplace, where hip-hop record sales are falling is this enough?
There are plus points. The production (by Jay’O and others) is spacious, melodic and hooky, occasionally sounding like Dr Dre on a budget. There is crossover potential here, and sonically, most hip-hop bases are covered: electro synth stabs, Eastern percussion, soulful female vocal loops, snippets of ragga chat, classic 70s soul and speeded-up vocals a la Kanye West all make an appearance.
Def 1 has a reasonable flow. However, he says nothing that hasn’t been said better by others, and a million times before – and his viewpoint is distinctly schizophrenic. The first few tracks contain the usual empty braggadocio: the likes of “Toe 2 Toe” and “G-Angsters” tell us not to mess; and “Yeah” and “Lovely Girl” paint him as invincible loverman. Then the latter tracks go a bit “Gangsta’s Paradise” as he gets an attack of conscience – regretting past mistakes, thanking his mum, and attacking plastic gangsters (maybe he hasn’t listened to the first half recently…).
Def 1 seems torn between the usual macho preening and a desire to tell it like it is (“Real And Fake”, “Game Over”). And in his keenness to define himself against other rappers – ‘backpacker pr*icks’ and those (like The Streets and Roots Manuva?) who are happy to chat about ‘beer and chips’ - he paints himself into a corner.
While artists like the above have a broader perspective – and, crucially, a sense of humour – Def 1 seems content to remain in his self-proclaimed ghetto. As it stands, he’s just preaching to the converted – most of whom will prefer the shiny US equivalent.