With charm and variety on its side, this deserves to make a dent in the mainstream.
Louis Pattison 2009
Chipmunk, aka Tottenham’s Jahmaal Noel Fyffe, is one of a string of grime MCs making waves at an age when most of their peers are still trying to make sense of their algebra homework. Architect of two promo CDs and three mixtapes before his 18th birthday, this headstrong young rapper now has his A-Levels in the bag, so it’s time for the debut album proper.
I Am Chipmunk sits firmly in the spirit of crossover that’s guided the likes of Wiley and Tinchy Stryder into the top end of the charts, the rawer content of his earlier releases airbrushed with diva-sung choruses, polished dance production and a subject matter that looks outside the street politics of the London estates. Two singles, the ska-sampling Diamond Rings and Chip Diddy Chip, a self-assured number in the swaggering vein of Jay-Z’s 99 Problems, showcase Fyffe’s easy charisma and swift delivery while not quite becoming something remarkable; maybe it’s the somewhat stereotypical subject matter, or maybe it’s the relentless self-aggrandisement, but it’s quite hard to catch sight of the character behind the boasts (something you seldom get with, say, Wiley).
Dotted around, though, are tracks that not only find Chipmunk the space to stretch off his talents, but add a bit of range too. Dear Family is a stark, heart-on-sleeve message to Chipmunk’s estranged parents, rich with autobiographical detail, while Man Dem harks back to the young MC’s grime roots, reviving the skeletal riddim to Ruff Sqwad’s Tings in Boots and rhyming over it with the track’s original vocalist Tinchy Stryder, slipping in some criticism of his less sophisticated peers along the way: “See them man dem? / They’re only bad when there’s ten man dem / Always chatting about leng man dem / Gonna end up stuck in the ends man dem…”
Elsewhere, collaborations with N-Dubz (Losing My Life) and singer-songwriter Talay Riley (Look For Me) keep the mood broadly populist. I Am Chipmunk suggests its creator has a little way to go until he’s a hit-maker of the calibre of Dizzee Rascal, but as a debut, this has charm and variety on its side, and deserves to make a dent in the mainstream.