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Professor Green Alive Till I’m Dead Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

As fizzy, dramatic and inventive as pop should be without losing his initial grime edge.

Martin Aston 2010

Stephen Manderson’s stage alias echoes the big-band era of jazz giants Count Basie and Duke Ellington, whose assumed titles forced America to show respect in a world where black society had none.

When Professor Green started MCing at the age of 18, a white rapper from east London needed respect even in hip hop’s post-Eminem empire. It soon arrived. He won his first rap battle in 2005, subsequently got signed to Mike Skinner’s The Beats label, and today finds himself on Virgin’s books. In April 2010 he scored a number three single with I Need You Tonight – suffice to say he’s fully earned his professorial stripes.

Not that Green (that part derives from his fondness for a smoke) is an uptight, academic brand of word wizard. Even if it’s much edgier than Dizzee’s current output, Alive Till I’m Dead is aimed squarely at the pop market. It’s also quite brilliant; as fizzy, dramatic and inventive as pop should be, with the cunning stunt of riding an old classic, like updating The S.O.S. Band’s Just Be Good to Me, as well as Beats International’s response Dub Be Good to Me, with his own Just Be Good to Green, which guest crooner Lily Allen will doubtless help to the top of the chart (the dubstep-speedy Monster will be the next single).

Green and his cohorts (including Future Cut, Naughty Boy and Thunder Catz) are also unafraid to embrace funk (Kids That Love to Dance’s bass moves like a snake) and rock (the mood of City of Gold and Oh My God is more Kasabian than The Streets). Stir in a tangible vulnerability rather than the usual braggadocio – he’s often chasing the girl rather than vice versa – and Green captivates in all manner of ways, not just with street truths and teeth-chattering rhythm. Do for You, for example, has a needy edge beneath its staccato beats that you rarely find in grime or rap.

Even so, Green retains grime’s nervy thrust, keeping tabs on his Hackney roots and the rawer edge of his 2006 debut album Lecture #1. Jungle is close to a UK response to (rather than a copy of) Eminem’s pent-up style, and the closing Goodnight is a piano-driven lament for his late great-grandmother (who raised him after his parents went AWOL) and father, every bit as insistent, tense and great as Em’s Lose Yourself. Green may dismiss the comparison in interviews, but it’s one that indicates the kind of impact he promises to make.

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