An honest, authentic audio document of contemporary teenage Britain.
Mike Diver 2009
The staunchly individualist lexicon of London yap-rap trio N-Dubz should serve to alienate all but the most fanatical admirer. But, with a glossary included in the accompanying booklet – which also highlights members’ on-tour must-haves and provides advice on how to mirror their look – their playful slang is swiftly assimilated.
While the repetition of the group’s trademark tics can prove irritating, for the most part they reinforce their singularity as a hip hop act operating within a pop-dominated demographic, and sets them apart from so-called urban acts playing up to US-bred stereotypes. Their stories are real, and rarely stray from experience – when they do, as on teenage pregnancy number Shoulda Put Something On, they’re told with a real sense of empathy.
The group expresses pride in their upbringing, hailing from north London and offering lyrical nods to their old ‘hood and also a much-missed family member who set them on their way. The Uncle B (aka Byron Contostavlos) of their debut’s title was rapper Dappy’s father, uncle to sole female member Tulisa, and acted as their manager until his death shortly before the record’s release. Against All Odds would have been the title of their first album before Contostavlos’s passing, but employed here it’s a more appropriate summarisation of all that’s happened for the trio. Few could have forecast the success of N-Dubz, and their resolutely singular practices – they write and produce themselves – are at odds with the background machinations of most massive-selling pop albums.
Over the course of 14 tracks – 12 ‘proper’, bookended with an intro and outro – the several-syllables-at-once technique often adopted by Dappy and producer/rapper cohort Fazer can leave the listener dizzied. But the group nail a high level of consistency, Against All Odds sequenced with balance and coherence in mind and wisely pushing Tulisa’s soulful vocals to the fore whenever the male contributions drop in potency. The hits don’t stand out as obvious highlights; rather, the impression is that most of these tracks could be separated from this collection and impact significantly upon the singles chart.
It’s not for everyone, but such is the evident passion and commitment of N-Dubz that their more annoying, exclusively surface-level qualities are easily overlooked. This is an honest, authentic audio document of contemporary teenage Britain, and all should be thankful it’s almost exclusively positive of message – if you can dream it, you could well achieve it.