The actor-and-rapper’s debut is a warts'n'all affair of absolute conviction.
Adam Kennedy 2011
Nine times out of 10, the outcome is simple when actors switch thespian leanings for musical ones: everybody with ears suggests they hotfoot it back to the big screen before embarrassing themselves in public any further. Every so often, though, such ratios produce exceptions to the rule.
Granted, London rapper Riz MC – you might know him from films such as memorable terrorism satire Four Lions, under real name Riz Ahmed – is hovering at comparable levels in both pursuits. This debut album flew comparatively below the radar when it emerged at the start of 2011, but an imminent CD release on perma-rad Brighton label Tru Thoughts betrays that his gritty kitchen-sink rap stands on its own two feet regardless.
It's hard not to draw a few parallels to Asian Dub Foundation, in terms of sheer conviction of genre-mashing and politically-charged delivery, rather than half-hearted subcontinent race-based links. And while his flow isn't the most natural on the block, the warts'n'all streams of consciousness refuse to exclude anything on his mind.
Putting scattershot subject matter under the viewfinder in his musical laboratory, several ideas admittedly prove better on paper than in soundwaves, dissecting fraudster MPs (Hundreds & Thousands) and technology-catalysed 21st century detachment (Bubble Wrapped) with only partial success. Unrepentant variation lends partial compensation, All in the Ghetto revelling in almost Lily Allen-level choruses one moment, the grimy Dark Hearts riding off elastic dubstep bounce the next.
Still, things don't 100% click into place until MICroscope winds up with Sour Times. It appears no accident that the best-judged moment traverses similar territory to Four Lions, wherein Ahmed deftly portrayed an intelligent, conflicted home-grown fundamentalist. As a British Muslim, here he attempts to understand seemingly senseless acts, concluding that "It's no coincidence the bombers came from ghettos up north / And the way that Bush and Blair talk gives a lost boy a cause" – literate fire swept along by mournful strings. If he can fully harness such burning passion so effectively on album two, acting may become his secondary skill.