If you haven’t listened to Reason To Smile yet, do yourself a favour and stick it on. I wasn’t going to. I’d heard the name, knew the album was coming, but until I saw the hype on Twitter this one was going to totally pass me by. It only took thirty seconds of second song ‘Together’ to convince me that the hype was more than justified – it’s just one of the album’s many examples of his exemplary flow, fantastic lyricism, and ridiculous confidence as a performer. This sounds more like an artist’s third or fourth album that it does a debut.
After the amazing ‘Together’ the hits just keep coming. ‘Nappy’ is not only another sonically bold and dynamic song, but it is also early evidence that this album doesn’t only sound amazing – it also has a lot to say. The chorus is catchy as fuck – but it is also a powerful statement on racism in the UK and the music industry: ‘Maybe my hair too nappy/My lips too big/My nose too wide/My dick too big/My fist too high/The gang came with/Nobody goin’ home until we all get rich.’ We’re only three songs in at this point, and two of them are good enough to be in the running for song of the year. And there’s to be no slowing down (for a while, anyway). ‘Silk’ shows Kojey in full swagger, a full throttle display of his confidence and power, a self-aggrandising bop that floats over a jazzy beat and centres around a soulful chorus from guest vocalist Masego.
The three songs I’ve mentioned so far are consecutive on the album. As an introduction to a debut album they are absolutely mindblowing, but what makes it even more impressive is that that isn’t even the best run of three songs on the LP. ‘Talkin’ comes as we move into the album’s second half and has the album’s dingiest, heaviest beat so far. A song about the attempts to silence black voices, it features a furious, angry verse from Kelis that is reminiscient of ‘I Hate You So Much Right Now’. With Tiana Major9 also featuring, this is a coming together of old and new voices to make a powerful statement. This is followed by the equally affecting ‘War Outside’ with Lex Amor. And on ‘Payback’ we have a feature from Knucks that is so good it made me immediately go and check out his album when Reason To Smile finished. This song might sound like it is over a sample of ‘Rollercoaster’ by Red Hot Chili Peppers, but don’t let that put you off. Kojey and Knucks knock it out the park on this one.
If I have one criticism of this album (and I don’t really, it’s a frontrunner for my favourite album of the year so far) it’s that things slow down a little bit too much towards the end. This has been a funky, furious, raucous ride almost all the way through and then things get a little more relaxed as we make our way through ‘Fubu’, ‘Beautiful’, ‘Anywhere’, and ‘Solo’. After multiple listens I actually grew to enjoy each of these songs as their own entities, but I do still slightly wish one of them was dropped or they were spread more evenly across the album so as to not disrupt the flow. It’s a minor issue, though. And when these four songs are followed by the majestic ‘Gangsta’ any small concerns are forgotten. This is a beautiful love letter to Kojey’s mother at the same time as it is a look back at his younger years, the mistakes he’s made, the way she helped him to grow. It’s the perfect way to wrap up an album that has a bit of everything I look for in a hip-hop release. It’s fun, it’s furious, it’s honest, it’s open, it’s endlessly energising, it has light and shade, and it has a superb MC at its centre. Little Simz finally has a contender for the title of the UK’s most exciting rapper.
Words by Fran Slater