Narstie has gone from strength to strength in recent months, and this mammoth release shows us a side we don’t always see. Troubled? A little. Tender? Sometimes, Playful? Often. Entertaining? Always.
It’s been a big few months for Big Narstie and not just musically. The Brixton native has become a household name, from doing regular videos on BBC 3, to getting guest appearances on Good Morning Britain to now having his own Channel 4 show alongside Mo Gilligan (Mo the Comedian); so much so it’s possible to forget that the N dot A dot is first and foremost a grime pioneer. However with his recent mammoth release of BDP Bipolar, weighing in at a colossal 26 tracks and lasting nearly an hour and a half, the MC has reminded us all what his primary profession is. The sheer mass of content makes it nearly impossible to review with true justice, I’ve spent the better part of two weeks digesting it just so I can drop my 2 cents, so I encourage you guys to check it out for yourselves – we’d love to know what you think in the comments, or on twitter.
BDL Bipolar is undoubtedly a grime record, yet it crosses the whole spectrum of UK rap right now with dancehall hooks (“5 AM”), afrobeat vibes (“Celebrate”), and blistering battle bars verses make this record something of a UK rap 101. Throughout we are treated to Narstie’s full range of considerable talent, in some tracks his razor sharp wit is laugh out loud funny, his intonation when he gleefully spits “I’m Charlie Sheen I’m winning/ Winning!” had me full on giggling on the tube.
The album though is far from a continuation of the humour and antics and that have rocketed him in to the public eye and far beyond the underground scene he helped to create. BDL Bipolar is an apt title, exemplified in the transition from one (of several) skits, “Taxi to Brixton” (which ends with him punching out a fan who gets a bit too touchy) in to the next track, “Celebrate”, which comes in with a soft, melodic piano beat and afrobeat hook courtesy of Teedot. Narstie, with oxymoronic delivery croons on the verse “If this demon tells me to open up/ it’s heaven where they’re going”, it feels the very epitome of bipolar. It’s one of my favourite tracks on the album, the joyful, almost gospel-like hook is so at odds with the raw lyricism, exacerbated with the sing-song flow Narstie uses throughout, the whole thing is out of kilter. This is perhaps a testament to the somewhat unlikely success the MC has recently found, rubbing shoulders with Piers Morgan is likely to cause no small amount of conflict when you’ve worked your way up from the hood.
It seems that Narstie is conflicted on this album, often in a reflective mood whether that be about girl troubles – on the banger “5 Am”, assisted by Moelogo; or about life, success and mental health on “Help”, on which Laville provides the hook “I’m just tryna find my way out here/ Hellllp/ Is anybody out there/ Hellllp”. Narstie sounds pained and tortured when he spits about being “down and out”, in a “house of pain” and lost in the “belly of the beast”, yet resurgent and triumphant as from being lost he vows “my future can never can be my past/survival of the fittest with my dargs”. This is such an important track, because too often it comes across that as people, men especially and yutes from the ends more than anything, we have to be tough no matter what, the first line of the first verse Narstie asks us “Is it wrong to cry?” and he powerfully, and importantly, shows us that it’s not.
Alongside the reflection though comes braggadocio, swagger and hard-hitting delivery filled with wicked punchlines and venomous boasts. “Grime Battle of Hastings” is another standout, in which a confident Narstie delivers three solid minutes of bars over a minimalistic beat filled with sound effects of horses hooves and battle cries. His brutal treatment of his enemies “I’ll put their heads on a spike/hang them over the bridges of London”, is skilfully intertwined with pop culture references from 300, to Game of Thrones, to the Three Musketeers – grime lyricism at its finest.
The album genuinely contains highlight after highlight, along with some incredible features, “Hello Hi 2”is perhaps the finest (in case you forgot, Ed Sheeran got BARS), plus Izzie Gibbs with a ferocious verse on “Hell No” and a butter smooth Craig David hook on “Sunshine”. Oh, and Narstie rides a Mundian to Bach Ke refix with Panjabi MC (“How you dance”) smoother than Chris Hoy on a tricycle. Sensational. My one criticism: the album feels very very long, 1h 23mins is a lot to get through. Still, Narstie goes through such a range of styles, with each beat fitting him like a tailored suit and has something to say on every track, so whilst at times it feels like a slog, it’s well worth the effort and it’s a triumph of grime album. An entertainer in more ways than one, this album shows a side of Narstie we don’t always see, and it’s wonderful.