With two bar-setting Fire in the Booths and a catalogue of mixtapes – including last year’s triumphant ‘King of the North’ – to his name, Bugzy Malone has established himself as one of the grime scenes leading lyricists. A master of the art of story-telling who can switch seamlessly from braggadocio to the rawest of self-reflection, the Mancunian MC finally hit us with his debut album this week. Showcasing his considerable range of talent and transcending the Grime sound he established himself with, it certainly didn’t disappoint. Let’s get into it…
Bugzy is a prolific artist, and hype for this project began to grow almost as soon as the dust around 2017’s ‘King of the North’ had settled, fuelled by the release of the tracks ‘And What’, ‘Clash of the Titans’ and ‘Warning’ – as well as numerous freestyles. Warning is the second track on the album (the only one of these three that made it), and it represents a sharp break from the atmospheric – if somewhat self-help book-esque – intro (‘B. Inspired’). The Zdot instrumental comes in with characteristic vigour, a double-time drum kit rhythm backed by the trademark hornlike synths a stark contrast to the chimes and voice samples and soft-spoken lyrics of B. Inspired. The lyricism on the track is somewhat clunky at times, particularly the last few bars of the first verse, but Bugzy’s energy carries the track and the hook will get wheeled up time and again in the dance.
The other two singles from the album were ‘Drama’ and ‘Run’, the videos for both of which dropped in the month preceding release. Run, with its Rag’n’Bone Man hook is unapologetically a radio tune. Bugzy switches up the flow, skipping it along the beat and which compliments the narrative style of the track, but the hook is at best anonymous and at worst annoying and preachy (Young boy run (run)/you gotta love yourself these days, you gotta love yourself). The MC’s talent shines through, the message is positive and there are poignant, autobiographical lyrics like “What’s sin, when you’re sinning only to survive”, but the track as a whole fails to really come together therefore missing the mark somewhat, you’ll hear it on Capital FM though.
‘Drama’ on the other hand, the second single to drop and immediately preceding Run as the fifth track on the album, is a straight-up banger (check it below). The Mancunian MC details the ins and outs of life on the roads, warning anyone dumb enough to get in his way that there’s gonna be some drama. The beat, produced by Diztortion, is beautifully melancholic, a plucked guitar on the intro makes the piece sound like the build-up to the final showdown in a classic western – pitting Bugzy as the protagonist against the villain that is life. “Picture me” is the refrain that opens both verses as the MC illustrates with words the struggles that he’s gone through – “I was gonna be a robber, now I’m wearing all the best clobber” – like in all the classics, the good guy finally wins. This victory is epitomised in the triumphant guitar solo that comes in before the last hook, both a homage to the musical tradition of the rapper’s city and a diversification of his own musical horizons.
The project is impressive in the shear breadth of styles it incorporates – guitar solos aside there are neo-soul hooks (‘Ordinary People’), grime bangers (‘Come Through’), hip-hop joints (‘Die By the Gun’) and even a venture into the Afrobeat sound on the Not3s assisted ‘Heart’. Regardless of style though Bugzy is at his best when he’s telling stories. Perhaps the zenith of this comes on Ordinary People, part ode to the city that raised him, part critique of the system in which people in need “get treated bad in the job centre” and told its their fault – “Poverty stricken but that never phased us/ Not one of us lazy”. The JP Cooper hook speaks to the ‘Northern’ characteristics: ‘love’, ‘soul and ‘grit’ and Bugzy reinforces this with the 4-bar “It’s a shame that the streets are evil/ But that’s just where we grew up/ And not everything was legal/ But that’s where we learnt to be tough” – powerful stuff.
However the most important track on the album is undoubtedly the penultimate one, ‘Street Life’. Bugzy has never been shy to speak about his personal problems and his relationship with his father on the mic, check his second fire in the booth, but here he devotes an entire track to it. It takes the form of an open letter – “I was gonna write this down and send it to you in the post/ But I needed the music I want you to feel this one in your soul”. Luckily for us he did decide to record it, because this track is amazing not only in the unabashed honesty and raw emotion that we get from it, but because it’s so refreshing to hear an MC speak openly about their problems. The Grime scene, the music scene generally, so often perpetuates the ideology that men, especially young black men, can’t talk about their problems, that they have to ‘be tough’. Throughout the album, and particularly on this track, Bugzy is explicit in his confrontation of his emotions – from anger to depression to pain. Alongside the abundance of amazing music perhaps the best thing Bugzy gives us with this release is the knowledge that sometimes it’s okay not to be okay, that we can be in touch with our emotions and that it’s definitely ok to talk about it.
The album closes out with Bugzy, as on the opening track, asking us to ‘Be inspired’ before shouting out anyone dealing with depression or anxiety – “you’re not alone and you can come out the other side” – this is not a cursory message, but one that runs throughout the entire album, that the MC is a glowing example of. Inspiring stuff indeed.
Stand-out tracks: Die by the Gun, Drama, Come Through, Street Life