On ‘Life In The Flesh’ Coops hooks up with Talos to take us on an introspective journey deep into his consciousness as he reflects on life, death and everything that comes between. The North London rapper describes this as a concept album that was “recorded as a reminder that life is a test”, and that many of the obstacles that we must overcome “are the ones in our minds”. Supported by Talos’s consistently excellent production, which weaves back and forth between 90’s boom-bap and his signature jazz-hop sound; and sticking closely to its theme, the project is a cohesive body of work that delivers both as a single entity and with several standout bangers.
The opener and title track sets the tone with a restrained boom-bap clap and dreamy synths creating a gloomy, atmospheric beat; but one which cries to be spat over with its lazy rhythmicity. Coops obliges with a couple of verses of incredibly conscious bars knitted together with multi-syllabic wordplay, painting a picture of life on London’s streets and estates. Whether youts are “desensitised, gentrified and caught up in the enterprise” or “selling weed till [they] supply coke/ moving up the ranks and then [they] buy in bulk” Coops confronts it with unflinching honesty, and a weary sadness about the state of affairs in his city.
This cynicism seems to be brought on by the imminent birth of his daughter, and Coops sounds like a man scared about the kind of world he might bring his child into. On ‘Back To School’ this anxiety manifests in humour, as Coops plays on the trope of getting schooled in the streets, and describes the lessons that need to be learnt out there; taking on the role of a teacher in a classroom to do so. The off-kilter beat (which is somewhat reminiscent of jazzed up elevator music) and irreverent delivery belie the gravity of the content, as the rapper tells the next generation that he’s “about to get you ready for this war, don’t waste your weapon/ this is what you been put here for, so just embrace your essence”. The last bar is particularly bleak, but one that youngers these days seem to believe, as more and more seem to think that the only way to make a buck is out on the roads.
Coops himself is acutely aware of this, transitioning into ‘Place Called Home’ he reflects on the life around which he has grown up, and how he feels about it. Sewing messages into the bars he stitches together he raps “Thriving off stocks and shares, they don’t teach us that here/ invest money into drugs, that’s the plan every year/ buy guns for your sons, pray your daughters are nuns/ preparing for that future even though it’s already begun”. The way he intricately inserts social commentary and personal struggle into butter-smooth bars over boom-bap beats is reminiscent of hip-hop legends like Public Enemy, or one of his great inspirations Jay-Z. And the way he normalises it, “this just another place called home”, is beautifully simple.
This album, more than any other I’ve heard this year, defies the idea that ‘conscious rap’ is out, in favour of Drill in the UK or stateside mumble rap. Coops not only delivers smart bars but delivers track after track that stands alone as a banger that could fill a spot on any UK rap playlist. Personally my favourite example from this project is ‘Guerillas’. The Talos beat is a departure from his usual style and showcases his versatility, as the kick-snare boom-bap is layered with ominous sounding vocal samples and a simple guitar melody. The majority of the track is a chorus which repeats twice with just one verse in-between. Coops demonstrates his singing ability creating a sound that treads the border between R&B and rap before delivering just 12 bars that hit harder than some tracks in their entirety.
As it comes to its end the album reaches a climax of urgency and honesty, just as someone might do on their death bed, which is Coops is imagining as he repeats the refrain of the track name, ‘If I Die’. On this, Coops has messages for everyone from his closest family, to distant others, to the world itself; which he tells “I’m sorry that we failed/ I can’t believe we turned this place into a hell”. He tries to empower young boys and girls to do the best they can for themselves, and insights the poor to rise up and rebel. The most personal and touching bars though are for his unborn child – “I know you’ll make me proud, you’re born to stand out of the crowd/ so just be yourself and never let nobody get you down”. As the track comes to an abrupt halt it doesn’t actually end, the beat of the title tracks creeps back in and the opening words ‘We don’t even know what’s gonna happen after death in this life in the flesh” are once again heard. This completes our circle of life as Coops repeats the first verse and once again raps about his birth into the world, offering the possibility of reincarnation and a life after death.
Stand-outs: Guerillas, Rude Bwoi, Place Called Home, If I Die